This has been an incredible week in the news of spaceflight. The news of the successful SpaceX first stage on a drone ship and successful berthing with the Space Station with the attaching of the BEAM (inflatable module) on Saturday.
The news of a few billionaires including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is involved along with Steven Hawkings to send some postage stamp sized probes attached to nano-sails (very lightweight shiny devices that have been used as solar sails) that will be propelled by powerful lasers to take these probes to the closest star, Alpha Centauri, to take pictures of planets and other objects of interest. The 1-gram probes called “StarChips” will take travel 20 percent the speed of light and will take the 4.3 light-year or 25-trillion mile trip in 20 years with the use of the powerful lasers to get the swarm of probes to their location. This is amazing to think about because in our lifetime, we could see pictures from another star system! The images would take 4 years to reach Earth, but this is an amazing technological breakthrough.
I think it’s a very good thing that people, who have the money, are coming together to do such amazing things. Let’s face it, our government has had the history of doing things that cost way too much to accomplish. The reasons are costly delays and under projected cost estimates. The exception to this rule is the Commercial Crew and Commercial Re-supply program set up by President Obama back in 2009. Unfortunately the program is over 2 years behind due to the lack of funding by the Republicans in both the House and Senate. We were supposed to have Americans launched from American soil last year, but lack of funding kept causing the date to be pushed back 2 years. When American industry is involved, we can do things faster and cheaper a lot of the time. Just think about it, I know by the time these pictures get back to Earth, those of us who are in our 20s and 30s now will be in our late 40s or 50s (if they get the lasers and probes launched in the next 10 years). I don’t know if newspapers will even exist or what the technology will be like in how we get our media, but to see those pictures of a planet orbiting around another star will be an amazing sight!
The other big announcement was that Bigelow Aerospace Company will partner with United Launch Alliance (ULA) to launch two inflatable modules that could be leased to private companies or amateur astronauts as a commercial space station, and the other could be docked to the International Space Station in 2020. It seems like low-Earth orbit industry is on the brink to becoming a very successful industry. I may post more about this piece of news on a later blog. Keep posted! Also take a look at our other bloggers as well. 🙂