Elon Musk’s aerospace company, SpaceX, has been dealt a setback in its goal of sending humans to Mars. The company announced that it is delaying the launch of an astronaut flight due to rough wind and waves which have caused damage to the rocket. In response to this news, Elon Musk tweeted We are looking forward to being able to fly with astronauts from American soil. No question it’s a big step.
The trip to Mars is not off the table just yet, however. Peter Beck , the chief executive of Rocket Lab , who are competing for contracts with similar rockets as SpaceX has announced that they have sent their own commercial satellite into space via the Electron rocket . The mission is the first time that a private company has launched a commercial satellite into orbit which will be used by Spire Global to collect weather data.
The launch took off from Rocket Labs Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. It was originally expected for later this year, however, the company decided to go ahead with it earlier after being granted an official license by the US Federal Aviation Administration . The launch was also originally scheduled to take place at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, however, this changed due to fears of rocket failure.
The total cost of launching this particular satellite is expected to have cost Rocket Labs $5 million per launch, which will not be nearly as high as SpaceX or Blue Origin. The launch of the Electron rocket was unmanned.
This recent successful launch could mean that commercial space companies such as Rocket Labs and SpaceX might now be taken more seriously by NASA who have been relying on Russian space engineers to fly astronauts to the International Space Station since 2011 when their last shuttles retired.
Rocket Lab is a privately owned company which has been in operation since 2006, and has facilities in both New Zealand and the US. In 2008 they unveiled their first rocket named ‘ Atea 1 ‘. This rocket failed after takeoff, however, Rocket Labs have now successfully launched not only the Electron rocket but also two smaller experimental rockets. Despite this, Rocket Lab are yet to win any contracts with NASA similar to competitors SpaceX, Blue Origin and Orbital ATK.
It seems that the potential of commercial space exploration is beginning to realise itself. The recent successful launch by Rocket Labs has shown that they are capable of becoming a major competitor in the global market for satellite launches alongside other companies such as SpaceX . The company also offered their customers an option to purchase a “Rocket Lab Launch License” for $350,000 which will ensure priority access and unlimited launches over a five-year period.
This news means that the dream of missions to Mars and beyond may not be as far out of reach as we once thought . Commercial companies could now enter into the market to fly humans across the stars, meaning that we may soon see a reduction of costs for space travel.
This new era of commercial space exploration might spell good news for future missions to Mars which had been put on hold due to budget cuts by NASA back in 2012. However, it is an unfortunate fact that neither SpaceX nor Blue Origin are competing to fly humans to Mars in the near future, with both companies currently focused on transporting cargo and satellites into space.