Space Launch Complex 40 is located at the northern end of Cape Canaveral, Florida. The launchpad is currently home to the Falcon 9 rocket, delivering both commercial and NASA payloads to low Earth orbit and beyond.
LC-40 was first used in 1965 with the maiden flight of the Titan IIIC. Between 1965 and 2005 there were 30 Titan IIC, 8 Titan 34D and 17 Titan IV launches. Notable payloads include the failed Mars Observer spacecraft, launched in 1992, and the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft, which launched in 1997 and arrived at the gas giant Saturn in 2004.
Since 2007 the launchpad has been leased to commercial launch provider SpaceX for their Falcon 9 rocket. The pad has conducted thirteen Falcon 9 launches from 2010 to 2015. Among these launches there have been several successful missions to the International Space Station with the Dragon cargo spacecraft and a number of commercial satellite missions to both low Earth orbit and geostationary orbit. The only failure to note was the CRS-7 mission in June, where the Falcon 9 rocket disintegrated shortly after lift-off. The catastrophe resulted in the loss of the Dragon spacecraft and its cargo, and has forced SpaceX to stand down for several months in order to fix the issues with the rocket and produce a full report to the authorities.
SpaceX plan to retain the launchpad for many years to come. Although SpaceX are currently upgrading LC-39A, the launchpad will only be used for Falcon Heavy and commercial crew flights.
The Commercial Crew Program was first announced in December 2009. The objectives of the program set out by NASA was to stimulate the commercial space industry; facilitate commercial demonstration of crew transportation abilities; and achieve safer, more reliable, more cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit. Following the finale of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011, the program became even more significant as a gap appeared where no human spaceflight would launch from American soil for several years.
The program utilised a multi-phase approach to reduce the competitors to a final selection of just two companies.
The first phase was known as CCDev 1, where five companies received a portion of $50 million. In total, NASA received proposals from thirty-six companies. The chosen five consisted of Blue Origin ($3.7 million for innovative LAS), Boeing ($18 million for CST-100 development), Paragon Space Development Corporation ($1.4 million for plug-and-play life support system), Sierra Nevada Corporation ($20 million for Dream Chaser development), and United Launch Alliance ($6.7 million for an Emergency Detection System).
A second set of proposals were received in 2011. NASA awarded almost $270 million to four companies for developing human-rated space vehicles that would fly astronauts to the ISS from American soil once more, following the end of the Space Shuttle Program. The four companies who were awarded money were Blue Origin ($22 million), Sierra Nevada Corporation ($80 million for continued development of the Dream Chaser), SpaceX ($75 million for an integration launch abort system for the Dragon spacecraft), and Boeing ($92.3 million for continued development of CST-100).
The process continued into 2012, with even more money being given to the leading companies. Sierra Nevada Corporation received $212.5 million for further development on Dream Chaser, SpaceX received $440 million for further development of both the Dragon spacecraft and the Falcon 9 rocket, and Boeing received $460 million for further development of the CST-100 spacecraft.
On September 16 2014, NASA announced that Boeing and SpaceX received contracts for the transportation of crew to the ISS. Boeing were given $4.2 billion and SpaceX were given $2.6 billion. The contract offered asks both companies to develop, test and certify their space vehicles, then fly up to six operational flights to the ISS. The unfortunate loser of this fantastic advancement in commercial spaceflight was Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser. Despite a protest, the company were unable to achieve any further funding and will have to further develop their winged vehicle with their own cash.
SpaceX's Crew Dragon
Crew Dragon is the second version of the Dragon spacecraft. First revealed in May 2014, the spacecraft will be human-rated, performing crew transport between Earth and the ISS as part of the Commercial Crew Program. The spacecraft will fly atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral. Up to seven astronauts will be able to ride aboard what Elon Musk calls a 21st Century space vehicle.
The launch pad abort test of the Crew Dragon occurred on May 6 2015. This tested the spacecraft’s ability to quickly leave a rocket disaster and therefore keep the crew alive. The Crew Dragon could make its first flight as early as late 2016, where an unmanned test flight to the ISS would occur. However, this date is not set in stone. Similarly, if all goes to plan the first manned mission of the spacecraft could occur as soon as late 2017.
Boeing's CST-100 Starliner
The Boeing Crew Space Transportation system will also be transporting crew to the International Space Station from 2017. The space capsule can transport up to seven passengers, or a mix of crew and cargo, to low-Earth orbit. The vehicle will have flight compatibility with rockets Atlas V, Delta IV, Falcon 9 and the planned Vulcan rocket announced in 2015. The vehicle will have the ability to stay in orbit for up to seven months, and could be reused up to ten times.
