Space Race I
As World War II ended and the Cold War began, the United States (US) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) began an arms race for dominance in the new world order. On July 29th, 1955, the United States announced that they intended to launch artificial satellites for the International Geophysical Year (IGY). In a façade of international diplomacy, the purported goal of the IGY was to promote scientific cooperation between the East and West, which had diminished since World War II. Not to be outdone, the USSR proclaimed its own plans for artificial satellites four days after the US’s announcement.
In 1957, the world witnessed the first intercontinental ballistic missile, a Russian R-7. The R-7 would become the launch vehicle for Sputnik in October of 1957. USSR’s Sputnik is considered the first checkpoint in the Space Race – and an important battle in the Cold War.
During the next two decades, the US and the USSR raced as humanity managed to send men in space, conduct spacewalks, organize dockings and orbit other celestial bodies. For the vast majority of these accomplishments, the USSR was in the lead. Many leaders of each country used new ideas in the space race as campaign tactics as both America and USSR pushed forward. The Space Race culminated in the 1970s, with the US Apollo and Russian Soyuz programs. Since that time, there has been more peaceful cooperation between the US and USSR. More countries are now able to participate in space missions and the development of the International Space Station (ISS), which replaced the US space station Skylab and the Russian space station Mir.
The last 30 years have seen a period of refinement and a steady decline in public interest as the US shuttle program came and went and space exploration became more commonplace. Over the past decades, we have gone from one satellite in Earth orbit to 3,200 satellites. Over 1,000 of those were launched since 2013. [interactive map/timeline of the satellites in space]
“Space Exploration” has evolved to “Space Travel” as countries have begun to plan return missions to the Moon, Mars and other planets. The Moon Agreement of 1979 declared the Moon and all of outer space and other celestial bodies as the “province of all mankind,” thus preventing nations from establishing in space or on the Moon’s surface. However, no nation with spaceflight capabilities has actually signed this treaty.
Space tourism is also on the horizon as private companies are preparing to launch their own vacation programs. [timeline of space tourism: goals, budgets, achievements]
[chart of countries with their standings in the “race”: number of people involved, budget, number of missions, years active. spacecraft comparison: size, lift/payload capabilities, objectives] America, arguably the winner of the last space race, the country’s space sector has divided into two areas, private and public. While there is some cross over between the two factions – NASA has contracted the SpaceX Dragon to resupply the ISS – these factions have different goals and a different budgetary system.
NASA, the face of American spaceflight, is government funded and their focus is space exploration for scientific research and to better understand Earth in the process. NASA retired the Shuttle Program in 2011 in favor of the Constellation Program (CxP) developed in 2005, later changed to the Space Launch System (SLS).
[design: rocket anatomy of the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Shuttle rockets with focus on SLS and Orion] CxP included several Ares Rockets, designed for specific types of mission; SLS was chosen to replace CxP as a budget conscious redesign during the Great Recession. [budget analysis with comparison to Gemini, Apollo and Shuttle adjusted for inflation] The Orion is set to take an unmanned mission around the Moon in 2017. Other program objectives include a 2019 mission to capture an asteroid in lunar orbit and a 2021 mission to send four astronauts to visit the asteroid. Several missions to Mars are scheduled throughout the 2020s. [Orion proposed mission schedule]
Alternatively, private space programs in the United States are setup as for-profit companies. These enterprises have their sights set on space tourism, a concept that has been on the verge of reality for the last few years. Currently these companies are working for hire, launching private satellites into orbit, carrying out scientific research and completing ISS missions under government contracts.
The government agency responsible for the Russian space program, Roscosmos (FRA), replaced the Soviet Space Program in 1992. The FRA budget of $5.6B USD is roughly a third of NASA’s $17.8B. The FRA has been criticized for using long-outdated technology and unsafe practices in their program, though they have shown an ability to use assets safely for impressively long times beyond their intended life spans.
FRA is currently under contract with the United States to shuttle American astronauts to the ISS. However, on May 23 this year, Russia announced that because of recent US sanctions on Russia, Roscosmos will not schedule any further NASA launches. Any missions currently scheduled will be allowed to continue. NASA has contracted US astronaut missions through 2018. It is likely that this will be lifted once the US-Russian relationship is smoothed out. Otherwise, US-based SpaceX has shown promise that their Dragon II is ready to replace the FRA for future NASA missions.
