In the recent past, private companies reaching Space before government programs were crazy talk to industry professionals. Today, private enterprise makes great leaps for both government and private programs.
Dr. Doug Plata, President and Founder of the Space Development Network, reasons that the mass production of SpaceX’s Starship craft engineers around many project problems. Issues such as budget and rebuilding craft post damages are resolved with a massive volume of craft to test with.
Plata spoke with the DareGreatly show in December. He and show host and Liftport Group founder Michael Laine discussed recent trends of mass commercial space exploration craft production.
“The progress that SpaceX has made has gotten rid of that giggle factor,” said Plata.
Plata reasons that SpaceX closes gaps in the time factor it will take to reach the high-level anticipated projects. Plata and Laine discussed some of the extreme feats of Space exploration in the books.
Musk has publicly stated that his program plans to have humans on Mars by 2031.
While there have been many delays to such ambitious feats in past Space exploration eras, Plata reasons that Space X’s mass production venture narrows down production hiccups.
“By that time, that is what, 9 years from now? They will have thousands of Raptor 2 engines that have been produced. They will be well on their way…,” said Plata, referring to Space X.
How Far Will Mass Commercial Craft Production Take Us?
Musk’s Mars project is one of the daring feats of Space exploration, but it isn’t the only one. NASA’s exploration of Jovian moons, in the region near Jupiter, seeks to explore Jupiter’s interior with a target date of 2031.
Dr. Plata's logic, that Space X's mass production of space craft closes contingencies for Mars reach, poses a follow-up question. By the time that NASA is ready to branch out to the Jovian system, what role will commercial development play? Will SpaceX's mass star fleet manufactured for Mars reach, take on a new role at that time? Can mass production, by its sheer volume, put Jovian closer than we yet imagine?
As commercial ventures collapse the contingency gaps, new possibilities open up. The concept of humans on Mars as a near-future venture is no longer crazy talk.
Photo Credit: Jupiter Family, Wikimedia Foundation Commons
Feature text by Rachel Brooks, Next Dawn newsletter
Hey, there! We love to hear your thoughts. Do you think our speculation is close to the mark? Will commercial Space craft production lines make Mars and Jovian more reachable, or are there big set backs to note?
In the comments below, tell us what you think.
See the recap of the Dare Greatly show, featuring Dr. Plata
Part 2, continuing from the interview with Dr. Roger D. Launius , December 12, 2022
Reaching the Moon was once a race between the U.S. and Russia. Today, the Space race looks more like a domestic rivalry between governments and private sector operations.
In part 1, Better Futures recapped a discussion between Laine and Launius on the historical reality of the Apollo era. In part 2, we'll recap their discussion of today's commercial Space race and the new context kicked off by the Artemis launch era.
Moon Resources Usability is Subject To Debate
The Moon’s usefulness is a subject of some skepticism, even controversy, in today’s marketplace. While some argue the value of lunar ice mining for potential resources, others argue that Moon exploration is merely a status symbol quest.
There is one certainty to come from modern Space debates about the Lunar zone. The Moon remains front and center of all forward-seeking Space exploration. Because it is nearer and familiar to Space efforts, the Moon is most accessible to current innovation.
Government vs. Commercialized: The Real
The commercialization of Space has led to professional controversy. In January 2022, the Washington Post made note of the fact that government programs still dominate the Space race. Yet, Space advocates wonder, for how long?
The relevance of government programs stands in question alongside the progress of commercial efforts. Policy critics ponder why NASA and private ventures have yet to announce a cross-sector collaboration.
On the flip side, governments question the long-term viability of commercial Space. Leading commercial rocket producers advertise ambitious projects to make everyday people astronauts.
While NASA and commercial efforts have different logic behind their missions, the goal posts aren't that far apart. Efforts don’t diverge paths in terms of funding and interest.
Dr. Launius explained that, while many point to SpaceX as the pioneer, they sometimes forget about Orbital Sciences and earlier efforts to commercialize Space.
Why Include the Private Sector?
Doctor Launius highlighted the unique factors of the current Space race created by the presence of the private sector. Now, more than at any other time in Space exploration history, privately owned enterprises pursue Space technologies.
This, Dr. Launius recalled, has been the subject of controversy between NASA leaders and industry tycoons.
Despite the push back, NASA’s top talent realized that the sound economical way forward was to include the private sector.
Moon enterprises are expensive, often exceeding the budget of NASA funding. With the business case of the private sector grafted in, Space exploration has become democratized, and received a wider talent pool investment.
No Clear Divide in International Interests
This Space race comes with a high political context. With recent aggression between China and Taiwan, Western leaders have taken stiffer policies toward collaboration with China. Launius notes that modern Space advancement efforts are not as cut and dry as the Apollo-era Space politics.
“I’ve been pushing back on saying the Space race is with China,” said Dr. Launius.
“There used to be two budgets, two nations, one goal. Now there are thousands of companies, thousands of goals. So, I don’t really feel like we’re in the same type of Space race, but there is competition for sure.” he added.
The Artemis Era Sees Sustainable Rocketry Efforts Growing
Now that the commercial industry is on board, what will keep them afloat? The Artemis era poses that question in a way that the Apollo era was incapable of.
