x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Space, Inc

The era of private enterprise is space has begun, and the sky is no longer the limit.

From Sputnik 1 and Laika the Space Dog in 1957 to the Apollo moon landings and today's International Space Station, leaving this planet has always been a job for governments. That changed yesterday. This could be the start of something big.

Several governments do carry on with space programmes, but in this era of constrained budgets, little remains of the exuberant space race of the 1960s and 1970s. Today a sterner logic governs.

In other words, the time was right for yesterday's launch of a private cargo rocket, built by a company known as SpaceX.

The Falcon 9 rocket that left Cape Canaveral, after a first attempt last Saturday had to be aborted, carried a payload of only 544 kilograms, and it was, to be fair, a contract job for government: the Space Station is a joint project of Nasa, the EU and three other countries.

But this was a big step towards the privatisation of space. There will, we trust, be many more to come. Already private companies are working on propulsion systems, zero-gravity manufacturing techniques, near-Earth asteroid mining, suborbital tourism flights and who knows what else? Many of these ventures will fail, but one - or more - may open vast new frontiers. The prospects are as wide open as the sky.