Space Travel and Habitation
“Commercialized space travel will see a lot of innovation,” says Jeffrey Baumgartner, founder of the JPB innovation consultancy.
“Much of it will be incremental in nature, but the result—low-cost, easy travel to space and potential bases on the moon and, in the longer term, Mars—will involve substantial innovation.”
Some firms to watch, says Mr. Baumgartner, are Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic LLC and Bigelow Aerospace LLC.
Human habitation in space so far has taken place in rigid vehicles like the International Space Station. Bigelow, based in North Las Vegas, Nev., is developing inflatable modules that should be easier and cheaper to launch. Bigelow already is orbiting two unmanned, expandable prototypes and says it is planning assembly of four new spacecraft by 2015.
“The key here,” says Mr. Baumgartner, “is that aeronautics is leaving government control and being taken over by industry, where cost-cutting and profitability, rather than contractors milking the state for as much as they can get, will lead to a lot of innovation, affordability and efficiency.”
A critical obstacle to any sort of space-based future is getting some rather sizable objects beyond the reach of the Earth’s gravity.
But Langdon Morris, a partner with the InnovationLabs LLC consulting firm, notes that while state-invested companies in the U.S., Russia and Europe have developed “heavy lift” launch capabilities, one private firm is moving to surpass them all in terms of payload capacity—an innovation that could slash launch prices and make larger payloads commercially viable.
SpaceX, of Hawthorne, Calif., says it hopes for a 2013 launch of its Falcon 9 Heavy rocket, which is designed to carry payloads of up to 70,000 pounds into low Earth orbit, about one-third more than the Space Shuttle, which is the largest-capacity launch vehicle now in operation.
“Cost-effective heavy-lift launch will enable new space commerce industries,” says Mr. Morris.
Space-Based Solar Power
“Once heavy-lift launch is solved, space solar power will be close behind,” says Mr. Morris. “Space solar power could transform the Earth’s economy.”
The idea is for satellites in geostationary orbit to collect the sun’s energy and convert it into radio waves for transmission to surface stations, where it will be converted into electricity for local power grids.
Mr. Morris thinks there are several companies that could achieve this.
One is Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based Solaren Corp., which last year reached an agreement to sell 200 megawatts of electricity a year to California’s largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., for 15 years, starting in 2016. Solaren says it plans to test key systems and deployments in space in 2014, and launch its Space Solar Power Plant into geostationary orbit in 2016.
A competitor, Switzerland-based Space Energy Group, says it hopes to launch a test satellite within three years, assuming it gets expected funding.
Emphasis mine. I have higher hopes for the space transportation companies that the power satelliters, but more power to all of them. So to speak.