We must subsidize and regulate space exploration

In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web (popularizing the modern internet). He didn’t protect the technology because he wanted it to benefit us all. Three decades later, most of the power — and a lot of the profits — of the internet are in the hands of a few tech billionaires, and much of the early promise of the internet remains unfulfilled.

To avoid the same fate for space, we need to subsidize new players to create competition and lower costs, as well as regulate space travel to ensure safety.

Space matters. It could create countless jobs and fuel economies, and may even hold the solution to climate change. Investors can already see this, having poured billions into space companies in an industry with a potential market value of $1.4 trillion by 2030.

Space may seem too vast to be dominated by a few tech billionaires, but in 1989, so did the internet. We need to get this right, because from the mechanics and aerospace engineers to the marketing, information and logistics workers, the space industry could fuel global job creation and economic growth.

For that to happen, we need competition. What we have now is a few players operating perhaps for their founders’ benefits, not the world’s.

We should not repeat the mistakes we made with the internet and wait for the technology to be abused before we step in. For example, in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, a private technology company used weapons-grade social media manipulation to pursue their own profit (which is their obligation to their shareholders) but to society’s harm (which it is regulators’ job to protect).

In space, the stakes are even higher. They also affect all of humanity, not a few countries. There are environmental dangers (we are probing the carbon cost of “Earth” flights, but not space flights), and an accident, as well as leading to loss of life in space, could send fatal debris to Earth.

These dangers are not unforeseen. Virgin Galactic had its first fatality in 2014. A Space X launch puts out as much carbon dioxide as flying around 300 people across the Atlantic. Earlier this year, some unguided space debris from a Chinese rocket landed in the Maldives.

We should not wait until these accidents happen again — perhaps at a bigger scale — before we act.

Space tourism can and should be about much more than giving the 1% another Instagrammable moment and increasing the wealth of the billionaires who provide the service.

The space industry should be managed in a way that delivers the most good to the largest number of people. That starts with subsidies.

In short, we should treat space travel like any other form of transit. Making that sustainable economically will almost inevitably require some government intervention.

We have been here before: When the combination of air travel, highways and rising labor costs led the two largest railways in the United States to bankruptcy, the Nixon administration intervened and created Amtrak.

This wasn’t ideologically fueled (quite the opposite). This was a decision to make sure the U.S. reaped the economic benefits of interstate travel. Even though Amtrak remains unprofitable 50 years after its creation, it is a crucial piece of economic infrastructure upon which many other industries — as well as millions of individuals and families — rely.

We need to do the same with space travel. Very few individuals will benefit from what will be an uber-luxury segment of the travel market, with Virgin Galactic tickets predicted to cost $250,000 (and that is the entry-level space travel product; Virgin’s competitors are priced at multiples of that cost).

If we subsidize the industry now, while ensuring there are new competitors in space, we can ensure it hits a critical mass where all the broader benefits of space travel become a reality.

This will be much easier than waiting for monopolies to emerge and then trying to fight them (which is what the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is trying to do, decades too late, to Big Tech).

Space travel is not just hype or the plaything of billionaires. It is the final frontier, both physically and economically.

If we want it to be a success, we should learn from our successes and failures back on Earth and apply them to space now.

That means subsidies, support, regulation and safety. These things are important on Earth, but in space they are absolutely essential.

#aerospace, #column, #government, #opinion, #policy, #space, #space-debris, #space-tourism, #space-travel, #spaceflight, #tc, #virgin-galactic

Magdrive secures Seed funding for new propulsion system which could take us to the stars

A startup with a new type of spacecraft propulsion system could make the interplanetary travel seen in Star Trek a reality. Magdrive has just closed a £1.4M seed round led by Founders Fund, an early investor in SpaceX, backed by Luminous Ventures, 7percent Ventures, and Entrepreneur First.

Magdrive is developing a next generation of spacecraft propulsion for small satellites. The startup says its engine’s thrust and efficiency are a “generational leap” ahead of any other electrical thrusters, opening up the space industry to completely new types of missions that were not possible before, without resorting to much larger, expensive and heavier chemical thrusters. It says its engine would make fast and affordable interplanetary space travel possible, as well as operations in Very Low Earth orbit. The engine would also make orbital manufacturing far more possible than previously.

