Although the private space industry is starting to fill the gaps where government agencies like NASA are failing, there’s no doubt that these space expeditions are incredibly expensive. A company like SpaceX has a huge amount of funding at their disposal, but are their “Falcon Heavy” rockets capable of economical space travel that makes sense in a commercial market?
Elon Musk has dreams of landing humans on Mars, but that’s currently unattainable given our limits in technology as well as health concerns for astronauts on such a long journey. While Mars is a lofty goal, more and more companies are launching missions into space, and a number of startups hope that cheap rockets may soon be able to provide economical space travel and on-demand access to orbit.
While SpaceX and Boeing are perhaps the biggest corporations involved in space travel outside of governmental agencies, there are a number of smaller outfits such as Vector Launch, Virgin Orbit, and Rocket Lab that hope to capitalize on a growing demand for economical space travel that can suit the needs of a wider market.
These cheap rockets would be capable of holding a much smaller payload measured in pounds rather than tons, but the list of companies that need a rocket with the capacity of a Falcon Heavy is extremely small. SpaceX has some of the most advanced space equipment on the market, but without a market to purchase their services, it’s possible that the development of all of these expensive rockets may go to waste.
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The SpaceX Falcon 9, on the other hand, is much less expensive to launch and has run a number of commercial satellites into orbit. The push towards cheaper satellites being launched is clear, and while there will still be some demand for equipment with the incredible power of the Falcon Heavy, it appears as if the future is in cheap satellites.
However, Musk doesn’t seem nearly as interested in economical space travel as he does making it to Mars at all costs. While the future may be in small expeditions that are more accessible and offer more companies the chance to bring their satellites into space, Musk has moved on from the development of the Falcon Heavy and set his sights on an even bigger rocket – one with the capability to launch us to Mars and beyond.
Investors currently don’t really know what to make of SpaceX’s trajectory as well as the space industry at large. With different companies taking drastically different approaches, it’s difficult to tell whether these small startups will hit it big with economical space travel, or if SpaceX’s immense size and resources will enable them to build a rocket capable of taking us to Mars – a rocket that will no doubt pay for itself over time, with applications far beyond that one expedition.
It’s difficult to tell what the future holds in terms of leaving earth and exploring our universe. Whether economical space travel will make orbit more accessible to the average company or if Elon Musk’s plan to head to Mars pays off in the long run is currently unclear. What is clear, however, is that there’s a variety of different philosophies that compete and collaborate to bring us deeper into Space.