Britain Takes the Wrong Approach to Manned Spaceflight
I’m sorry to rain on everyone else’s parade. But I cannot feel any enthusiasm for Tim Peake’s upcoming six-month mission to the International Space Station.
Government-led astronautics has got itself into a blind alley and slowly ground to a halt. The peak in terms of space travellers flying per year was reached fully thirty years ago. The annual man-days in space peaked in 2010, as six-person occupation of the ISS coincided with the last few Shuttle flights. A small increase in time spent in space would be possible with a seven-man crew on the ISS and more activity on the Chinese Tian Gong station. But that would be the absolute limit under present conditions.
What about exploration? The new focus of space agencies on exploration beyond low Earth orbit will certainly reduce the number of opportunities for government astronauts to fly, and increase the cost per astronaut seat, making space travel even more exceptional than it is today.
The socialist ideology that manned spaceflight must remain a government monopoly is slowly being broken! Progress now lies in the hands of the commercial companies in the USA tasked with taking over transport services to and from low Earth orbit. While their immediate goal remains the ISS for the present, only they can develop an independent, economically sustainable passenger spaceflight industry. This is the pattern that Britain needs to emulate!
Accordingly, at the Royal Aeronautical Society’s one-day conference on Britain’s manned spaceflight policy on 1 December, I contributed the following five-minute talk…