Space oddities

In the past, space technology relied on huge amounts of government funding. Today rich individuals, universities, commercial companies and even penniless geeks with a good idea are reaching for the stars

The World Today
2 minute READ

Alan Philps

Former Editor, The World Today, Communications and Publishing

SpaceX
Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal
Mission: ‘Sooner or later, we must expand life beyond this green and blue ball – or go extinct’

SpaceX is a pioneer of commercially funded rocketry. In 2012, SpaceX became the first commercial company to launch and dock a robotic vehicle with the International Space Station and deliver cargo. Its Falcon Heavy rocket, currently in development, is designed to carry humans into space, with the possibility of missions with crew to the Moon or Mars.

Virgin Galactic
Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group
Mission: The ability for more people to cross the final frontier of space will be key to human advancement

Virgin Galactic is planning in 2017 to start a cut-price, on-demand satellite launch service using a rocket fired from under the belly of a Boeing 747. Separately, a fleet of SpaceShipTwo space planes is planned to take two crew members and six passengers on a sub-orbital tourism flight. More than 700 people are said to have bought tickets priced at $250,000. In October 2014, an experimental SpaceShipTwo craft exploded after launch at 45,000 feet, causing the death of a pilot.

Blue Origin
Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive of Amazon
Mission: To enable mass travel from the ‘blue planet’ to space at lower cost and with greater reliability

Blue Origin has developed a reusable rocket, New Shepherd, which will takes a four-person capsule on a sub-orbital journey, including four minutes of weightlessness. Blue Origin is involved in several collaborations with NASA and is developing a new rocket engine for Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Bezos has a vison of millions of people living and working in space.

OneWeb
Jeff Wyler, internet social entrepreneur
Mission: to enable affordable internet access to the whole world

OneWeb aims to launch a constellation of 720 satellites to provide internet access to millions around the world from 2019. Jeff Wyler came up with the idea after experiencing the difficulties of providing a terrestrial telephone service in rural Rwanda. His answer was to provide a global communications network using satellites that would orbit closer to earth than the geosynchronous satellites typically used for telecommunications. The project is backed by Sir Richard Branson and Sunil Bharti Mittal, the Indian mobile phone mogul, among others.

Axelspace
Yuya Nakamura, micro-satellite pioneer
Mission: cut-price satellite launches

Japan is not known for its space technology start-ups, but Yuya Nakamura, who founded Axelspace in 2008, is filling the gap with the goal of producing Cubesat satellites at 10-20 per cent of the cost of the US equivalent. Axelspace buys many of its parts off the shelf and automates processes that are typically done by hand. Typical clients would be shipping firms who need observation of icebergs in Arctic shipping lanes at reasonable cost.

KickSat
Zachary Manchester, aerospace engineering student
Mission: Let’s Kickstart the personal space age

Manchester has developed a personal satellite, known as a Sprite, which is as small as a biscuit and weighs less than 100 grams. By raising money from Kickstarter he hopes to send a ‘Kicksat’ into space which would launch hundreds or thousands of Sprites, at an individual cost of just a few hundred dollars. The Sprites will transmit to earth a personalized text message.