Launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Rocket Sets New Standard for Space Travel
On February 6th, SpaceX launched its new Falcon Heavy rocket at the Kennedy Space Center from the same launch pad that NASA used to send men to the moon half a century ago. The occasion was momentous not only because the Falcon Heavy is currently the most powerful rocket in existence but also because the launch concluded with the successful landing of two boosters.
SpaceX rockets’ resourceful designs have large implications for affordable space travel, according to Charles Miller, president of NexGen Space. Miller led a study in 2015 which estimated that all missions using the Falcon Heavy rocket would only cost $1 billion. This is the minimum amount required to launch one NASA Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.
The Falcon Heavy is an important stepping stone towards space colonization. At a post-launch press conference, SpaceX’s CEO Elon Musk revealed that the company is already developing a new spacecraft which he calls the “Big F--king Rocket” or BFR. He expects the BFR to generate more than twice the amount of thrust of the Falcon Heavy, carry a 150 ton payload, and even transport passengers to Mars.
Lori Garver, NASA's former deputy administrator, points to another interesting development which is the privatization of space exploration. She writes: “The question to be answered in Washington now is why would Congress continue to spend billions of taxpayer dollars a year on a government-made rocket... now that the private sector has shown they can do it for a fraction of the cost?"
Bruce Pittman, Senior Vice President of the National Space Society, states that “the private sector is ready, willing, and seems to be able step up to these kinds of challenges, which I don’t think 10 or 15 years ago was true.”
Indeed, billionaires and private companies are spearheading space exploration. Musk’s biggest competition is not NASA but rather Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos. Through his company, Blue Origin, he has already landed a reusable rocket and is currently building a new spacecraft.
The space race between governments and private companies, although strange, offers opportunities like never before to reach other planets. “There’s really no downside for NASA,” says Casey Dreier, the Planetary Society’s Director of Space Policy. “[It’s] just a really exciting day to be a human.”