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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.