Start-up enterprise: Launching the new space race

 作者:戎斐     |      日期:2017-05-18 08:01:00
By Greg Klerkx The next generation of aerospace entrepreneurs have begun their mission: to boldly go where NASA can’t afford to go any more ON 4 JUNE this year, under the sweltering Florida sun, hundreds of rocket-watchers cluster around the swampy fringes of Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral. At 2.45 pm they get what they are waiting for: the rocket on the launch platform fires up its engines and roars into the sky. Seconds later, it is a mere flicker of light in the deep blue above, and 10 minutes after lift-off it reaches Earth orbit. By all accounts, a flawless flight. Most rocket launches these days are routine affairs, but this one was special. It was not ordered by NASA or the US air force, and the rocket had not been built by Boeing or Lockheed Martin, the two giants of US aerospace. This was the first launch of a rocket called Falcon 9, built from scratch by an 8-year-old outfit called SpaceX. The launch wasn’t just a triumph for SpaceX: it was also a giant step towards a space age in which agile start-ups will play a leading part. At least, that’s the plan. Two big changes are driving the space industry in this direction. The first is the impending end of the space shuttle era, with the last flight due some time in the next nine months. The second, and possibly more significant one, is the huge cost-cutting exercise under way in the US. Earlier this year President Barack Obama proposed cancelling the funding for NASA’s $97 billion Constellation programme,