The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blew up last Sunday night during an attempt to send cargo into space. This is the third failed attempt at this particular cargo delivery challenge in the last eight months – ‘Antares’ fell to earth seconds after lift-off in October and the Russian ‘Progress 59’ failed to reach its target back in May. SpaceX is funded through a $1.6 billion NASA contract to fly at least 12 unmanned resupply missions to the space station. ‘Antares’ enjoys a $1.9 billion contract with NASA. A further $2.6 billion has been awarded to SpaceX to build the astronauts’ taxi service to the Space Station. Along with supporting these two projects NASA also finances Boeing to the tune of $4.2billion to achieve the same cargo and human transport to space objectives.
This investment in space travel is, to contextualise, five times more than the Greeks should be handing over to the IMF today.
The failure of the rocket has been embraced by the SpaceX project leaders as a great learning opportunity that will accelerate their progress. The Head of Operations is quoted as saying, “this will lower some of the speculation about how we want to move forward and how we want to work on the crew design."
Still up in the air Solar Impulse, the 100% solar powered manned flight, is undertaking its most audacious challenge yet, flying non-stop from Japan to Hawaii wholly powered by the sun. If you get chance, take a look at the website and share in the adventure. At the time of writing Andre Borschberg has been flying for 1 day, 15hours, 36 minutes and 15 seconds. He is flying at 70kts with batteries charged at 97%. The website has up to the second progress updates, lots of other data and live audio transmission from the flight deck. The journey to Hawaii is expected to last 5 days and this leg has already failed twice. The mission to promote clean aviation is collaborative and largely privately funded with $6.4m funding coming from the Swiss government.
The practical applications emerging from the initiative to accelerate aviation’s transition to renewable are recognised as potentially hugely rewarding.
The shipping sector, already pretty accomplished at cargo and human transport systems, might choose to be similarly ambitious and look beyond the immediate horizon. Initiating a collaborative clean energy project, creating a much needed positive media relationship with the wider public - all of which is achieved whilst developing useful technology. And all relatively low investment.