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The new space race

Posted on Wednesday, November 23rd, 2005 at 7:05 am CET

While NASA engineers are still struggling with the cracks in the shuttle fuel tank, the agency announced their new spaceship and a plan to return to the moon by the end of the next decade. Meanwhile, more and more countries and private firms are developing their own space exploration plans.

NASA’s plan to return to the moon have already received much critisism. It would be too expensive and rather a step back to the 1960’s Apollo missions than a step forward. SpaceDev outlined in a study this week that future lunar missions can be done for under $10 billion – far less than the NASA price tag. According to SpaceDev’s chief, Jim Benson, “If we are correct about our lunar mission cost estimates, our type of human mission could have 40 people visiting the moon for the cost of NASA’s first mission.”

SpaceDev also announced new designs of their new Dream Chaser spacecraft, that it hopes will enable the firm to participate in commercial cargo and other services to support the International Space Station (ISS), and it could aid future Moon expeditions as well.

Later this week, the private launch firm SpaceX will launch its Falcon 1 rocket on November 25th, marking the booster’s maiden flight. SpaceX is using its debut of the Falcon 1 rocket to launch FalconSat-2, a student-built satellite to measure space plasma’s effect on global positioning system (GPS) satellites and other space-based communications systems.

On the other side of the planet, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency announced some good news today about their asteroid lander Hayabusa that had earlier been declared as ‘lost’. The craft has been found and JAXA will attempt a second landing.

China is not a newcomer to space – it has had a rocket programme since the 1950s – but it has recently started with human spaceflight missions. Earlier this year China had its second successful manned space flight in October. Chinese astronauts Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng landed in Mongolia after spending 5 days in orbit.

The European Space Agency has signed an Intergovernmental Framework Agreement with China this week, for space cooperation for peaceful purposes. This agreement will facilitate cooperation between ESA and China in a number of areas including space science, Earth observation, telecommunications, navigation and microgravity research.

Romanian and Canadian rocketeers join forces to develop a new rocket system with military applications. After a failed attempt in the X Price contest, ARCA (Aeronautics and Cosmonautics Romanian Association) now says it has won a government contract in its home country and has forged a partnership with Canadian-American rocket venture PlanetSpace.

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