‘Rockets are tricky.’
That’s what billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk tweeted after one of his rockets exploded just above its launch pad recently.
No doubt Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos would agree with him. Bezos might feel a bit better right now though. His firm, Blue Origin, successfully landed a reusable rocket this week in West Texas after the company’s New Shepard vehicle flew a suborbital test to 333,000 feet.
We shouldn’t underestimate the significance of this.
Normally the rocket doesn’t make it back. Part of the expense of space travel is firing rockets into the sky only once. Reusable rockets, it’s estimated, could cut the cost of launch by a factor of 1000.
That’s why reusable rockets have been billionaire Elon Musk’s key goal at SpaceX. But Blue Origin has nailed the first major milestone and beat Musk to the first bragging rights.
Blue Origin’s rocket isn’t going to get humans into the real action though. That’s deep space. But if the entrepreneurs and engineers can figure out how to do this on a bigger scale, then space — including Mars — gets a lot cheaper.
Make no mistake, the space race is on. More on that shortly.
If you fancy a trip yourself on a Blue Origin ride, you may not have to wait long.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday,
‘Buoyed by the mission, Mr. Bezos for the first time sketched out an ambitious timetable that envisions starting commercial suborbital flights carrying paying passengers potentially in less than two years.
‘“We’ll fly humans when we’re ready,” he said in a brief interview Tuesday. But if all goes well, he added, “I’m thinking it could be sometime in 2017.”’
Did you see this billion dollar deal?
Perhaps the real news is actually elsewhere. NASA just announced a $1.16 billion dollar contract to Aerojet Rocketdyne [NYSE:AJRD] to restart production on their RS-25 engines.
NASA is going to put four of these into their next big rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS). This is how we could see humans go into deep space and possibly Mars. Just to add to the excitement, a lot of the engine is going to be 3-D printed.
And then there are the brains (not to mention the resources they bring) moving into the space sector. You have Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Elon Musk (Tesla), Richard Branson (Virgin), Paul Allen (Microsoft) and Larry Page (Google).
What’s actually amazing about all this is that the US currently cannot send a man into space. Those US astronauts launch on Russian rockets.
That’s not going to last. US Congress passed the National Defense Authorisation Act of 2015 that requires American made rocket engines for military flights starting in 2019. A lot of US government money could keep flowing here.
Galactic boom and bust
US Congress has been busy, in fact. Quartz reported on 11 November that the US Congress ‘OK’d a bill that lays out Americans property rights in space, a move that has thrilled aspiring space entrepreneurs.’
It’s thrilled them because they want to mine the mineral wealth of nearby asteroids. Two companies already exist to do exactly this: Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries.
Of course, as my colleague Phillip J Anderson likes to point out, this how we humans will take our wars into space. Control of the natural resource base is not negotiable.
But there’s a pressing need too.
Technology expert Stephen Petranek says in his superb little book How We’ll Live on Mars that it’s possible that all of the easily mined gold, silver, copper, tin, zinc, antimony, and phosphorous we can mine on earth could be gone in a hundred years.
But there’s plenty more out there. According to the book, for example the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter has the mineral wealth equivalent to 100 billion dollars for every person on earth right now.
That’s a long away from my desk here in Melbourne. But it would be a lot closer if we had a base on Mars. And Petranek is willing to say a base like that on Mars is in the future, and astronauts on Mars are possible within a decade.
What’s even more amazing is that blueprint for space travel was written in 1952. The writer was a former German SS officer called Wernher von Braun. He was one of many German scientists the Americans kept alive after the Second World War and took to the US.
Von Braun actually proposed a plan to go to Mars in the 1950s. He kept his dream alive for years until Richard Nixon killed it off by deciding not to fund it. Perhaps Elon Musk will be the man to realise it. Petranek attributes the revival in space technology largely to Musk’s decision to found SpaceX in 2002.
Musk wants to have a dozen or so people on Mars by 2027. It is actually possible he’ll get them there. Such is the prodigious and relentless technology development happening right now changing the world.
This is why over at Cycles, Trends and Forecasts, we keep saying the outlook is for the biggest boom of all time. To find out more, click here.
Associate Editor, Cycles, Trends and Forecasts