Space Race 2022
A dream born again
[TL;DR Humans are becoming multi-planetary]
After WW2 it was clear that rockets were the next evolution in weaponry. The 2 dominant powers at that time, the US and Soviet Union, battled to show the other that they were the superior military with bigger better missiles and warheads. Intercontinental ballistic missiles soon ensured MAD (mutually assured destruction). Beyond nuclear warheads, the 2 powers also fought to show dominance in space exploration. The Soviet Union got the first satellite in 1957 and the first human to space in 1961, but the US kicked into high gear and got the first human to the moon in 1969.
US Apollo Program (1961 - 1972)
US Space Shuttle Program (1972 - 2011)
Skylab (1973 - 1979)
ISS (International Space Station) (1998 - present)
The Death of the Space Race
Apollo/Saturn spacecrafts racked up bills of over US$10 billion dollars for the US government. While the Space Shuttles improved upon the Saturn rockets, they were still costing well into the billions to operate. It was just not sustainable to continue space exploration at these prices. Also, the Space Shuttle disasters did not help maintain a good public perception of the vasts amounts of public money being spent.
NASA, until very recently, collaborated with Roscosmos to launch American astronauts up to the ISS using Soyuz rockets (Russian made). In 2020 they charged about US$90 million for a seat to LEO (low Earth orbit); while it was a bargain compared to the space shuttles, it was not the best situation having to rely on Russia.
SpaceX (2002 - present)
Elon Musk made tens of millions after Paypal was sold to Ebay and decided to pour it all into Tesla and SpaceX. SpaceX faced failure after failure in the beginning, but Musk had conviction in his dream to revive the space race. On the brink of bankruptcy in 2008, the Falcon 9 rocket brought the $/kg to LEO down under US$5,000/kg (Space Shuttle: US$20,000 - 50,000/kg) with launches costing tens of millions and not billions. This breakthrough kept the company afloat and led it to be the titan in spaceflight that it is today. A new round of private funding values the company at US$127 billion (05, 2022).
With the Starship rocket in the works they could bring the $/kg to LEO down under US$125/kg with launches costing US$10 million or under, given proficient re-usability. Marks my words, SpaceX has the potential to become a US$10 trillion company.
US Artemis Program (2017 - present)
US Space Force (2019 - present)
Rocket Lab (2006 - present)
In all cities across the world there is a need for both buses and taxis. Similarly, we will need a taxi to the bus in space launches. SpaceX Falcon 9 carries about a 20 ton payload to LEO which is often split across several customers who have to share the same orbital path. Starships have a planned capacity of 100 tons to LEO so it intensifies the sharing situation. Rocket Lab is a company out of New Zealand, based in California now, that has more than 2 dozen successful launches to show their competency. Their current rocket Electron carries a 300 kg payload to LEO and costs about US$7.5 million per launch (US$25,000/kg). They plan to come out with a new rocket called Neutron which should carry a 8 ton payload to LEO (cost unknown). The big advantage here is that small payloads can have whatever orbital path they would like for the premium price.
Axiom Space (2016 - present)
There is an exciting world of satellites, Moon outposts, and Mars colonization to come. However, it all depends on whether NASA and SpaceX keep their promises. They are the foremost leaders in space exploration and all other countries will follow by example. ESA (European Space Agency), JAXA (Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency), and CSA (Canadian Space Agency) will likely always cooperate with NASA in future missions. Roscosmos (Russian Federal Space Agency), CNSA (China National Space Administration), and ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization) may end up cooperating in some capacity and have programs of their own. I also see potential for Brazil and South Korea to join in space industrialization as things heat up.