Since the very first flight of the Soviet Yuri Gagarin in 1961, all astronauts have traveled on rockets built under the aegis of government agencies – NASA in the United States or RosKosmos in Russia. From Apollo rockets to Soyuz rockets and space shuttles, it was public money that was at the heart of decisions. The first exception was the flight of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket last may, who had led two astronauts up there. Sunday’s launch, also from SpaceX, is considered the first “operational” flight of Falcon 9 and its Dragon capsule, because it confirms that it is no longer just a test flight.
But the fact remains that it is still public money: SpaceX, the company founded by billionaire Elon Musk, would never have launched in this adventure if there was not the guarantee of government contracts. She will charge $ 60 million to $ 67 million per astronaut she is tasked with sending to the space station (ISS). And NASA has paid SpaceX and its competitor, Boeing, nearly $ 8 billion in recent years to develop their respective rockets.
These figures explain why we are talking about a “slow” transition to private companies: it will be necessary a lot of time before human spaceflight became a profitable business, free from the government funds. In the long term, for example, mining projects are mentioned from the moon or asteroids.
But already, in the short term, customers will no longer be just space agencies: a company from Texas, Axiom Space, is on SpaceX’s customer list. to send four astronauts in orbit from 2021. Even one private space station cannot be ruled out, as the life expectancy of the ISS is approaching its end, and the Americans have not shown much interest in investing in it for longer.
This transition comes with a series of unprecedented legal issues: no international organization manages who can or cannot send ships into orbit. The question arises every time we talk about problem of “pollution » orbital – that is, the growing number of satellites that clutter the most coveted orbits and pose a increasing danger of collisions. For companies, the question of who has the right to do what will arise sooner or later.