Will Commercial Spaceflight Ever Become A Reality? (Part I)

With private aerospace companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin taking to the stars more frequently and successfully than before, it's time to consider the possibility of commercial spaceflight for the masses.

(This article was written in collaboration with Jordan Tay for Wix Reads)

The final frontier and human endeavor in it has always fascinated me ever since I was a child. The towering rockets leaving behind a serpent-like smoke trail as they roar towards infinity never fail to leave me in awe. Being an aerospace engineering student at the University of Southampton, I had the opportunity to research and explore the likelihood of commercial spaceflight becoming a reality for the many (myself included) who had always dreamed of being on one of those technological marvels cruising into space.


In this article and the following ones to come, I'll be sharing my paper titled "Challenges and Opportunities of the Commercialization of Space" in parts to keep it short and enjoyable for your reading needs. Do take note however that this is an academic paper so there may be some technical jargon and a whole bunch of references. Nevertheless, I hope that you'll be able to gain a deeper insight on the commercial spaceflight industry and be interested in the potential future impacts that commercializing space will have on the human race as a whole.

Introduction


Ever since the Soviet Union first sent a beach-ball-sized artificial satellite on a 98 minutes elliptical orbit around Earth six centuries ago [1], the space race between the world’s then two biggest superpowers led to a rapid and beneficial development in humanity’s space-faring technology which ultimately cultivated in getting a man on the moon.


Fast forward to today, it can be seen that the dawn of the space age has certainly impacted the way we live and how the world around us operates. From international television broadcasts to online streaming services; long distance communications; global positioning system (GPS) technologies; precise weather and time tracking; as well as data and imagery collection of both the Earth and outer space, the ability of sending satellites into space has transformed our world arguably into one where the reliance on these satellites [2] in many different applications of our day to day lives is only increasing every year.


With launch system technologies improving in the past decades and more private spaceflight companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin now offering space launch opportunities, the cost and risk of sending payloads into orbit around Earth via commercial sources have decreased to a point where more space activities are being executed on a commercial basis than compared to public, more traditional organisations that have been seeing a reduction in their funding [3].


As such, the availability of more frequent and cheaper launches to low-Earth-orbits (LEO) and beyond has allowed the potential of commercializing – making a product or service available for sale to the public, space to be increasingly realized by the private sector. This could be seen with the rapid rise in the number of emerging, privately-owned space companies. One such analysis by Arthur D. Little [4] showed that the number of these companies has increased by 157% to a total of 347 in the years spanning 2011 to 2016.


The emergence of these companies has thus created a wide array of space-faring activities that could be potentially commercialized. Such examples includes increasingly reusable launch systems like SpaceX’s ‘Falcon 9’ and ‘Falcon Heavy’ sending payloads at a potential cost reduction of up to a factor of a hundred [5]; space tourism such as Virgin Galactic and XCOR’s sub-orbital tourism plans, Bigelow Aerospace’s ‘Sundancer’ orbital habitat and point-to-point flight routes using proposed single-stage-to-orbit space-plane designs like Reaction Engines Limited’s ‘Skylon’ [6]; the manufacturing, operation, as well as data collection and analysis of artificial satellites; the mining of extraterrestrial bodies which supports sustainable development, international collaboration, scientific endeavors and the future of deep-space travel [7] are just a few of the many cases where the services and products offered to consumers could be profited on.


End of Part I

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References


[1] Garber, S. (2007). Sputnik, NASA History.

[2] Black, J. (2018). Our reliance on space tech means we should prepare for the worst. Defense News.

[3] Peeters, W. (2002). Effects of commercialisation in the European space sector. Space Policy, 18(3), 199-204.

[4] Merhaba, A., Khairat, H., Ainardi, M., & Aebi, T. (2019). The Space Agency of the Future. Arthur D. Little.

[5] Reusability. SpaceX (2020).

[6] Webber, D. (2013). Space tourism: Its history, future and importance. Acta Astronautica, 92(2), 138-143.

[7] Dempster, A. G., Dallas, J. A., Alvarez Gaitan J. P., Raval, S., & Saydam, S. (2020). Mining beyond earth for sustainable development: Will humanity benefit from resource extraction in outer space? Acta Astronautica, 167, 181-188.

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