FRA’s mission is relatively unfocused due to the nature of their organization structure, with many agencies working towards different objectives with little communication throughout the agency. In 2006, 2009 and again in 2012, the FRA was restructured with new objectives and proposed mission schedules.
As it stands, the FRA is focused on the same target objectives as NASA: the Moon, Mars and satellites to other planets of interest. [timeline of FRA proposed missions] However, they do not necessarily have the same scientific research objectives as NASA, i.e. climate study and medical research. The Russian proposed timeline are in line with NASA’s, creating the second iteration of the “Space Race.”
The China National Space Administration (CNSA) had an early start during the Cold War, spurred by fears of long-range missile strikes from US an, later, the USSR. They developed heavy-lift capabilities during their own mini-space race with Japan in the late 1960s. The two countries were on a similar timeline, successfully launching satellites throughout the early 1970s.
China attempted manned space flights throughout the 1970s ‘80s and ‘90s, without success, always canceling the missions at the last minute. In 2003, China launched their first manned crew. They have since put satellites in orbit of Earth and the Moon and have launched their own space laboratory, as well as a lunar exploration rover.
With a $1.3B budget, CNSA ambitiously intends to land a rover on Mars within 5 years, establish regular, crewed missions to the Moon by 2020, establish a crewed lunar base by 2023 and then focus on Mars travel. CNSA, unlike FRA, has established research goals that include the tracking of space weather and atmospheric and ozone research.
Notably, the US and China have had technology disputes and the US Congress has prohibited NASA from working with CNSA or Chinese civilian companies. This comes at a time when increased cooperation between China, Europe and Russia has encouraged multi-country deep-space exploration.
Led by Germany, France and the United Kingdom, the European Space Agency (ESA) is an intergovernmental organization with 20 members. They receive additional funding and research assistance from their partnerships with Canada and the European Union (EU) as a whole. With a $13B combined budget, the ESA is a strong competitor in the new Space Race, placing them financially ahead of FRA.
Between 1980 and 2011, NASA, and rarely FRA, carried out manned ESA missions, while the NASA or ESA launched their own unmanned missions. Like the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), ESA is heavily invested in deep-space exploration. However, they currently have no intent to develop manned-launch capabilities through their own space programs.
ESA works in partnership with NASA and FRA to conduct longer-range space exploration, with a greater-focus in research and understanding the universe.
In 2003, combining three space research agencies into one national Japanese space agency formed JAXA. These original organizations date back as far as 1955 and their Chinese rivals date back to the 1960s and ‘70s. [JAXA and CNSA timeline] Since forming, JAXA has had a great focus on research and technology development, mostly through satellite launches, including a 2007 lunar satellite orbit.
Throughout the Japanese space agencies’ histories, they have conducted manned missions with FRA partnership. The have also worked with the United States, specifically when NASA installed the ISS Kibo module, one of the JAXA contribution to the ISS in 2007.
Several JAXA-run shuttle programs have made it to various levels of development over the last 20 years. Most recently, the Japanese plan for manned lunar landing was shelved after deciding that the $11 billion investment to develop the shuttle and rockets was too great, a substantial increase from their current $2.7B.
Without current plans for their own missions to the Moon or Mars, Japan does not have a horse in the present space race. Overall, JAXA has established reasonable goals over the next 20 years, leaving the more ambitious feats to US, Russian and China, with the expectation that they will be partners in the future mission of those countries.
Japanese national future space explorations include a launch next year of an asteroid probe, which would make contact in 2018. They also have a 2017 launch date for a Moon probe. A space-based solar power prototype is set to launch in 2020, and JAXA is aiming for the development of a full power station over the decade following.
On the Horizon
Continuing on their current trajectory, the next two decades are sure to see countries competing for their positions in the second space race. Countries will begin returning to the Moon and establishing timelines for manned missions to Mars. Led by US and the (otherwise unnoteworthy) UAE, space tourism will likely become popular for the very wealthy, but not popular for average citizens until another generation has passed. Larger missions, space-oriented power plants, asteroid interception and a new International Space Station or “Space Base” will be developed in the 2030s.
We are entering a very exciting period of space exploration where countries have the technological capabilities to perform very complex and very precise missions, while ensuring a tight budget and crewmember safety. The second Space Race will likely take humanity even further into space than planned, while giving us technological innovation along the way.