Existing electrical solutions are very efficient but have very low thrust. Chemical thrusters have high thrust but lack efficiency and are hazardous and expensive to handle. Magdrive says its engine can deliver both high thrust and high efficiency in one system.

Magdrive prototype render

Magdrive prototype render

If it works, the Magdrive engine could make spacecraft go faster for longer. This could open up the industry to new space missions, such as a satellite (or X-wing fighter?) that can make multiple, fast maneuvers, without worrying about conserving fuel. In order to do this right now, satellites require a chemical thruster, which requires a significant payload in fuel for launch. A 200kg satellite would require 50kg of hydrazine fuel, which would cost £1,350,000 in launch mass alone.

Co-founder (and Star Trek fan) Dr Thomas Clayson did a PhD in plasma physics, working on advanced electromagnetic fields. He realized this could be a cornerstone for developing a plasma thruster that could achieve the accelerations required for interplanetary space travel. After meeting Mark Stokes, a mechanical engineer at Imperial College London with similar dreams of space travel, they decided to build a small scale thruster for satellites.

But Magdrive is not alone. Other companies are developing so-called ‘Hall Effect Thrusters’, which is a technology that has existed since the 1960’s. Much of the development is towards miniaturization and mass reduction, but thrust and efficiency remain the same. These companies include Busek, Exotrail, Apollo Fusion, Enpusion, Nanoavionics. Meanwhile, large international companies with huge technology portfolios are working on improving chemical propulsion and making it non-toxic to handle, such as Aerojet Rocketdyne and Moog ISP.

They plan to scale up our technology to power larger manned spacecraft (once in orbit) to long-distance destinations such as the Moon and Mars. Our system would present a much more affordable than a chemical or nuclear solution, due to the huge reduction in fuel costs, and because it is reusable.

Andrew J Scott, Founding Partner, 7percent Ventures: “At 7percent we seek founding teams with ‘moonshot’ ambitions. With Magdrive this is not just a metaphor: their revolutionary plasma thruster will soon be powering satellites, but in the future could take us to deep space. While the UK’s expertise in constructing satellites is world-renowned, there has been far less focus on propulsion. In fact, Great Britain is the only country to have successfully developed and then, in the 1970’s abandoned, an indigenous satellite launch capability, which undoubtedly curbed the UK’s space sector. So we’re excited to be backing Magdrive, one of a new generation of British space startups, which has the vision and ambition to become a world-beating company in this burgeoning sector.”

The satellite industry is worth $5 Billion in 2020, predicted to grow to USD$30Billion by 2030, due to the rise in mega-constellations. Some 5,000 satellites are due to be launched in the next two years and 75% of all the companies launching these satellites have already flown something in space.

Magdrive is at the European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre in Harwell, Oxford.

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Kayhan Space wants to be the air traffic control service for satellites in space

Kayhan Space, the Boulder, Colo. and Atlanta-based company launched from Techstars virtual space-focused accelerator, wants nothing more than to be the air traffic control service for satellites in space.

Founded by two childhood friends, Araz Feyzi and Siamak Hesar, who grew up in Iran and immigrated to the U.S. for college, Kayhan is tackling one of the toughest problems that the space industry will confront in the coming years — how to manage the exponentially increasing traffic that will soon crowd outer space.

There are currently around 8,000 satellites in orbit around the earth, but over the next several years, Amazon will launch 3,236 satellites for its Kuiper Network, while SpaceX filed paperwork last year to launch up to 30,000 satellites. That’s… a lot of metal flying around.

And somebody needs to make sure that those satellites don’t crash into each other, because space junk has a whole other set of problems.

In some ways, Feyzi and Hesar are a perfect pair to solve the problem.

Hesar, the company’s co-founder and chief executive, has spent years studying space travel, receiving a master’s degree from the University of Southern California in aeronautics, and a doctorate in astronautical engineering from the University of Colorado, Boulder. He interned at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and spent three years at Colorado-based satellite situational awareness and systems control technology developers like SpaceNav and Blue Canyon Technologies.

