Sixty years since the launch of Sputnik, the human race is now on the brink of commercial crewed space flights. The space industry is no more exclusive to government enterprises, companies like Boeing, SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic have revolutionized the space industry in ways that no one would have imagined. Satellites are now capable of servicing robotic spacecraft at rendezvous points
Fremont, CA: Space has proved to be one of the most opportunistic fields of exploration for humankind. Since the very beginning, space has proved to be grounds for contention for different nations. In the 1950s, then superpowers Russia and the U.S.A. were the only two competitors for space domination, but the scenario has changed quite a lot since then. Almost every rising economy is investing heavily in space exploration, reaching new heights, and leveraging space technology to make life on Earth simpler.
Sixty years since the launch of Sputnik, the human race is now on the brink of commercial crewed space flights. The space industry is no more exclusive to government enterprises, companies like Boeing, SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic have revolutionized the space industry in ways that no one would have imagined. Satellites are now capable of servicing robotic spacecraft at rendezvous points. Satellite constellations to boost internet speeds and make it accessible in any corner of the world is also becoming a reality. Satellite imagery fed to Earth via artificial intelligence algorithms has show scope for powerful insights into all manner of human activity.
Over the years, the U.S. has continued its dominance for a very long period. After decommissioning the Space Shuttle in 2011, the U.S. was left without a launch vehicle until recently, when Elon Musk owned SpaceX delivered the Falcon range to launch American Spacecraft into space. The company is currently working on the Crew Dragon spacecraft that is set to carry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). The Crew Dragon is built with features to complete missions to the Moon and Mars as part of the Artemis program.
The second generation of the space race has already begun; only this time, its the U.S. and China who have locked horns. However, the space programs by both nations do not show any of the usual characteristics of a space race. This could be because of the Communist Chinese government's steadfast determination not to face the same fate as the Soviet Union. The communist leaders understand that unsustainable fiscal spending poses a more significant threat to national security than the U.S. lead in space capabilities. The Chinese government does not disclose its space budget, but even the more generous estimates show the budget to be not more than one-fourth of the U.S. space budget.
The U.S. government, on the other hand, understands their position in the global space race and believes not much can be achieved by getting things done in a rush. Since George W. Bush, all the U.S. presidents have taken major turns when it comes to space missions. Bush orchestrated the beginning of deep space exploration while Obama took a different approach by shifting the focus on asteroid exploration. The Trump administration changed the space exploration agenda all over again by focusing on returning man to Moon and crewed missions to Mars. Trump also intends to land the first woman on the Moon in 2024. While laying out these missions, the Trump administration has shown a sense of urgency that was last seen during the Apollo missions.
The Chinese space artillery has been portrayed as a significant threat to the U.S. government. However, that does not seem to be the case when the numbers are compared. The U.S. outnumbers the Chinese satellites 1000 to 300, while SpaceX alone boasts of 60 percent of the commercial space launch market compared to China's 10 percent. The U.S. arsenal also has more powerful launch vehicles than its counterpart. SpaceX's reusable Falcon Heavy can lift 64 tonnes into low Earth orbit, while China’s most powerful rocket, the single-use Long March 5B, can lift just 25 tonnes, and remains out of service following a launch failure in 2017.
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