With the cost of space travel so high and the benefits lacking real monetization strategies few private companies have made a lot of progress in this realm without the backing of government agencies. Whilst there is a considerable amount of activity in the low earth orbit realm for telecommunications, geo-spatial and meteoric industries these are all concerned with doing things once they’re up there. There are only a few companies who dare recreate the infrastructure that the governments have invested so heavily in.
One company I’m constantly impressed with is SpaceX, founded by the the co-founder of Paypal Elon Musk. He took a very coroprate look at the space industry and came to the conclusion that the majority of the costs incurred were bureaucratic, and sought to solve that problem. Incidentally he’s right on the money, since the Shuttle has about 13,500 staff required to keep the shuttle operational. SpaceX on the other hand operates with about 600 currently, with only about 25 dedicated to launch and 6 forming mission control. That in itself is an achievement especially considering that after 3 failed launches they managed to get their fouth rocket into orbit. Here’s a pretty awe inspiring video taken from one of the on board cameras.
They must be doing quite a few things right since NASA has selected them to take on the resupply missions once the the shuttle goes into retirement. I must say it couldn’t go to a better company as these guys are really on the cutting edge when it comes to rocket technology.
Another company I’m impressed with is Bigelow Aerospace. Founded by chain hotel giant Robert Bigelow they took an interesting step in purchasing the rights and patents to the Transhab design created by NASA. It was a disappointment that NASA never got to build one of these modules (as they would’ve proven an invaluable way of increasing our space living volumes) however it was a big win for the private industry. They haven’t been sitting on their hands with these plans either as they already have two habitats in orbit right now. They’ve even contracted SpaceX to make a Falcon 9 for their third launch, which is match made in heaven if you ask me.
It’s an interesting time for the space industry. We’re seeing the transition from what used to be a government only endeavour to a flourishing industry filled with pioneers who are building on the success of the people before them. With the help of other companies like Virgin Galactic who are popularizing space for the masses the market can only get larger for companies like this which will hopefully bring the cost of space travel down to the everyman in the near future.
I know I’ll be waiting with bated breath.