Ten years of commercial aerospace leap: SpaceX rises, Musk touted by fans

2020 is coming, foreign media began to recall 2010-2019. The rise of commercial aerospace in this decade is an exciting thing. Traditionally, the aerospace industry is dominated by the state, and even if the company participates, only the government invites tenders and the company provides equipment. In the era of commercial aerospace, private enterprises are not only government contractors, but also can perform other tasks to make money. Incentive models have changed and progress has been faster.

Netease Technology News on December 13, according to foreign media reports, in the past ten years, under the leadership of private companies such as SpaceX, the commercial space market has developed rapidly, and both the technology and the operating model have undergone substantial changes.

On May 25, 2012, a small teardrop-shaped space capsule arrived at the International Space Station, filled with supplies needed by astronauts. The spacecraft is unobtrusive in many of the International Space Station’s supply missions, but it is unique in itself: it is a cargo spacecraft named Dragon, owned and operated by private space company SpaceX.

Before 2012, only government-operated spacecraft visited the International Space Station. The Dragon spacecraft was the first commercial spacecraft to dock with the space station. This milestone was the highest achievement of the commercialization of space at that time. And over the past 10 years, commercialization has permanently changed the space sector.

In the past ten years, the aerospace industry’s operating methods have changed, new market participants have targeted different markets, and the projects they have created are more ambitious. As a result, the explosive growth of space commercialization has made artificial equipment more than ever Easier access to space. In the 1920s, this growth provided a huge impetus for the commercialization of space, and it remains to be seen whether this momentum can be maintained in the future.

A new paradigm

Commercial companies have been involved in space flights since humans began space travel. The Saturn V rocket used by NASA for the first human landing on the moon was made by a private company. But for most of the twentieth century, the companies that made rockets and spacecraft were not just focused on space travel. Many large contractors develop both space technology, while also focusing on other technology areas such as aviation and defense. They are pursuing purely government-level contracts, either from NASA or the Department of Defense, and often the government will tell them what to do and what not to do.

Pictured: In 2011, NASA sent the contractor-made space shuttle into space for the last time.

“In the old model, the government will hire Lockheed, Boeing or other companies to build these rockets,” said Brian Weeden, director of project planning for the Security World Foundation. “Almost all the money will come from the government, and the government will control the entire project almost completely.” This is how the shuttle, the International Space Station, and the future James Webb Space Telescope will be built. All of these things are affiliated with and operated by NASA. “

Over the years, companies with the most extensive experience in the space industry have been chasing lucrative government jobs and abandoning the private market. The largest launch provider in the United States is the United Launch Alliance (ULA). Founded in 2006, its main business is launching national security satellites for the Department of Defense. “Because our company is only interested in government customers and only focuses on government customers, before 2010, we did not have any market share in the commercial space launch market at all.” Assistant Professor Greg · University of Southern California specializing in space market research Greg Autry points out. “If a Thai private company wants to launch a TV satellite, or an Israeli company wants to launch a communications satellite, the US launch vehicle is not even considered.”

But after 2000, a new player appeared in commercial space. SpaceX, a space company run by billionaire Elon Musk, takes a different path from its contractors. The company focuses exclusively on space travel and has an ambitious long-term goal: to settle settlements on Mars someday. First, it must build real rockets, and the company must be profitable in this regard. Supported by Musk and early private investments, SpaceX began developing its own rockets. SpaceX doesn’t focus all its energy on government contracts, but strives for as many customers as possible. If you need something to go to space, SpaceX can launch it for you.

When SpaceX began to gain more reputation for the space market, NASA began to try a new way of operating. This was a fixed price contract: NASA would propose a service requirement (such as the way to deliver goods to the International Space Station). The company will then come up with its own ideas and tools to achieve this. If NASA likes this solution, it will pay a sum of money as an investment and the company will invest in development. Once the project equipment is completed, NASA will pay for use. The original intention of this idea is a win-win situation. NASA will reduce the upfront cost of services, while private companies will own and operate the equipment they develop.

This model is perfect for a company like SpaceX. It can use investment from the government to make up for its rocket development funding gap, and eventually make use of the rocket to make money after the development is complete. “This allows them to think creatively,” said Lori Garver, a former NASA deputy director. “If you can get there, there will definitely be a market.” This is exactly what happened after NASA commissioned SpaceX to provide cargo services for the International Space Station. When SpaceX developed the Falcon 9 rocket, it tried to mount as many satellites as possible on top of the rocket.

