Today at 12:35pm, Sydney time, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket. These blast offs by the private space industry have become so common in the last five years. Launches to space just don’t create the same buzz as they did in the past. Space deployments have become normalised.
As the Apollo 11 moon landing mission approached its 50th anniversary of the July 20, 1969 mission, today’s launch is the beginning of another lunar milestone. SpaceIL, a not-for-profit Israeli organisation, placed its lunar spacecraft Beresheet aboard the Falcon 9, and it was the first payload deployed about 33 minutes after lift off. Beresheet is the Hebrew word for “in the beginning”. The engineers who designed Beresheet competed in the Google Lunar XPrize, a competition aimed to encourage technology newcomers to innovate and join in the private space technology revolution. After a couple of months, Beresheet will orbit then arrive on the Moon on its own power. Only the Soviet Union, the USA and China have ever placed objects on the surface of the moon, and these lunar missions were all publicly-funded, state-sponsored, government agency missions. Beresheet will the first ever privately-funded spacecraft to reach the Moon.
The second payload is the SSL Nusantara Satu satellite being deployed for PT Pasifik Satelit Nusantara (PSN). This is Indonesia’s first high-throughput satellite, and it will significantly improve internet connectivity in the south Asia region bringing new voice, data and video to275 million Indonesians on 1700 islands. Tens of millions more neighbours will also connect through PSN’s data systems.
At the 2014 Warren Centre Innovation Lecture, Virgin Galactic’s Vice President Enrico Palermo, an Australian engineer leading production at Virgin’s own private enterprise, The Spaceship Company, described the private space innovation expansion and predicted how it would unfold. At the opening of his speech, Palermo declared, “I believe we’re in a pivotal point in our human history. We’re at a point where humankind’s presence in space is going to grow rapidly, grow exponentially and, importantly, grow permanently.” He went on to answer his own posed question, “What is happening in space innovation today?”
So today, five years after that presentation, almost fifty years since Apollo 11 and almost sixty years since the Soviet’s Luna 2 mission in September 1959, space launches and moon landings are becoming a rather common occurrence.
But, they’re still spectacular.
SpaceX is slick. The rockets have live cameras, and the whole event is broadcast by live webinar and narrated like a premier league sports event with running commentary on what is happening. If you didn’t see it live, check out the video link below. The countdown starts at 17:45. Today’s launch: https://youtu.be/XS0E35aYJcU
And if you want to check out Enrico Palermo’s predictions back in 2014 (they’re prescient), see the Innovation lecture video here: https://thewarrencentre.org.au/events/beyond-earth/ .
This story is featured in the 22 February 2019 edition of The Warren Centre’s Prototype newsletter. Sign up for the Prototype here.