The space industry is no place for the impatient. For all the talk of upcoming milestones and advancements, the actual project timelines often seem, well, far-out. Sure, NASA wants to go to Mars in the 2030s, but what about now? What’s happening now?
Good news. The space industry is undergoing a 21st-century renaissance. Progress is happening—perhaps not as quickly as some would like, but much faster than it has in several decades. The year ahead is set to continue this trajectory, with several out-of-this-world ideas inching closer to reality.
Indeed, we’re expecting a lot from the space industry in 2017. Here are some of the more exciting trends on the horizon.
SpaceX gets back on track
After a disappointing explosion back in September 2016, Elon Musk’s SpaceX has returned to form with the successful liftoff and landing of its Falcon 9 satellite-ferrying rocket earlier this month. The rocket launched into orbit 10 communications satellites designed to replace existing models that are out-of-date and far less powerful. Over the next 14 months, SpaceX plans to launch 60 more replacement satellites through a series of six more Falcon 9 journeys.
American space taxis
While NASA astronauts currently rely on Russia for rides to and from the International Space Station, this hitchhiking needn’t continue much longer. Both Boeing and SpaceX have been tasked with developing American “space taxis,” helping to end the current dependence on Russia. These “locally-made” space shuttles won’t only be more efficient, but cheaper too. A seat aboard Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will ring in at around $58 million, whereas a spot on Russia’s Soyuz capsule currently sets us back a whopping $81 million.
Space tourism: the vacation of a lifetime
Any spring break plans? Forget Maui and Cancun. How about space? You can’t get a more exotic destination than that. Although you might not be able to book your space holiday just yet, companies like SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin all hope to launch commercial flights to space within the next decade. In fact, last October the president of Blue Origin, Rob Meyerson, said “We're still on track for flying people—our test astronauts—by the end of 2017, and then starting commercial flights in 2018."
Global, space-based Internet
You won’t need to travel to space in order to benefit from this intergalactic initiative. Plans by several companies—including SpaceX, OneWeb and Boeing—to develop a global, space-based Internet service are well underway. Once in place, you’ll be able to reap the benefits from the comfort of your own living room. What makes a space-based Internet service transmitted via satellites so appealing compared to existing cable and fiber-optic networks? As Elon Musk explained last year, it will allow for high-speed Internet access even in the most remote corners of the globe.
Modern space treaties
As Space Angels Network CEO Chad Anderson explained in an interview with Fast Company magazine, one of the best ways to encourage people to invest in space is to give them ownership of the interstellar property they discover or mine. In the same way that the Homestead Acts of the 1860s rewarded pioneering Americans with land for their risky travels westward, many in the space industry want more property rights for today’s space entrepreneurs. It might not be long before new treaties are drawn up to ensure companies get ownership over the space real estate they claim.