Blue Origin, SpaceX and Virgin Galactic have all sent paying customers to space in the past year and aim to ramp up that side of their businesses in the coming months. Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are running suborbital tours to the edge of space that offer a few minutes of weightlessness and an epic view of Earth, but Blue Origin is working on a larger rocket capable of transporting people and cargo to orbit and beyond.
This vision requires the construction of more spaceports, Starships and the cutting of much bureaucratic red tape, but we get to see the first test of what such a flight could look like in the coming year, perhaps as soon as early 2022
Among the missions already on the launch docket is a partnership between Axiom Space and SpaceX that will see a commercial spacecraft loaded exclusively with paying, private astronauts visiting the International Space Station for the first time.
Commercial space flights drew massive media coverage in the past year, launched infinitely more memes than humans and provided fodder for Netflix documentaries. Depending on how 2022 goes, we will either look back on 2021 as the weird year during a pandemic when we were all captivated by billionaires and celebrities going to space, or as the moment a new era started — akin to the way history now thinks about the likes of the Wright brothers, Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart.
Which trajectory aeronautics will take in the coming year hinges, in characteristically dramatic fashion, on the world’s richest man and his magnum opus of a rocket. Dubbed Starship, the next-generation vehicle that Elon Musk is building to take humans to the moon and bition but also old-fashioned in its retro-futuristic aesthetic and moniker.
While it’s payday loan stores in Maynardville Tennessee not yet anywhere near the cadence of uncrewed launches, the amount of humans now taking joyrides to and from orbit reached a new level in 2021, and that looks set to continue in the new year
Starship is the vehicle Musk hopes to use to eventually transport thousands of people to Mars as we attempt to become a multiplanetary species. The logistics for this project, easily the most ambitious undertaking in all of human history, haven’t been worked out beyond building the vehicle. In the meantime, though, NASA has signed up to use Starship to take astronauts back to the moon as early as 2025.
But the far-off trips to the moon and Mars may be less important, ultimately, than the flights Starship will make closer to home. The odds are still pretty overwhelming that you and I will never set foot on either of those other worlds. But it is the potential to use space and SpaceX rockets for point-to-point trips around the globe that could transform our existence the way the Wright brothers did in North Carolina one day in 1903.
From the first time he introduced Starship (previously known as BFR), Musk has floated the idea that it could launch from various spaceports on different parts of the globe, head up to space and then reenter and land on the other side of the world. The result is a super-fast international flight that also offers the opportunity to experience weightlessness and a world-class view — the same view that people are already laying down hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars to enjoy for only a few minutes via Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic.
SpaceX is set to perform the first orbital flight of a Starship prototype launched from Texas. From there it will climb to orbit and then reenter the atmosphere to come in for a soft splashdown off the coast of Hawaii.