Now that commercial efforts have critically disrupted the path to the Moon, business models must reflect said disruption. Revenue models must yield tangible forecasts so that commercial enterprises can gain investor trust.
Business cases may level off. If not over the usability of Moon resources, then over the rocketry innovation Moon exploration efforts lead. Global space missions likewise seek to innovate reusable rockets. This would make space travel more affordable. With multiple national actors working on these concepts, Space exploration would eventually democratize to a whole-of-globe effort.
A Wild Frontier
In Dr. Launius’ view, the future of Space ventures will be collaborative. Governments and citizens will work together in Space. This will also be true of nation-to-nation efforts.
Because Space enterprise has become a universal effort, policies will need to be globalized. There is no clear starter gate or finish line in this Space race. It is a more Industrial Revolution and a pioneering effort to a wild frontier of untapped astral landscape.
Image credit license CCA 4.0.
Text credit: Rachel Brooks, Next Dawn
On December 12, Better Futures host Michael Laine sat down with Mars Society’s executive director and long-time volunteer James Burk. The two followed up an earlier conversation on the Dare Greatly show.
Burk broke down his early days as executive director, before talking shop on some of the future-forward projects the Mars Society has on the books.
“I’ve been a volunteer for about 25 years, until about a year ago when I was hired on to be the director,” Burk said.
He explained that over that last quarter century he had acted in volunteer roles, rising through the ranks to the society's webmaster. The society had many acting executive directors over the years, but all were volunteers before he took the full-time role.
On his blog, Burk writes in-depth about those 25 years of service. He highlights a life pursuit of “cutting-edge technology," and how it led him to where he is today.
As a high schooler, Burk went door to door championing environmental causes. From college, he got a job with Microsoft. He underscored that it was shortly after he took the Microsoft job that he found the Mars Society.
The mission objective of settling the Red Planet fascinated Burk. He became a founding volunteer member. In its early days, Burk was the advocate for the society’s web presence. Now, all these years later, Burk leads the society as the first-ever paid executive director.
“The board chose me. And I’m very grateful and thankful and I’m just trying to do a good job,” Burk said.
Over the years, the project has steadily increased its high-level of recognition as a Space community leader. Even as recently as Burk took the helm, Mars Society has grown.
Because the Mars Society is an entirely publicly funded organization, Burk said it is important to scale all projects based on fundraising successes.
Some years are better than others. With the pandemic's impact, the Mars Society faced some setbacks. Burk explained, however, that the funding status has returned to a normal situation.
"We try to keep things flat. We function on a shoestring budget in general. Our station in Utah–we've run that for 20 years," said Burk.
"We keep it up and running; we put a fresh coat of paint on it and new floors in it. But, in general, we're not hiring a professional company to come out and do that," he explained.
Burk then went over one of the highlights of recent Mars Society support.
“A year ago, we got a big donation from Blue Origin’s Club for the Future,” said Burk.
Mars Society, the largest non-profit focused on Mars exploration, was selected as one of 19 Space venture entities for the prestigious STEM donation from the Blue Origin rocket company's STEM club. The highly coveted Club for the Future grant is a wealth that Burk says is an honor he is grateful to receive.
“As they were deciding which nonprofits to give it to —when they got to us, they were meeting with Jeff Bezos. They said, ‘do we really want to give it to the Mars Society… we’re usually focused on the Moon. Jeff said, ‘Nope, give the Mars Society one of these. They’re part of the Space community and we don’t want to discriminate.’ So, yeah, we’re grateful for that,” said Burk.
Burk said that Club For the Future is also open to collaboration with the Mars Society. With 6,000 employees, Blue Origin is making steady headway in rocket innovation. The two entities are a natural hand-in-glove fit. Blue Origin has asked Mars Society to involve their employees in some of Mars Society's STEM promoting activities.
Mars Society is being careful about budgeting the Club for the Future grant, as the organization views it as an endowment. While they have big plans for the use of the funds, the Mars Society project budgets scale from donations.
The show's conversation then switched over to the recent Mars Society conference in Arizona.
Laine and Burk discussed Mongolia’s presence at the conference. Mongolia’s official Mars program is now also the recognized regional chapter of the Mars Society.
The Mongolian Mars mission is one of deep cultural significance for Mongolia. Together, Mongolia’s Mars project and the Mars Society are scaling an analog testing site project in the Gobi desert.
Burk spoke on Mongolia’s ancient nomadic and warrior society.
“A lot of that carries through to the modern Mongolia. They are very independent, hard-working people," said Burk, explaining the cultural significance of the country's Mars project.
“Robert was invited by them to come out and scout out analog stations in the Gobi desert,” said Burk, referring to Mars Society founder Dr. Robert Zubrin.
“They are essentially planning a nomadic Mars analog station that you could pack up and move to another part of the Gobi,” said Burk. He then gave details of the sophisticated greenhouse innovation the Gobi desert analog site will use.
The conversation also covered future goals. Burk confirmed new mission funding efforts are in the works. Mars Society plans to return to its Arctic test site in 2023. However, Burk explained that these new missions will be contingent on fundraiser outcomes.
Image credit: Gobi Desert, Mongolia.Date 8 August 2018, 17:00:42, Richard Mortel, CCA 2.0 Generic
Text feature created by Rachel Brooks, Next Dawn.