Space, the final frontier: man and technology all set to conquer space

Pascal Malotti
Global Retail Strategy Lead & Strategy Director at Valtech France

fevereiro 28, 2017

Ever since Sputnik was launched and Laika the dog was sent into orbit in 1957, mankind has continued to explore space relentlessly. The current rapidly accelerating development of technology is paving the way to conquer lands beyond our atmosphere. Ideas that were often written off as mere fairy tales or science fiction in the past are getting closer and closer to reality. Life on Mars, developing satellite launch services…We are starting a new chapter in the story of the human race. Even though most of us still have our feet on the ground, we are starting to see just how far exploring the solar system has enabled mankind to progress. It is not just limited to launching a missile or putting a satellite in orbit; those are just the starting point that allow us to imagine a future where everything is possible.

VAHANA: IFO – Identified Flying Object

While the media is never slow to highlight plans to land on neighbouring planets, projects already under way are fascinating and can already give us an idea of life in the future: reducing air traffic congestion above our cities’ skies is top of the list. This goal would appear to be in the home straight before breaking through the atmosphere and conquering our own solar system. Airbus is the forerunner, via its subsidiary Airbus Air Mobility, with a flying car prototype called Vahana. “The Gods’ vehicle” in Sanskrit, the philosophical language of Hinduism and Buddhism; the name is perfectly in line with growing ambition and hope. The vehicle will have eight propeller engines, evenly spread out on the wings and it will be able to take off and land vertically. Designed for one passenger only, it could be the solution to many issues currently facing cities around the world. Vahana could put an end to road traffic congestion while reducing pollution thanks to electrically-run motors. Benefits also include the economy: Airbus estimates mass production of flying cars would be less costly than current car production. And if something goes wrong on board, don’t panic! A special parachute capable of opening even at low altitude will gently land you. Airbus is so involved already that Vahana is no longer a project. Airbus is working on a prototype this year to present a demonstration model by 2020. Vahana will initially be marketed for short-distance travel. The first step forwards to conquering the skies.

SpaceX: the take-off of the century

Most of our research about space pales in comparison to the SpaceX project. It could realise a dream shared by many: sending people up to colonise the red planet!

Elon Musk is behind the project that will mark our millennium, the business magnet who co-founded PayPal and Tesla Motors, to mention just a few. The SpaceX mission is much more than just a far off dream with unanswered questions, it is bursting with determination to succeed. Elon Musk held a press conference open to the public in September 2016 to present what seems to be ultra long-distance travel. Customers will board a spacecraft launched by Musk’s company. The first take-off will send the vessel into orbit around the Earth before a first stop. At this stage the launcher will detach from the vessel to return to the launch base. Stage 2: a full tank of fuel will take off with the launcher to berth with the spacecraft and passengers in orbit. Once the latter has been attached, SpaceX could then start a long journey towards Mars. And what a journey! The passengers would have to wait around 100 days before catching a glimpse of Mars through the glass of the head of the vessel. Zero gravity games and movie theatres are planned to stop passengers getting bored... however, that’s nothing compared to the passengers’ mission to colonise the red planet. Difficulties in an inhospitable environment where a whole new world needs building will be massive. But that does not affect the SpaceX teams’ hope to see hundreds of thousands of humans living there one day, beyond the frontier of atmosphere, notably thanks to industrializing the launch process. Elon Musk’s future schedule is optimistic; he intends to run the first launch tests in 2018 and believes the first spacecraft with human passengers could take off in 2024. You just need to find the cash now, it will cost about €500,000 to become a pioneer in a new world!

3D printers: the Martian city architect

While technology developments may allow us to set up a link to the Red Planet in a not so distant future, infinite obstacles face those who seek to colonise it. Building accommodation to house those who have decided to spend the rest of their lives “off-Earth” is one of the initial challenges. Objects going down to the surface will have to follow extremely exacting specifications (surface and weight) that will only leave enough room on board for passenger life support and accommodation during the long journey… exporting materials to build our terrestrial homes is not going to be easy! This led NASA (the American Space Agency) to decide to put on a massive national competition open to the American public and green card holders, based on 3D-printing technology. NASA chose the tech to encourage designs for future accommodation on Mars. Considering the small volume of terrestrial materials that will be exported to Mars the challenge is designing a high-performance human activity recycling system on-site. Combing this breeding ground with components from Mars’ earth, 3D printers would be the most effective way to build the first off-Earth buildings in a reasonable amount of time. And they will also make human presence outside our natural environment sustainable long term. NASA’s promised prize is as big as the stakes involved: over a million dollars for the winner. Participants had up to January 31st to send in their suggestions. Before releasing the results, the space agency is already preparing the next stage of the competition; the candidates’ mission will be to bring their projects to life.

OneWeb: Internet for the entire planet thanks to space

Although people are impatient to see the first take off for another planet, launch bases are currently focused on launching satellites into orbit. The business interests many actors involved in the quest for spaceflight. They want to provide Internet access around the entire globe, which has been technically impossible up to now. In this race, the OneWeb project stands out in the eyes of those in charge: Richard Branson, founder of Virgin and Thomas Enders, Airbus CEO. But how are they going to do it? By deploying an army of small satellites around the planet at a low altitude of only 750 miles, which is a radical change considering satellites are usually put into orbit 22,400 miles away from the Earth’s surface! The advantage is immediate: a lower satellite altitude automatically reduces the distance between satellites and Earth. Telephone connections, Cloud apps and video-conference signal delays will be shorter than systems we currently use. To provide Internet access to the furthest corners of our planet, OneWeb and founders are ready to launch the 900 micro satellites required to achieve this feat. The progress will be remarkable in several fields: fire and ambulance services contact and intervention in cities, rural coverage… More generally, all emerging countries will finally get updates and equal connection access. OneWeb will soon be showing off the strengths of the system: first satellite (operated by Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic subsidiary) will be launched in 2018.