Meanwhile Feyzi is a serial entrepreneur who co-founded a company in the Atlanta area called Syfer, which developed technologies to secure internet-enabled consumer devices. Using Hesar’s proprietary algorithms based on research from his doctoral days at UC Boulder and Feyzi’s expertise in cloud computing, the company has developed a system that can predict and alert the operators of satellite networks when there’s the potential for a collision and suggest alternative paths to avoid an accident.

It’s a problem that the two founders say can’t be solved by automation on satellites alone, thanks to the complexity and multidimensional nature of the work. “Imagine that a US commercial satellite is on a collision course with a Russian military satellite,” Feyzi said. “Who needs to maneuver? We make sure the satellite operator has all the information available to them [including] here’s what we know about the collision about to happen here and here are the recommendations and options to avoid it.”

Satellites today aren’t equipped to visualize their surroundings and autonomy won’t solve a problem that includes geopolitical complexities and dumb space debris all creating a morass that requires human intervention to navigate, the founders said.

Today it’s too complex to resolve and because of the different nations and lack of standards and policy … today you need human input,” Hesar said.

And in the future, if satellites are equipped with sensors to make collision avoidance more autonomous, then Kayhan Space already has the algorithms that can provide that service. “If you think of the system and the sensors and the decision-making and [execution controls] actually performing that action… we are that,” Hesar said. “We have the algorithm whether it uses the ground-based sensor or the space-based sensor.”

Over the next eight years the space situational market is expected to reach $3.9 billion and there are very few companies equipped to provide the kind of traffic control systems that satellite network operators will need, the founders said.

Their argument was compelling enough to gain admission to the Techstars Allied Space Accelerator, an early stage investment and mentoring program developed by Techstars and the U.S. Air Force, the Netherlands Ministry of Defence, the Norwegian Ministry of Defence and the Norwegian Space Agency. And, as first reported in Hypeotamus, the company has now raised $600,000 in a pre-seed funding from investors including the Atlanta-based pre-seed investment firm, Overline, to grow its business.

And the company realizes that money and technology can’t solve the problem alone.

“We believe that technology alone can help but can’t solve this problem. We need the US to take the lead [on policy] globally,” said Feyzi. “Unlike airspace… which is controlled by countries. Space is space.” Hesar agreed. “There needs to be a focused effort on this problem.”


#amazon, #articles, #atlanta, #blue-canyon-technologies, #cloud-computing, #colorado, #iran, #metal, #outer-space, #pollution, #satellite, #serial-entrepreneur, #space-debris, #space-travel, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #techstars, #u-s-air-force, #united-states

Mission to Mars: Hilary Swank leads an elite team in trailer for Away

Hillary Swank stars as an elite astronaut preparing for a crewed mission to Mars in the new Netflix sci-fi drama series Away.

An elite international team of astronauts must leave family and friends behind for a three-year crewed mission to Mars in Away, a new science fiction drama from Netflix, starring Hilary Swank. Created by Andrew Hinderaker (Penny Dreadful), the 10-episode series was inspired by a 2014 Esquire article by Chris Jones about astronaut Scott Kelly’s year-long sojourn aboard the International Space Station with a Russian cosmonaut—the longest space mission in American history.

Per the official synopsis:

Away is a thrilling, emotional drama on an epic scale that celebrates the incredible advancements humans can achieve and the personal sacrifices they must make along the way. As American astronaut Emma Green (Hilary Swank, I Am Mother, Boys Don’t Cry) prepares to lead an international crew on the first mission to Mars, she must reconcile her decision to leave behind her husband (Josh Charles, The Good Wife) and teenage daughter (Talitha Bateman, Countdown) when they need her the most. As the crew’s journey into space intensifies, their personal dynamics and the effects of being away from their loved ones back on Earth become increasingly complex. ​Away shows that sometimes to reach for the stars, we must leave home behind.

The trailer opens with Emma’s NASA engineer husband Matt playing the opening bars of Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” on a piano, as she presents their daughter Alexis with a gift: a necklace with three stones, representing Earth, the Moon, and Mars. “And the string is me making my way back to you. So just remember, the further away I get, I’m actually getting closer to being back to you.”

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#away, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #mars, #netflix, #science-fiction-television, #space-travel, #streaming-television