Scientific News

Private spaceflights aren't just for well-heeled tourists. The nascent commercial space industry is poised to revolutionize research as well.

One of the most vexing problems in space research is that so little has changed in 50 years about the way we get to space. Consequently, space access remains both expensive and rare. It has still not reached the stage where scientists can themselves routinely travel there to conduct research, unlike oceanographers, who routinely reach the deep ocean, or geophysicists, who venture to the poles.

All this is poised to change. The advent of for-profit commercial spaceflight—most recently highlighted by the successful launches of the Dragon space cargo capsule, built and operated by SpaceX, to the International Space Station (ISS)—will likely transform space research. Scientists will enjoy lower launch costs, far more frequent access to space and the opportunity to personally run their experiments in orbit. These advances will not only help the big space research enterprises at NASA and the Japanese and the European space agencies, they will also probably make space access affordable to a broad, global base of nations, academic institutions and corporations.

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