There is a huge amount of observation and scientific research that can be carried out from Earth. Either ground or orbital telescopes and equipment are now able to give us an unprecedented view of just just the solar system but the universe as a whole. But in order to find out more like what’s behind the veil of Titan’s atmosphere or to get a close up view of Pluto or land a man on the moon then the only way to do it is with spacecraft.
Spacecraft fall into two distinct categories, manned and unmanned. So far the furthest that a manned spacecraft has been to is the moon, but we seem to be inching towards manned missions that go further into space than ever before. The problem is that manned spacecraft are big, heavy, and need to keep the human(s) travelling alive so they’re expensive.
Right here, right now the state of human space exploration is in flux. The beloved Space Shuttle is gone, consigned to history and right now it feels like there’s a void without a reusable space plane. BUt there is still much going on.
The Soyuz space module is the most reliable launch vehicle in service in the world. It has been around since the 1960’s and was built to send Russian cosmonauts to the moon.
Currently the only way for manned missions to reach the International space station the Soyuz spacecraft and rocket is the workhorse of the human space exploration effort. Regularly flying missions to ISS which are both manned and un-manned.
While this Russian launch system is by no means the most up to date it it has been updated over time with previous models superseded in order to keep the launch system as up to date and mission relevant as possible.
At this time NASA isn’t able to launch manned missions and is progressing it’s manned launch capability. But it is developing new systems for taking man back to the Moon and beyond, with it’s eyes firmly set on Mars.
But private companies are now developing launch systems to be able to carry out manned and unmanned missions for NASA, in a move that is turning the space industry into a commercial venture.
SpaceX is leading the race to commercialize spaceflight. It’s developed the impressive Falcon 9 spacecraft that is able to return to it’s launchpad after deploying it’s cargo into orbit.
For this SpaceX has also developed the re-usable Dragon cargo module to carry payloads and experiments into orbit. Elon Musk seems to be driving his spacecraft in the re-usable direction, keeping costs down and enabling faster turnarounds on flights.
Capitalizing on this SpaceX has also developed the Falcon Heavy, capable of sending more into space and deeper into space. Paving the way for Elon’s dream to land a man on Mars before anyone else.
The Falcon Heavy is essentially made up of three Falcon 9 rockets. In front of the whole world, on February 6th 2018 the first Falcon Heavy launched it’s test payload into space. The now famous Tesla roaster and Starman into space while playing David Bowie’s Space oddity.
The International Space Station
The ISS is as it suggests a multinational space station effort. The first section was launched in 1998, the final pressurized section was launched in 2011 and the station is expected to run until around 2024/5 after which the future is less certain but the cost of running the station may fall into commercial hands. There is talk of the Russians taking some of their sections to create their own space station.
These are fairly uncertain times fore space exploration, but what is interesting is that commercial enterprises are starting to use space services and exploration to make money, this proves that rather than space exploration being a drain on public finances, it can be a relative gold mine if run properly.
So while the present is looking a bit bland, the future could be very different.
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