The competition in space continues to heat up


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Two news stories today indicate that things are going to get increasingly interesting in the exploration of space in the coming years.

First there is this story from Joe Abbott of the Waco Tribune, who routinely reports on SpaceX news because their McGregor test facility is nearby. In it Abbott reports that SpaceX has scheduled its next Dragon supply mission to ISS for no early than September 20.

This news item however is not Abbott’s most interesting news. He also notes several twitter reports coming out a commercial satellite conference in Paris that indicate that SpaceX has closed 9 deals, including several more for its as yet unflown Falcon Heavy.

But even that is not the most interesting news. Abbott also reports that a replacement for the destroyed Falcon 9R test vehicle will be shipped to McGregor for testing in less than two months. Considering how long it takes governments to build and fly test vehicles, getting this replacement in shape for flight mere months after the failure a few weeks ago is quite impressive.

But even that was not Abbott’s most interesting SpaceX news item.

Abbott also reports that at this satellite conference SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell had noted that they intend to officially break ground on their new space port in Brownsville, Texas, on September 21-22, and will have it ready for launches in two years. Compare that pace with Russia’s project to build a new spaceport in Vostochny, where they decided to build the spaceport in 2007, took five years more to start construction, and don’t expect to launch their first rocket there until at least 2016, with manned flights no early than 2018. SpaceX meanwhile began buying property in Brownsville in 2014 after deciding on that location for their private spaceport, and expects to have launches there about two years later.

Let me underline these numbers: To build a spaceport Russia will take more than a decade from decision to completion. SpaceX will take two years. I ask you, who is winning this competition, government or private space?

In non-SpaceX news, there were several news stories out of India talking about their first Mars probe, Mangalyaan, and its planned insertion into Mars orbit on September 24. This story gives a good flavor. Their news outlets have been reporting on this Mars mission continuously since its launch earlier this year because their readers want to know what’s happening, even if there is nothing really new to report.

As I’ve noted previously, India is very clearly space happy. This suggests to me that this country will become a major player in space in the coming years. They might be following a NASA-like government model at this point, but eventually I expect them to switch over to private development because that is what has produced their economic success in the past decade.

While these two stories are only a single day’s sampling of space news, they both indicate once again how the competition to get into space is beginning to build. Both governments and private companies are gearing up to get up there, and as they gain successes they will feed the desire of others to join the competition.

Based on what is happening now I expect the next decade to be the most exciting in space since the 1960s. And that will only be the beginning.

10 comments

  • wodun

    “Abbott also reports that a replacement for the destroyed Falcon 9R test vehicle will be shipped to McGregor for testing in less than two months.”

    IIRC, this is due to one having been already under construction at the time of the accident.

  • wodun

    OT: I want to compliment Mr. Zimmerman on how he writes his blog.

    You can tell Mr Zimmerman is a writer who has an appreciation for his craft and a shrewd mind for it application to the business end of blogging by the way he structures his posts. The Read More button is a common feature on blogs but too often bloggers fail to take advantage of its capabilities. Click to read more sounds pretty simple, and it is, but getting people to click the button takes more than just having the button on a blog post.

    How many times have you seen a blog post with a couple hundred words that is then cut off randomly in the middle with a read more button? Too many times, especially from people who should know better as writers. How many times have you seen a blogger write a few hundred words as an introduction with a hook as the last sentence to get you to click the read more button? Not as often as we should considering hooks and transitions are the fundamentals everyone should learn in school.

    Mr Zimmerman’s blog is a great demonstration of how to master the fundamentals of writing on the internet. He might be shaking his head wondering why it is even worthy of comment but there are too many blogs out there that do not understand that writing is a craft and people doing it well really stand out by comparison.

  • ken anthony

    IDK Wodun, it could be Bob used to write copy for Ronco?

    ;-) Great report as usual.

    Capcha is only giving me half the number on top and bottom. Makes me think our computer overlords are going to take over soon.

