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To the Stars! Future of Space Engineering

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To the Stars! Future of Space Engineering

Parker Teters, Reporter

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Ever since the Space Shuttle Programs closure in 2011, there’s been huge shifts in the Aerospace industry with a movement from Government funded and run space programs towards commercially funded and run space programs. These new programs are without doubt,  more efficient, faster, and cheaper than their government funded counterparts on every level.

Since the closure of the space shuttle program, there’s only been one way for people to reach low earth orbit, and thus the International Space Station and that’s the Soyuz family of rockets. The Soyuz is a Russian rocket originally engineered in the 1960s Cold War era, developed to allowed crewed missions to space, as well as rendezvousing and docking with other crafts or stations, but has gotten continuous upgrades for most every aspect of the craft. However what this means is Russia has had a complete monopoly over the crewed space industry and as a result, has had ridiculous price increases of $37.7 million per seat in 2011, to a staggering $82 million per seat in 2018, and an almost $20 million dollar increase 6 months before the space shuttle program’s closure, to 6 months after as reported by parabolic.com.

Luckily this problem was foreseen beforehand. That’s why in 2010, Congress began approving funding for the Commercial Crew Program. The Commercial Crew Program’s main goal was and is to get multiple companies approved by NASA for crewed space flights into space by providing investments, government contracts, and assistance from NASA engineers. Starting off with a budget of just under $50 Million, NASA began investing in Boeing, the Sierra Nevada Corp, Blue Origin, the United Launch Association, and the Paragon Space Development Company, each showing promise.

However, predating the cancelation of the Space Shuttle program and Commercial Crew Program, the Commercial Resupply Service was set in place in 2008 to ensure continuous cargo deliveries to the International Space Station after the shuttle programs closure, with a total of $700 million being awarded to the companies SpaceX, and Orbital ATK. However, the awards provided by NASA was less than 50% of the development costs for each companies’ relative cargo delivery services, with the rest actually being provided by the companies themselves, a great alternative to government programs providing the funds entirely themselves, and for less, such as SpaceX’s 1.0 version of the Falcon 9 rocket. An official NASA cost estimation breaking down the development and testing costs for the Falcon 9 estimated it’s costs were $1.5 Billion, however it’s estimated development costs using NASA’s development and testing methods were projected to be at nearly $4 Billion, an incredible difference that saves taxpayers dollars, stimulates industry, and speeds up technology development.

With reduced development costs and less oversight than the government alternative, these commercial companies are able to get drastically lower costs on transportation for obit not only for cargo, but crewed missions as well. With NASA’s space shuttle, it’s lowest cost to put a kilogram into low earth orbit was $26,884 however with SpaceX’s recent release of the Falcon Heavy, it’s been dropped to $951.

With the recent success of testing of SpaceX’s Dragon 2 capsule, it’s exciting to see one of the last steps towards commercial missions complete, opening the door for more companies and missions in the future. Currently the next step for SpaceX’s crew verification is a launch escape system (an abort system to eject the crew in case of a problem) test set for June, along with Boeing’s test of it’s crew capsule, the CST-100 Starliner in April.

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