The year 2021: To shoot in space

Veighteen people were in space at the same time on September 16, 2021. This broke the previous record of thirteen humanoids in orbit from 1995. At that time, however, only full-time astro- and cosmonauts were out there. On September 16, 2021, on the other hand, the weightless part of humanity was composed of the seven crew members of the International Space Station – two Russians, three Americans, one Japanese and one French – three people in the Chinese Shenzhou 12 space capsule on the way back from theirs Station module Tianhe and four people in a Dragon capsule from SpaceX. The latter were all tourists: one of them, an entrepreneur, had bought the other three a trip called “Inspiration4”, and one of the fellow travelers would not have been allowed by a space doctor in a rocket earlier: She survived cancer as a child and has been wearing a thigh prosthesis since then. Finally, on December 8th, a Japanese billionaire and his assistant were shot with a Soyuz capsule for a 12-day Advent holiday to the International Space Station-

Ulf von Rauchhaupt

Responsible for the “Science” section of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

The main trends in contemporary space travel in 2021 are addressed to almost everyone: billionaires, tourists and the Chinese. Of the former, some have occasionally flown to the ISS against payment of tens of millions, but in 2021 two particularly wealthy people on earth will have reached space completely independently of state-organized space travel. On July 11, the British Richard Branson was catapulted up to a height of 86 kilometers in his VSS Unity rocket plane accompanied by five passengers, and on July 20, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos reached the “New Shepard” and three other passengers in his reusable rocket a distance of 106 kilometers. From an aerodynamic point of view, both billionaires have thus left the airspace, ergo reached space. The “New Shepard” then lifted guests two more times for a few minutes each into the blackness of space: On October 13, the 90-year-old actor William Shatner – who played the legendary spaceship captain James Tiberius Kirk – was among the group of four and on December 11th flew six passengers on the New Shepard for the first time.

Completely detached: Richard Branson on board his VSS Unity rocket plane

Completely detached: Richard Branson on board his VSS Unity rocket plane

Image: via REUTERS

The king of the space billionaires, however, is someone who has not even been in space: Elon Musk. His company SpaceX has been showing the industry, which is traditionally close to the state even in the West, how capitalism works for several years. SpaceX became the market leader for satellite launches in 2017 and is now also the world’s largest manufacturer and operator of satellites. To build the “Starlink” network to supply private households with high-speed Internet from orbit, Musk’s company has so far launched 1944 satellites, of which 1775 are currently in operation. More than half of these entered orbits in 2021. Starlink is not without competition, but Bezos’ project “Kuiper” is only in the planning phase, and “One Web” – a company that went bankrupt in March 2020 but was then mostly bailed out by the British government – has just 394 Satellites in space, 36 of which were only added on December 27th. Musk’s Starlink, on the other hand, is already being tested in 21 countries, including Germany since March.

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