On Wednesday, Elon Musk’s commercial aerospace company SpaceX put four astronauts into orbit as part of Inspiration4, the first civil space mission. They will return to Earth in three days and make history.However except Data collection In order to increase a strong research organization on human health and space performance, the value of Inspiration4 as a research mission is questionable.
Although the eyes will be focused on the crew and missions, the game changer to be observed may be the SpaceX project underway in the background: Starship, which the company envisions will be a fully reusable transportation system. In May, the Starship SN15 became the first prototype of the system, capable of launching 10,000 meters without any catastrophic errors. Starship’s first successful orbital flight may be achieved by the end of this year, and a lunar flyby using this system is planned for 2023.
If everything goes according to plan, the starship system will double the launch cost and usher in a new era of commercial space.Indeed, as an author 2021 white paper In the ten-year survey of planetary science and astrobiology, he wrote: “The SpaceX Starship system has fundamentally changed the paradigm of NASA science, technology development and testing, and human space exploration.”
The promise of Starship is related to its size and reuse potential. SpaceX says a 120-meter-tall spacecraft will be able to transport 100 metric tons of payload,along with Maximum volume Any existing launcher.Unlike any other orbital launch system, the interstellar spacecraft will be fully reusable, and Musk has said that this can reduce launch costs. Approximately USD 2 million at a time.
Waleed Abdalati, director of the Collaborative Institute of Environmental Science at the University of Colorado, said that launching a large telescope into space will cost more than $100 million, and reducing this price by two orders of magnitude will have a huge impact on remote sensing. Boulder.He said that putting telescope and satellite payloads into orbit will help climate science in two ways: first, by supplementing the usual]] With a life span of three to five years, interstellar spacecraft can create a cheaper way to continuously observe our planet. Second, as part of the Earth System Explorer program, it can achieve more ambitious scientific missions, each with a cost cap of US$350 million.
“If your launch vehicle eats up 60 million dollars [$350 million] Or more, your actual mission has reached a considerable resource limit,” Abdalati said. “If Starship can reduce launch costs, then there is more that can be used for the scientific mission itself. “Astronomers have similar hopes: at least one of the proposed next-generation NASA telescopes has Reviewed by SpaceX Launch for possible interstellar spacecraft in the future.
Indirectly, interstellar spacecraft can benefit the state of suborbital and orbital science by bringing space debris back to Earth. Space junk poses a danger to launch vehicles and orbital vehicles in operation. Abdalati said that any solution to reduce congestion in the sky will be “very important.”Such a cleanup mission can even see the starship recover Dead satellite in SpaceX Starlink system As their numbers increase-although critics may notice that in this case, the company will clean up its own orbital chaos, and removing the obsolete Starlink satellites will not alleviate the huge constellation’s impact on terrestrial astronomers. trouble.
Storing payloads and recovering other payloads in orbit is an added benefit of Starship’s stated goal, which is to transport cargo and eventually crew to the moon and Mars. According to a recent white paper, the list of authors includes researchers affiliated with NASA and SpaceX. The company currently plans to launch multiple unmanned interstellar spacecraft missions to Mars every two years-each time using planetary arrangements that are particularly conducive to navigation. The author writes that without a crew, the potential for unloading cargo on Mars and bringing back samples from Earth is great. Similar opportunities exist for transportation to and from the Earth and the Moon. In this regard, especially the sheer size of Starship is an asset. “Because Starship can return tens of tons of payload from the lunar surface, the sample quality of lunar samples returned from a single mission will dwarf the total return mass of all lunar samples from all sample return missions so far,” the author writes.
But Pierre Lionnet, head of research at Eurospace, the European Aerospace Industry Trade Association, said that it is important to question SpaceX’s core proposition that interplanetary spacecraft can significantly reduce launch costs. As a professional space economist, Lionnet said that when launching anything into space incurs a lot of costs, people usually pay great attention to launch costs.For example, the Rosetta space probe and Philae lander achieved the first comet soft landing in 2014, and the European Space Agency spent nearly 1.4 billion euros (About 1.7 billion US dollars), but its launch cost is less than 10% of the total cost.
Lionnet said that the ratio of launch costs to the total cost of creating and deploying satellites, telescopes, and other equipment determines which organizations will find Starship’s innovations particularly valuable. “For companies, reducing publishing costs can significantly change the economic equation,” he added. “For a scientific project, not so much.”
Lionnet said that although the $2 million release cost is compelling, this figure does not tell the whole story. SpaceX is not a public company, so it did not disclose all the costs of entering Starship, from building more than a dozen prototypes from scratch to hiring An army of designers and engineers. Lionnet said Starship will eventually have to recover these costs.This may explain the breadth of its proposed application to a certain extent: SpaceX not only promotes the system as an economical launcher for interplanetary ferry, space junk scavenger, and large satellite, but also Point-to-point global transportation service Able to send payloads or people to any place on the earth within an hour.
“If you open a burger restaurant tomorrow, you tell me,’I am smart; my burger is 10 cents instead of 1.50 US dollars,” I want to know “Where are you going to buy meat? Where are you going to buy bread? How will you pay the people who work for you? This is exactly what is happening to Elon Musk,” Lionnet said.
Others, such as Lori Garver, former deputy director of NASA, are more optimistic about the prospects of interstellar spacecraft. In 2010, Garver helped develop a federal budget agreement that provided NASA funding to develop partnerships with commercial space companies. She said that the tenacity of some billionaires’ starry space dreams often exceeds their unpredictability.
“Billionaires are more risky than a large aerospace company, but I think in the long run, they will undoubtedly be involved,” Garver said. “No one will give up.”
She added that it is in Musk’s best interest to win government contracts and use Starship to assist in research work to offset the startup costs he incurred. Winning these contracts means providing services that are cheaper than those managed internally by agencies such as NASA, so there is a fixed upper limit on the fees SpaceX can charge federal customers. At the same time, Garver said that as interplanetary spacecraft launch payloads more efficiently than ever before, Congress will seek to redistribute funds previously designated for NASA launch costs. She added that whether the money will stay with NASA depends on whether the agency can successfully expand into public interest areas, such as climate solutions or manned space exploration.
“The more we can do with national interests, the more money we get,” Garver said. “The reason why we increased during the Apollo program was not because,’Oh my God, we want to see what the moon is made of.’ No, let’s defeat the Russians. So what is our mission today?”
In her opinion, the established mission of Starship can be regarded as the mission. Zero Gravity Music Performance Besides, Musk believes that using the platform Establish a colony On Mars. Garver said that if you agree with the value of this premise, everything to achieve this goal may be considered valuable scientific exploration. This is not a new goal.
“When I worked at the National Aerospace Association in the 1980s, our mission was to create an aerospace civilization,” she said. “Knowing that we can’t live on this planet forever, it doesn’t take much to understand.”