Little more than a decade ago, NASA estimated that it cost around $10,000 to launch a single pound of payload into space. Today, that price tag has fallen significantly, largely thanks to Elon Musk’s rocket company, SpaceX, as well as an explosion of other “new space” ventures likewise focused on reusability.
SpaceX, for example, recently announced that one of their reusable rockets — a Falcon 9 booster dubbed B1051 — has officially flown more times than all but four of NASA’s space shuttles. And with new, larger launch vehicles already in the works, like the company’s Starship spacecraft, the cost of reaching the cosmos could drop even lower in the coming years.
But even as the price of buying a ticket to outer space plummets, would-be spacefarers still have to confront a hard fact of physics: Launching large objects into orbit takes huge amounts of fuel and giant rockets. So, even if the cost of a brief jaunt to low-Earth orbit drops to a more palatable level, more intensive activities like colonizing the Moon and Mars will still require many trips to ferry all cargo needed to keep humans alive and comfortable.
At the moment, humanity’s 21st-century approach to space travel is a bit like a turtle carrying around its home on its back. So rather than sourcing building materials for future space colonies directly from Earth, most agree it would be significantly cheaper if we instead opted to use what’s already available in space.
And wouldn’t you know it, a number of academic researchers and private companies are working to make that happen, exploring the utility of futuristic ideas like robots that can manufacture spacecraft parts in orbit, space-based 3D printers, and even habitats grown from fungi.
This Article firstly Publish on astronomy.com