by Jeff Cunningham
The theme of today’s entry is a bit more “unscripted.” We thought we’d briefly showcase some of the coolest, most exciting projects and ventures going on in private spaceflight that don’t see much attention and you may not have heard of:
- You may not realize that the first piece of a private space station is already flying overhead right now.Robert Bigelow, the man behind the Budget Suites of America chain of hotels has been developing and building inflatable habitat modules with the intent of building and selling custom space stations (including hotels) in low Earth orbit or on the surface of the moon.
Genesis I and II were launched aboard Russian rockets in 2006 and 2007, respectively as test articles, and remain in orbit to this day. As of this writing, Bigelow and SpaceX announced an agreement to offer private crewed missions to space, with the Falcon/Dragon providing the ride, and Bigelow providing the destination.
- A newer entrant in the private space industry intends to make waves, indeed. C-Star Aerospace intends to build the largest rocket in history, so huge that it can place the Statue of Liberty into orbit (provided she’d be kind enough to lower her arm), yet it would be made using the latest advances in logistics and manufacturing efficiency to make it the cheapest one ever made, as well. To further keep costs down, rather than spend millions renovating and maintaining a launch pad, as NASA does, they plan on simply towing it out into the open seas and launching it out of the water. Just how cheap will this make spaceflight? To give you an idea, the average cost to send something, anything into space, is roughly $10,000 per kilogram ($4500 per pound). C-Star claims that their revolutionary design will bring that number down to $100 per kilogram, or $45 a pound. Think about it: at that cost, a Kindergarten class could save up pennies in a jar over the course of a school year, then have a coffee can filled with their crayon and fingerpaint drawings sent into space. What’s more, the volume capacity alone would enable entirely new kinds of space stations, telescopes, communication relays, and a space solar panel array large enough to collect and beam free power to anywhere on Earth.
- A Florida-based company bets that it can and will beat NASA to Mars, and make a decent dime doing it. 4Frontiers intends to build a new tourist attraction in Florida that showcases the newest developments and exciting achievements of the private sector. While there, guests can watch the actual research being done and hardware being tested that will go to the red planet (kinda the same way they ran Jurassic Park, but without death by Velociraptor). The proceeds will go towards building a permanent settlement, which they have already designed down to the last nail and screw.
- With all of these different companies wanting to travel into the Black, “who’s flying this thing???” Orbital Commerce Project of Oviedo, Florida, has already created the first private flight school for spaceflight, and will soon be awarded a brand new pilot certification class created by the FAA.
They take a Velocity airframe (a small design for a glider that often is fitted with a propeller in the rear to perform stunts at airshows), cram a methane-powered rocket in the back, take off from a runway, light that candle, then yank the stick back and head straight up until they’re out of atmo. The craft then simply glides back down to Earth, as it was originally designed to do. The best part? Legally, all the FAA requires for students of OCP’s course is a glider pilot’s license and a “safety certificate” that just says that you know how to turn the rocket “on” and “off.” After a three week course and those two sheets of paper, you get in return the ultimate bragging rights, “I was no tourist — I flew that bird myself.”
- Lastly, Denmark has a truly remarkable space program. They’ve built working sea-based launch platforms and have designed and tested remarkable hybrid-powered engines with nothing more than a crew of 22 unpaid volunteers. Copenhagen Suborbitals intends to show the world that anyone can go into space without a government program, or even a huge corporate budget, by simply rolling up their sleeves and doing it themselves.
These are just a few examples of what you may have missed, of unsung heroes of spaceflight working to make a ‘Verse like the one that Joss Whedon imagined a reality. Hopefully, after reading this, you’ll at least entertain the idea that space doesn’t necessarily have to be hard or expensive, and that it just might belong to people like you and I in our lifetimes.