OTH Commentary: The Future of Space

Editor’s Note: With the recent announcement of the creation of the United States Space Force as the 6th military branch we are reposting several articles that engage with a variety of issues in the space domain.

Excerpt: In the wake of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launch, OTH sat down with General Raymond, Commander, Air Force Space Command. Preview his interview here.

In the wake of SpaceX’s remarkable Falcon Heavy (FH) launch, OTH was honored to sit down with General John W. “Jay” Raymond, Commander, Air Force Space Command. On Monday, we will publish his interview, providing his insight to the current situation in space, as well as the future emerging environment. Much of what General Raymond will talk about is in consideration of SpaceX’s achievement, which brings us to the question: “Why is the successful launch of the FH important?”

The FH promises to be the most capable rocket in the U.S. inventory, surpassed only by the Saturn V during the Apollo program. The launch marks the first time a commercial company has built such a powerful rocket on its own, the first time two re-usable boosters were used at the same time, and the first time that multiple boosters were recovered at the same time.

The FH has the thrust capacity to double the size (in mass) of what the U.S. can put in orbit. The previous record was achieved by ULA’s Delta IV Heavy, which can lift 62,540 lbs for between $300 million and $500 million  to low earth orbit (LEO) which comes out to between $4,797 and $7,995 per pound. SpaceX states the Falcon Heavy is capable of launching 63,800 kilograms (140,700 lb) for $90M or $639.80 per pound. This is a rapid improvement which should significantly lower the cost to access space for customers using the full capacity of the FH.

The launch of the FH demonstrates the possibilities of re-use and high tempo operations. SpaceX plans to launch multiple times per month to populate a 4,000 Starlink satellite constellation for global broadband, with a goal of eventually servicing and re-using its rockets in as quickly as 24 hours.

The combination of high flight rates and reusability potentially lowers the cost barrier of space access sufficiently for entirely new industries such as private space stations, asteroid mining, and space-based solar power stations.

For the military, previously unaffordable concepts for space-based sensing (such as space-based AWACS/JSTARS-like capability), space-based C2, and even space force application effects may now require a re-look for affordability. The use of high-tempo operations opens the door for rapid initial fielding of systems, reconstitution of satellites during a conflict, or other global effects.

The launch showcases the dynamic changes taking place in the space sector both for commerce and security. The launch of such a powerful rocket has yet to be achieved by any other nation and is all the more amazing coming from a private company.

Given the significant and rapid pace of changes happening in the medium of space, we hope you will tune in Monday to hear General Raymond expound on his vision for the future.

The views expressed are those of the participants and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Air Force or the U.S. Government.

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