This month’s boundary-pushing SpaceX rocket launch marked a pivotal moment in space exploration in more than one way.
As SpaceX founder Elon Musk geared up for the February 6th Falcon Heavy launch, and stargazers and space-fanatics waited eagerly in anticipation, it became increasingly clear that private companies and corporations are beginning to hold much more power in the space exploration industry than ever before. The strides made by SpaceX in the past few months, coupled with the US administration’s expressed goals in privatizing certain aspects of space exploration (in conjunction with NASA), beg a closer study at what these latest events could mean the future for space explorers.
The Falcon Heavy launch shined a light on how SpaceX’s approach to space travel is shaping up. With 27 engines, the Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket to launch in the United States since Apollo, and is capable of sending a greater payload than Apollo into Earth’s lower orbit. “If we are successful in this, it is game over for all the other heavy lift rockets,” predicted Elon Musk. In fact, given the success of the launch, it’s not hard to see how SpaceX’s work could be setting a new standard for future launches.
The Falcon Heavy could allow us to launch future satellites into space, and potentially cargo and people to destinations including the moon, or even Mars. And the potential of teaming up with the private sector to compliment NASA’s space exploration plans has many lawmakers pushing for more collaboration with private companies that share the similar intent of reaching new heights.
Certain lawmakers are asking why Congress should continue to spend massive amounts of taxpayer money on federally funded rocket technology when the private sector could potentially create better, more effective technology for a fraction of the cost.
With NASA’s heavy lift rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS) costing more than $15 billion to develop and test (with first flight scheduled two years fro now), the immediate comparison to the Falcon Heavy’s approximate $100M cost per launch has lawmakers and politicians eyeing a new, more privatized approach to space exploration and travel, one that relies more heavily on innovations from the private sector.
SpaceX’s additional goal of launching demo global internet satellites into the sky, along with the Trump administration goals of privatizing the International Space Station as well as the recently proposed Infrastructure Plan, there’s no doubt that the debate between private and public sector involvement in space exploration and infrastructure is only revving up.
In the coming weeks will take a closer look at the pros and cons of privatizing these aspects of American life, while analyzing the potential of partnerships of this scale and nature. Until then, keep your eyes in the sky.