Last week, five satellites built by Canberra company Skykraft were launched into space by SpaceX.
They are the first batch of what will be around 200 in orbit in total. The goal of this network is to provide a global satellite system to provide tracking and communication with aeroplanes anywhere in the world. It is a huge step to improving the safety and efficiency of aeroplane travel.
Most of all, this is a Canberra start-up company solving this big, global problem.
It makes you wonder why NASA, Europe, or some other major group or country hasn't already done this. It is a sign of how space is changing, and how Australia is at the forefront of it.
Satellite constellations, the ability to put tens, hundreds, even thousands of similar satellites all performing a similar or related function is now a big, and rapidly growing part of space. SpaceX's Starlink has thousands already providing global internet. Amazon's Kuiper is about to start launching next month.
By building a constellation it solves one of the big issues, and that is the ability to cover every part of Earth.
To stay in orbit, satellites travel about 25,000km/hr around the Earth, meaning they do a loop around the Earth every 90 to 100 minutes. This means if you want to provide constant global coverage, you need multiple satellites. Even if you go into a much higher orbit, geostationary orbit, which always covers the same spot relative to Earth, you still need multiple satellites to do all the Earth, or you only cover one part all the time.
With improvements in mass-manufacturing, design and the compactness of satellites, building multiple satellites is relatively commonplace now, and cheaper. It is also more cost-effective. Building two of the same satellite is not twice the price of one. The more you build, the more you save.
And now, the ride into space has gotten much cheaper.
With more rocket companies coming online in the past two decades, rides into space are more frequent and cheaper. SpaceX had its first launch into space in the mid-2000s. RocketLab has been regularly launching from New Zealand, and now the US. United Launch Alliance, ArianeSpace, and many other are developing new rockets, capable of carrying more satellites, efficiently.
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They are all also finding ways to be reusable, instead of the rocket booster ending up as junk in the ocean. Imagine buying a car, and when it runs out of fuel, leaving it on the side of the road, and buying a new car. That is what space has been doing. And in doing so, the cost to get into space has plummeted.
To get into space on the US Space Shuttle, it cost about $50,000 per kilogram. A 10kg satellite, relatively small, would cost $500,000 just for the launch. Now, it is around a few thousand dollars, and by the end of the decade, will likely be a few hundred dollars.
Problems we always thought space could solve are now financially viable. And companies are sprouting up, aiming to solve these problems. It is only the beginning of exciting things ahead.
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