x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

SpaceX skyrockets

An exciting new age of private, commercial exploitation of space is beginning now.

For millennia people could only stare wistfully into the sky. The age of powered human flight is still by any measure less than 125 years old. We first got into orbit as recently as 1961.

Now the space race is over, and national budgets have been redirected. In our time, however, the engineering legacy and inspirational challenge of the heavens are passing, for better or worse, to the private sector. And they are passing with startling speed.

Florida's night sky was illuminated on Sunday by the launch of the first commercial mission to resupply the International Space Station. The privately built, privately owned unmanned Falcon 9 rocket is expected to dock with the station on Wednesday, and will return to Earth in three weeks, splash into the ocean and - in theory - be fished out for reuse.

To be sure, the private Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, known as SpaceX, is working for a government client, the US space agency Nasa. And SpaceX's plans for a "taxi service" for astronauts will also be funded by government - at first, anyway.

But the sky is the limit for commercial space travel. From suborbital tourism to asteroid mining to, someday, honeymoons on the Moon, the new era in space is just getting off the ground.