As much of the world moved in and out of lockdowns and their exits rationed due to the pandemic, humanity has taken giant steps in a whole new direction in 2021. Powered by the personal ambition of some Intrepid billionaires, it was the everyday traveller’s turn to head into space, or at least to its edge in some cases. All in all, the year gave a glimpse of this day, not too far away, when we could stroll in the ink unknown or plan a stay of a few days in the bosom of the stars. And just as advances in commercial aviation have lowered the cost of flying for all, the growing number of tourists in space could serve to bring it within reach of ever-growing numbers of people. Maybe it’s time to check out some of the brochures.
Why was 2022 important for space travel?
Seniors, a teenager, a cancer survivor, and lay professionals all made the round trip in 2021, the year that saw unprecedented traffic to space, which included the usual mix of billionaires who have so far been almost all clientele for space travel given the prohibitive costs involved. But not anymore, like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, serial entrepreneur Richard Branson, and galactic maverick Elon Musk have all supported missions to take joint passengers into space.
The great lightning bolt of inspiration these billionaires built their space fantasy flight on is a reusable craft that can be used for multiple trips, dramatically reducing the cost of trips beyond the stratosphere.
The New Shepard spacecraft that took Bezos and his fellow travelers to space is a reusable system designed to have the thruster, or rocket, return to the launch pad from where it took off after delivering the capsule carrying the travelers. from space to the line where Earth’s atmosphere officially ends and space begins. The pod then returns separately – landing using thrusters and parachutes – after giving the riders a taste of weightlessness and giving them a view of the curvature of the Earth against the inky blackness of the ‘space. The whole trip is done in less than 15 minutes.
The Virgin Galactic spacecraft is different in that instead of a rocket and pod, it has a spacecraft that overlays a mothership. The mothership takes off from a runway before climbing to a height of 50,000 feet. âOnce past the thickest layers of the atmosphere, our ships don’t need huge amounts of fuel to reach space,â Virgin Galactic said, highlighting the flight’s âenergy efficientâ credentials.
Once at the desired altitude, the mothership releases the spacecraft, whose rocket then ignites, “sending the spacecraft into space” at a speed slightly above Mach 3. The spacecraft eventually reaches a height. 300,000 feet, or about 90 km, above the Earth’s surface. , this is when passengers can experience weightlessness. Virgin Galactic’s journey ends with the pilot sliding the spacecraft to a soft landing on the same runway.
For the Inspiration4 mission, the company’s first civilian crew sortie, SpaceX used its giant Falcon 9 rocket to transport the passenger capsule into space. SpaceX describes Falcon 9 as the “first orbital-class rocket capable of hovering”, adding that it is designed to enable “the reliable and safe transport of people and payloads in Earth orbit and beyond”. âReusability allows SpaceX to recharge the more expensive parts of the rocket, which in turn lowers the cost of accessing space,â the company said.
Where can we go in space?
As the general region heads up, there is a big difference between Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic flights and SpaceX travel, the first two being suborbital flights while the third gave people on board a taste. of lower Earth orbit (LEO).
What Branson and Bezos did was essentially touch the edge of space, with both flights ending in just a few minutes. The Inspiration4 crew, meanwhile, spent three days in orbit, returning to Earth in a “splash down” at a landing site at sea off the American coast.
Since the SpaceX Resilience Crew Mod was designed to stay in orbit, it had to move fast enough to beat Earth’s gravity or it would fall back onto the planet. US space agency Nasa said that “the momentum and force of gravity of the spacecraft must be balanced for an orbit to occur.”
âWhen these forces are balanced, the object always falls toward the planet, but because it moves sideways quite quickly, it never hits the planet,â he says. The Resilience capsule will therefore move at what is called orbital speed to circle the Earth. At the altitude at which it will be placed, that implies a speed of over 27,000 km / h, which means that the four-member crew will complete a full rotation around the Earth every 90 minutes. Branson and Bezos flights only reached a fraction of such speeds.
How thick was space traffic in 2021?
If what had been a trickle for so long really turned into a tide, 2021 will definitely go down in history as the year ordinary humans walked into space with little more than basic training.
Reports say the year, at one point, saw a record 19 people in space at one time, eight of whom were lay travelers. In total, more than 20 civilians have made the trip to space in the past year, and that’s not counting Branson’s Virgin Galactic crew and their flight mates as they were deemed not to have crossed the line. Karman, the notional point where space is said to begin.
A report says there were a total of six tourist flights to space in 2021, which saw more than 134 orbital missions, making it the year with the most space launches since Yuri Gagarin became the first human to make a foray into the great unknown. in 1961 aboard a Russian rocket. Russia also recorded an unusual premiere in 2021 when two members of the country’s film industry made the trip to the International Space Station (ISS) to shoot the first feature film in space.
However, with all of this traffic comes a risk of congestion, which is of concern given that there really are no rules governing traffic and the right of way up there. The rapid growth potential of space tourism underscores the need for regulations and rules that would govern everything from how and when civilians can get there and what protocols to follow in the event of an emergency or untoward event.
What will ticket prices look like?
Despite the great strides in space with the regular passenger in mind, you’d still be right in thinking that a space trip should only be planned if you have a few million dollars to spend. But the costs are likely to come down with each successful trip. While a ticket on the Bezos flight – it has been auctioned off – had cost over $ 28 million, a ride on the Branson flight costs only a fraction of that price.
In fact, reports indicate that Virgin Galactic already has between 600 and 700 bookings at around $ 450,000 for a ticket. It is not yet clear what the normal cost of a ride on a Blue Origin rocket will be. These journeys only last a few minutes, of course. For a longer stay, there is the ISS, but this remains a rather expensive option. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa is reported to have paid around $ 80 million for a 12-day trip to space in late 2021 which he invited a guest to.
It is reported that in January 2022, Musk’s SpaceX is taking private passengers to the ISS at a cost of $ 55 million per person. If accommodation in the ISS seems cramped, there could be a solution for that too with Bezos’ company announcing in 2021 that it was developing a “business park” in space, i.e. say a private space station that will allow options for everything from enjoying a rest to organizing movie shoots in space.
A report said the cheapest way to get to space could be the package that another company, Space Perspective, is working to put together, which will see passengers being launched aboard a pressurized, powered capsule. by a space balloon with the six hour flight to cost about 125,000 USD per person. But it may not be before 2024 that the company will deploy its service to its first passengers.
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