Private Rocket Launches Keeping Space Coast Buzzing
The Space Coast is still abuzz about the spectacular inaugural launch of the huge SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, its 27 engines powering a third stage and its payload of an American automobile in an orbit beyond Mars.
An all-electric, red Tesla Roadster owned by the company owner Elon Musk is cruising at 8,000 mpåh well beyond the Moon, it space-suited mannequin named “Starman” has the top down and headed for the asteroid belt.
Tesla Motor Co. founder Musk, a self-made billionaire from Pretoria, South Africa, has quite a history in high tech business at just age 47. Musk did a victory lap at a local restaurant “Fish Lips” at Port Canaveral, toasting his local employees just six miles from the famed pad 39A that once launched the Saturn V moon rocket and more than 50 Space Shuttles. And now the largest operational rocket has assumed third place behind Saturn and Shuttle as the most powerful machines to leave Earth.
Local space buffs around Kennedy Space Center found the Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 6th launch of the first Falcon Heavy just as exhilarating to watch as the Space Shuttle, which was mothballed after the final July 2011 launch of Atlantis. That’s when the Obama Administration cancelled the manned Constellation program, turning the business of rocket launches over to the private sector.
Launch pads and facilities have been repurposed for lease to rocket businesses, charging clients to place their satellites in orbit. Those paying payloads include satellites for communications, science and defense for countries around the world.
SpaceX has grabbed the spotlight with its successful 2017 when it launched more than a dozen Falcon 9 rockets with missions, including two resupply missions of their unmanned Dragon reusable spacecraft to the International Space Station.
Musk now turns to building what he calls the BFR (Big F****** Rocket) that is needed for his vision to send a 40-person spaceship of pioneers to settle Mars. That has a time-line of mid-2020s, and the challenges are becoming real.
SpaceX is right now the big player in the new Private Space Race between many specialized companies building rockets, satellites, the support equipment and computer software—all the millions of pieces and parts they need. Their nine-engine Falcon 9 rocket was successfully launched 16 times in 2017, and there are 36 paid customer launches scheduled for 2018—the payloads ranging from television satellites for Bulgaria to the reusable Dragon supply ship for the International Space Station.
A new breed of aerospace engineers in their 20s and 30s are infusing a new energy into the American dream as high-tech innovations find their way into outer space applications. And that means jobs coming back to Florida’s Space Coast (as well as across the country), which became a shell of itself after more than 15,000 contract workers left when the Space Shuttle era ended in 2011.
One private space company soon to be a giant is Blue Origin, owned by the world richest man, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, worth $90 billion. His rocket production plant is within eyeshot of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex where the rockets named New Shepard and New Glenn honor two of America’s original astronauts.
Blue Origin also has reusable rockets and is building a four-man spacecraft. They plan to start launching customer satellites for profit in 2019 but are also working hard on their manned program.
There is a Musk-Bezos space feud in progress for bragging rights of who will put the first astronauts in orbit by a private company. Also, in the running for that historic milestone is Boeing’s Apollo-like Starliner spacecraft and Sierra Nevada Corp. with their “Dream Chaser” mini-shuttle. And Sir Richard Branson and his suborbital Virgin Galactic for 6 passengers is nearing a reality at $250,000 for five minutes of weightlessness.
Meanwhile, it is symbolic of American industry to have a pioneering automobile in cruise control at 8,000 mph, an interplanetary statement about humans pushing the boundaries.
Public relations departments of the aerospace industry need to take note of a sales gimmick that has put the world on notice: America’s new rocket scientists are poised and ready to boldly go where no man has gone before. And leading the way is a cherry-red roadster.
Photo: Elon Musk