When Elon Musk’s Falcon Heavy took to the skies on a balmy afternoon on February 6th this year, the event marked more than just the thrilling launch of the most powerful rocket booster in the world. Impressive as the launch was, what was really significant was that it signaled what Bill Nye, charismatic CEO of the Planetary Society, called ‘the democratisation of space.’
‘The idea,’ said Nye, ‘is to democratise space to lower the cost of getting to many destinations in our solar system.’ A case in point is that the Falcon Heavy was developed through private capital, with no government funding at all. This opens the field for a competitive, rather than a monopolistic approach to space travel, inviting other players into the field. The launch also signaled the advent of fully reusable rocket architecture – which, in itself, will dramatically reduce the costs of future space missions. But, more importantly, as the costs of such ventures drop, the missions are set to become more accessible to ordinary people, rather than just government agencies, satellite companies, moneyed über-celebrities and tech billionaires.
Lunar tourism looks like a rapidly approaching possibility, rather than just a fantasist projection. Indeed, Falcon Heavy is designed to carry tourists into space beyond LEO (Low Earth Orbit), on a trajectory to the Moon, Mars and several asteroids. But, so far, the only payload that Falcon Heavy launched into space was Musk’s personal cherry-red Tesla Roadster, with David Bowie’s iconic song ‘Life on Mars’ stuck on replay. Musk’s Tesla was sent into orbit around the sun, but is headed for a Mars-adjacent orbit. Musk has since tweeted pics from cameras located on the Roadster. Once again, by sharing these images with the public, Musk is advocating for accessibility: no longer the preserve of secretive government agencies, space travel – through key players like Musk – is making it into the mainstream, bringing real-time images into the public domain, and educating people about future possibilities. Twitter has become the new province of science, with daily discoveries and breakthroughs communicated to users in the space of 280 characters.
It’s a liberating departure from previous epochs, where science operated like an inner-circle cartel, and was corralled into spaces outside the reach of Joe or Jane Public. As much as space is set to be democratised, so too is science per se. It might be said that it is inevitable that all technological breakthroughs will eventually filter down into the mainstream. And so it should be. With increased openness and awareness, it makes for a better-informed public, and allows for public engagement and input. It gives members of society a greater sense of agency. And this is always a good thing. As we witness democratic movements around the world standing up against governmental authoritarianism, against right-wing policies and attempts to shut down social media platforms, people’s power comes increasingly into play. And, as any techie or innovator knows, science usually thrives best in an environment of freedom and opportunity.
At Belgium Campus, we recognise that bright minds thrive best when offered the space in which to create. That’s why we’ve constructed physical innovation spaces called ‘Learning Factories’. Here, our students are given the space and tools to take their ideas from prototype to marketplace. One such project is our Velocity Project, which comes to fruition in April 2018. We also offer access to the field of Aeronautics, and have a full-scale airport hangar for our students to tinker in. They’ve explored everything from missile-lock technology on fighter jets to seatbelt light activations on Boeing 737s.
With access like this, and with SpaceX leading the way to a space democracy, the future of aeronautics and space travel looks set to soar.