In order to attract more customers, SpaceX strives to reduce launch costs through new manufacturing methods and vertically integrated businesses. As we all know, SpaceX is constantly making reusable rocket boosters, saving the company’s manufacturing costs by recycling them after each launch. The company also benefits from cheap launches. Despite several failed rocket launches, SpaceX is still the most prolific launch provider in the United States, with contracts with many customers around the world. “They want to pursue the private market,” said Jim Muncy, founder of space policy consultancy PoliSpace. “They want to stimulate the private market.”

There are good and bad

Capital eventually penetrated the space sector in the first decade of this century, which meant that competition had begun. Over the past decade, many rocket launch service providers are also looking for ways to reduce costs, and some of them are also developing reusable Mars. Blue Origin, Virgin Orbit, Rocket Lab, etc. are constantly pouring in. As the cost of launches has fallen, it has never been easier for man-made devices to enter space.

In the past decade, Moore’s Law has finally come into effect in space flight, and satellites and spacecraft have become smaller and smaller. Compared to previous bus-sized satellites, today’s satellites are the size of cereal boxes, are easier to manufacture, cost less, launch costs are lower, and they need fewer rocket carrying capabilities. The result has been huge success for companies focused on manufacturing small satellites. Research institutions and universities can easily put some equipment into orbit. This trend, coupled with more launch vehicles, has led to the explosive growth of new launch vehicles and satellite networks for commercial companies.

All these advances have unintended consequences. The rise of SpaceX was accompanied by a surge in the number of SpaceX fans. Musk fans honor him as a god-like figure, a human savior who will bring humans to Mars. But people should remain sober about SpaceX’s views and ambitions. SpaceX says its spacecraft will land on the moon by 2022. But the spacecraft has not yet been built. Linda Billings, a consultant for NASA’s Astrobiology and Planetary Defense Program, frankly said: “No matter how weird, every statement they make has not been criticized.”

Some of the more difficult projects these companies want to pursue may also be harmful. It’s worth noting that SpaceX, OneWeb, and others are all focusing on a new space market: filling tens of thousands of satellites with low-Earth orbit, sending Internet connection coverage across the globe. To promote the commercial space market, the government has adopted a relaxed approach to managing these more entrepreneurial companies. FCC approval for the launch has been very lenient, allowing SpaceX and OneWeb to advance their plans for large-scale satellite deployments. Now, nothing prevents them from increasing the number of satellites in orbit by orders of magnitude.

It is unclear what effect this will have on the space around the planet. People have begun to worry that so many satellites will change the night sky, making it difficult for astronomers to make detailed observations of the universe. But even more worrying is that all these satellites will make the space area around the planet even more crowded. Thousands of satellites in orbit in the next few years may greatly increase the chance of collisions. The end result may be that the low-Earth orbit becomes too crowded to be used at all.

Over the past decade, as the commercial space market has grown, ambitions have grown, but many promises have not been fulfilled. Most notably, the manned spacecraft is not yet fully mature. Space travel companies such as Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic once thought that customers might fly into space in this decade. It now appears that this dream will not be realized until 2020. “Branson has said that we will begin providing space travel services in 2008,” Billings said. “Where are we now?” At the same time, SpaceX and Boeing have been developing new delivery vehicles to send humans to the International Space Station. Although this process may be less costly than other contracting methods, the development process is still fraught with problems. The first batch of astronauts was scheduled to take off in 2017. It is likely that the first flight will not be realized until 2020. No matter what kind of contracting method is adopted, it still takes a lot of time to develop new manned spacecraft that can guarantee personal safety.

What’s next?

With the advent of the 1920s, the commercial space market will have more areas to explore, and many companies have set their sights beyond low-Earth orbit. Many private companies plan to send unmanned spacecraft to the moon in the next few years, and companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin have vowed to one day send humans to the moon. It is unclear how long it will take them to get there. An Israeli non-profit private organization tried to land on the moon this year without success.

The future of the space travel market is uncertain, and even the satellite market has weakened in recent years, which may explain why SpaceX is trying to transform itself into a consumer-oriented enterprise through the Internet satellite business. It needs money to keep the company running. The terrible idea is: what if the space market can’t squeeze more money? Experts have long predicted that private space stations will dominate low-earth orbit and become a frequent destination for tourists. Ultimately, private companies hope to find ice on the moon’s surface and turn it into drinking water or rocket fuel for lunar bases. All this sounds like a bright future. “Honestly, the commercialization of the moon will not be that fast, because there will be no market in the short term,” Garver said. “But anyone can tell you that there is a launch market outside of NASA.”

The next ten years will show us whether the progress of the commercial aerospace industry can be compared with the past ten years. Perhaps these companies will eventually take humans out of Earth’s orbit and into deep space. Or for the foreseeable future, the space market is not far away from our home on Earth

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