  • Leonard McVicker

    I’ve been following SpaceX for a while, they seem to be ahead of the crowd in the COTS program. I’m still fearful of the old aerospace dinosaurs ruthlessness, with billions of dollars at stake they could anything to stop competition. Bribery (contributions), libel, slander, lawsuits and political toadies have been used by corporations in the past against competitors, I expect no less from the aerospace trusts.

    The first attempts have begun, using red tape to tie down SpaceX.

    http://science-beta.slashdot.org/story/14/08/12/1739227/3-congressmen-trying-to-tie-up-spacex

    The announcement from NASA on what company will deliver crews to the space station is expected any day. I think SpaceX will win the contract. I don’t see how the Dream Chaser or CST-100 using the Atlas 5 can compete on a cost basis with Falcon/Dragon, those designs haven’t even left the ground.

    If SpaceX doesn’t win I’ll suspect foul play, I’d want a congressional investigation.

  • Thank you for your kind words. I very much appreciate them. I assume you are referring to how I place the “Read More” break. I find that to insert it to force a reader to read one sentence, which many commercial sites do, is rude and unseemly. If I insert a “Read More” it is because there will be more to read.

  • simon cooper

    “If SpaceX doesn’t win I’ll suspect foul play, I’d want a congressional investigation.”

    But as the story you link to makes clear, Congress is part of the “foul play”.

  • Thomas Hanley

    I am grateful for the Positive article towards SpaceX, The major points of which are true, but the piece is also inaccurate.
    First I have to question why Mr Zimmerman is sourcing so much external information from a local news source who should be used more for information coming out of the McGregor site primarily. This would include info about engine testing , test flights of the reusable rockets and the recent flight loss. “Joe Science is a good reporter and I often seek out his material, but citing him as the source for Dragon/ISS Launch schedule, Tweets from the European Satellite Conference, or quotes from SpaceX CEO Gwynne Shotwell is not appropriate. All of this information was widely available early last week through the actual or primary sources. The Tweets were available real time to any who use Twitter. And these were also included in many other news aggregators and blogs.
    As far as the development of the Brownsville, TX. site being rapid. that is quite true. Again you present it in a misleading fashion. SpaceX began the search for a private, commercial launch site several years ago due to schedule and congestion issues at Cape Canaveral. They had 4 major locations as possibilities: Florida, Puerto Rico, Georgia, and Texas. As they refined the options, SpaceX began the process of obtaining State and Federal permissions to build such a site and conduct launch operations there. The FAA licensing process took well over a year itself. There were also very in-depth legal and tax negotiation with the state and an environmental impact study had to be completed. All of this took several years. During this time SpaceX had quietly begun purchasing parcels of land as confidence grew that the site would become real. This was all a process that went much earlier than 2012. Like the tip of the iceberg, its only that part above the surface is seen as progress in the sunlight of each news cycle.

  • Paul Scutts

    Great article, Bob. I’m fully behind SpaceX. I would go so far as to declare that if SpaceX can get true re-usability perfected, it could save the human race from technological extinction (by permitting the utilisation of solar system resources like space-based power generation and asteroid belt mining, both, with virtually zero Carbon footprint for Earth’s fragile LSS).

  • Paul Scutts

    Unfortunately Simon, I feel the CCtCap award(s) will be entirely political, beltway odds. When the awards are finally announced and if it goes the way I predict (“The Big B” and SNC) , I strongly urge everyone in the SpaceX support community (and there is quite a few of us) not to (fully) blame the NASA Administration, but, to lay it at the feet of those really responsible, the major players in Congress. They are the ones who have dictated to NASA to build the SLS/Orion and they have/will be the ones who have dictated who is to receive the financial support from CCtCap.

  • I have been reporting SpaceX’s accomplishments as well as tracking the development of their new spaceport from the very beginning. If you do a search on BtB for this subject you will find that everything you say above was reported here, when it happened.

    As for using Twitter vs giving Joe Science the plug, this is a really petty complaint. Moreover, you say that my article is inaccurate but do not cite any inaccuracies in it. If something is incorrect please tell me and I will correct. Otherwise, your complaints are irrelevant and distracting, especially since it appears we both agree that SpaceX is doing a bang-up job in moving their company forward.

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