Unlike SpaceX, Boeing are leaving their pad abort test until just months before the debut launch. Currently scheduled for February 2017, the capsule will be expected to prove that it can escape a catastrophic issue with the rocket. If successful, an unscrewed test mission will launch to the ISS in April 2017 and a crewed version in July. However, these dates are optimistic and are likely to change.
There are a plethora of companies currently aiming for asteroid mining. As the resources on Earth run dry, it is only a matter of time until space mining becomes essential for the continuation of the human race. As for the private companies targeting this emerging industry, this is potentially their gateway into unprecedented levels of future riches. The main question they face is, is it legal?
The “Space Act of 2015” bill has now officially passed in the US senate with a unanimous vote in its favour. This will give the spacecraft companies more power and cause them to be subjected to far less government oversight. They will be able to conduct spacecraft trials along with develop both their companies and their technologies further with next to no government interference. That is just the tip of the iceberg however, once this bill is signed by US President Barack Obama, it will give companies the right to own all of the resources they extract from asteroids, this includes platinum and even water. Quoting Planetary Resources Co-Chairman Eric Anderson, “Many years from now, we will view this pivotal moment in time as a major step toward humanity becoming a multi-planetary species”.
The bill states: “A United States citizen engaged in commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource under this chapter shall be entitled to any asteroid resource or space resource obtained, including to possess, own, transport, use, and sell the asteroid resource or space resource obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of the United States. The term ‘space resource’ means an abiotic resource in situ in outer space."
This is quite interesting since with this, private companies can essentially own asteroids whilst due to the “Outer Space Treaty”, most nations including the US, Russia, China and even the UK cannot themselves legally own celestial bodies in space, this includes asteroids. This is expected to cause severe controversy, since the US itself isn't allowed to own any celestial body, can they give private companies the right to own them? The Outer Space Treaty was both signed and made effective in 1967 however due to the significant advances in both technology and our knowledge of space since then, it has become quite outdated. This leaves many ambiguities such as whether any of the laws apply to private companies, the US seems to be using these ambiguities to its favour since they can pass this bill without technically breaking the treaty.
There are many questions left to answer in regards to the extent of the power being handed to these private companies however at the very least we can all rest assured that if any private company happens to find any alien life form, they cannot legally claim or own them and will be forced to pass them on to the government. What the government will do with them or whether the government can legally keep the alien presenting it to other nations remains unknown.
For now there are two main companies to keep an eye on in the space mining sector, “Deep Space Industries” and “Planetary Resources” since the sole purpose of the existence of the companies is to mine asteroids. Both of these have several spacecraft trials planned in the years to come with Planetary Resources having a trial underway right now. Earlier this year, they launched a trial vehicle from the International Space Station to test their avionics and control systems which they hope will one day be used in the first spacecraft to venture into the depths of the solar system to mine an asteroid.
Follow @CosmosRevealed on Twitter for the latest space news and astronomy images!
This article has been written by a guest editor. If you wish to see more articles like this, leave a comment below or get in contact on Twitter!
For the first time ever, flowers are being grown on the International Space Station. The crop of choice is the Zinnia flower, a plant native to parts of North and South America. If all goes to plan, the flowers are expected to bloom just after the turn of the year.
NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren began the experiment on November 16th. The Zinnai seeds are contained within pillows, as part of the Veggie plant growth system. The Veggie system was developed by Orbital Technologies Corp. (ORBITEC) and launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the third CRS mission in April 2014. Veggie provides lighting and nutrient delivery, but utilises the cabin environment for temperature control and as a source of carbon dioxide to promote plant growth.
Lindgren will be in charge of running the experiment. He will turn on the red, blue and green LEDs, activate the water system, and provide nutrients to the flowers. Lindgren will also be responsible for monitoring plant growth throughout the 60 day growing time, a growth time that is two times longer than that of red lettuce already grown in the Veggie system.
“Growing a flowering crop is more challenging than growing a vegetable crop such as lettuce,” said Gioia Massa, NASA's Kennedy Space Center payload scientist for Veggie. “Lighting and other environmental parameters are more critical.”
So what’s the point in all this? Well, for starters a flower has never bloomed in 0 g, so it's effects are unknown. Secondly, the process of growing a plant in space is paramount to future long-term space exploration. For a trip to Mars, astronauts would be expected to grow their own food. Already lettuce has been grown and eaten in space, but many fruits and vegetables flower in their growth cycle, so understanding how to grow flowers is very important.
"Growing the Zinnia plants will help advance our knowledge of how plants flower in the Veggie growth system, and will enable fruiting plants like tomatoes to be grown and eaten in space using Veggie as the in-orbit garden," said Trent Smith, Veggie program manager.
Researchers on Earth are hoping data collected from this experiment will give a further insight into long-duration seed stow and germination, whether pollen could cause problems, and the impacts on crew morale. This information is required for the tomato growing experiment set to begin in 2017.