Wally Funk is the oldest lady to visit space. Her visit is symbolic and beginning of a new era marked by commercialization of space. Space travel has been in existence for more than six decades and the reason for that has been primarily for meeting the Government’s defense and civilian objectives. However today what we are seeing, is the beginning of space economy in real terms.
Elon Musk led Space X, Jeff Bezos led Blue Origin, and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic are at the forefront of this revolution. Today space travel looks outlandish, limited to suit the pockets of billionaires and HNI’s, however growth in the space industry and advancement of the technology will make space travel cheaper and inclusive for a larger community, in times to come. This can be verified from the fact that in 2001, US millionaire Dennis Tito paid approx. $20 million to Russian Soyuz spacecraft for visiting the international space station. Current charges are $ 2.5 lakhs, which are further expected to come down to $ 40,000 in future.
Caused by military ambition, Space is increasingly becoming one of the focused fields for developing and prosperous nations. Private players are being encouraged by the Government for development of cost-efficient technologies, for supporting the Government space programs. Development of technology is also giving birth to new commercial services, which can be monetized by Industry players, working in this domain. Resulting ecosystem is paving way for commercialization of space travel by private carrier. Currently, there are more than 70 governments agencies that actively engaged in deep space mission. Various established commercial organizations as well as startups are working with Government attempting to develop niche space capabilities. The day is not far when people will be planning trips for space travel.
Currently, NASA is working to take humans back to the moon by 2024 and establish a human presence by 2028. This US agency is working with various commercial partners in order to achieve this goal. China is also planning a mission to the moon’s south pole by 2030. India is also there in the race and has launched a combined lunar orbiter, lander, and rover in 2019. Both private and public organizations are working to develop sustainable ways of building and launching spacecraft for accomplishing future missions. Orion is one of the initiatives by NASA in this direction, which is a space capsule. It is a vehicle that has been designed to take astronauts to and from the international space stations. It was first launched in December 2014 and is expected to be used during the Artemis mission to the moon.
Machines have the potential to perform various tasks on their own. Due to this unique feature of machines, scientists are planning to prioritize robots over human spaceflight. These kinds of robots are designed for specific tasks and can even withstand extreme conditions of space. Mar’s Curiosity Rover is a perfect example of this, which was launched in 2011. This robotic vehicle landed on the surface of Mars in 2012 and since then, exploring the Martian landscape.
Other than space tourism, in the coming years, both commercial and government agencies will be working together to achieve, automated and robotic exploration of the solar system, telescopic discovery of deep space, development of advanced spacecraft for navigating space, space settlements etc. According to research report of Investment Bank, Morgan Stanley, the size of space economy can grow up to $1 trillion by 2040.
Indian government has announced policy to open space exploration to the private sector for enhancing the diffusion of space technology and boosting space economy within the country. Various Indian Startups are working in this direction. Agnikul Cosmos, founded by Srinath Ravichandran & Moin SPM, is one of the leading start-ups in space technologies. It is building rocket that is Capable of taking up to 100 kg to orbits around 700 km high
In India, established players like Larsen & Toubro, Godrej Aerospace, Tata Advanced Systems and Hindustan Aeronautics are working in this field. They are facing competition from various young start-ups e.g. Pixxel, founded by Awais Ahmed and Kshitij Khandelwal is building constellation of cutting edge hyperspectral small satellites. Another Startup, Ananth Technologies is setting up a joint venture with US satellite operator Saturn Satellites. Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), is the new body that will act as a regulator for space companies and New Space India Ltd will be the arm for monetising space technologies. We can assume that India will be sharing at least 5% of the space economy. This will result into a robust defense and space industries in India.
With the advent of space travel and space economy booming, it’s not far-fetched to assume that stars and the moon, soon be in front of us in the years to come and literary community has to work to find better substitute of idiom ‘touching the stars’.