Written by Patrick Hobbs
The boundaries of science and technology are constantly being advanced further through the constant strive to innovate, something which is only being exaggerated by the influence of private firms or high-powered individuals. Whilst this is not abnormal throughout history, the latter’s emergence into the world of commercial travel has perhaps opened the world’s eyes to the possibility that there are no boundaries.
The most prevalent example of this in recent times is the race for space travel for the public, a hotly contested marathon between Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk, the men responsible for the Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and Space X programs respectively. The profound impact of private firms in this industry is highlighted by the three-fold increase in cosmonautic patent applications in the years from 2007 to 2017 and this may be a trend that is expected to continue as private firms led by the super-rich drive to further the final frontier of space travel and tourism.
These private firms’ research and development efforts have been years in the making, with Space X, Virgin Galactic, and Blue origin founded in the early 2000s. However, only in recent years has the industry taken the next step to turn what some may have called the projects as a ‘billionaire’s dream’ into a real-life reality through historic innovations. 2021 has already seen first Branson, then Bezos leave the earth behind as they travelled into space aboard vessels developed within their respective programs, a truly historic moment for space tourism.
Whilst the Branson, Bezos trips may be the most visible innovations can be seen to many the success of each program has had a significant impact across the entire aerospace and cosmonautic industry with the Space X program delivering the Falcon 9 that successfully achieved the first vertical landing of a commercial orbital booster. Not only this, but the Space X program is responsible for the Merlin engine which achieves the highest thrust to weight ratio of any liquid rocket engine ever made (>150) and therefore achieves the title of the most efficient booster in history.
In comparison to the achievements of international space agencies, the programme is still in its relatively early stages with considerable amounts of work to still be completed, this is surely just a taster for what we can expect from these private firms in this massively exciting area of R&D.
Elon Musk has the vision to drive the Falcon 9 into the fully reusable vessel, to be launched like an aircraft, to truly revolutionise space tourism, in turn reducing the costs to an economically viable level. There is still some way to go before this is achieved, but it would be unwise to bet against seeing this concept pioneering space travel in the future and certainly before the turn of the century.