April 21, 2017

Advances in Private-Sector Space Travel

By Matthew Heldt
Blue Origin’s New Horizon rocket to offer rides  

Blue Origin will offer space tourists around five minutes of weightlessness above the “Karman Line,” the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. One rocket has already been landed and reused three times. The cost to refurbish each rocket before reuse is reported to be in the “tens of thousands”, saving space tourists a tremendous amount of money. Each rocket is designed to fly 100 times before retirement. Recent tests have proven that the rocket is capable of restarting its engine while descending at rapid speeds.  

Virgin Galactic is selling tickets to space for $250,000

Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship Two 60,000lb-force rocket will also bring passengers into suborbital space above the 62 mile Karman Line, providing competition for Blue Origin’s rocket described above. The astronaut tourists will float around the cabinet for several minutes before returning to their seats. Spaceship Two will then re-enter the atmosphere and glide down to the nearest runway. Virgin Galactic will begin a new round of test flights later this year. CEO Richard Branson plans to board the first commercial flight with friends and family later next year.  

Russian rocket finally getting private-sector competition  

After more than a decade of the Russian RD-180 sending men and women to the International Space Station and putting payloads in orbit, a private-sector alternative has arisen. Blue Origin’s privately-funded BE-4 rocket engines, used in pairs, will match the reliability of the RD-180 at a substantially lower cost. Aerojet Rocketdyne is attempting to beat the reliability and price of the BE-4 with their new AR-1.  

SpaceX will attempt to reuse every part of rocket

Space will try to recycle every part of their Falcon 9 rocket by late next year. The bulk of space launch costs lie in the rocketry, not the fuel, so this move could help SpaceX lower costs by 20 percent. The company and its customers could save up to five million dollars with the reuse of Falcon 9’s nose cone equivalent alone. SpaceX currently spends $62 million on each launch with fuel costing just $200,000-$300,000. The last reusable device capable of placing satellites in orbit was NASA’s space shuttle.