NASA, the world’s foremost government-sponsored space agency, recently revealed its scheduled projects for the new year. From a fresh Mars expedition to new satellites intended to monitor the world’s oceans and icecaps, the agency has a broad range of projects heading into 2018. While NASA’s announcement is certainly exciting, the past few years has seen the rise of private companies with an eye for exploring, mining, and colonizing the solar system and beyond. However, this month will see the launch of a secretive project that marries tech from both the private and public worlds of space exploration.
Founded in May of 2002, SpaceX is the brainchild of Elon Musk, an inventor and entrepreneur also known for his automotive company, Tesla, and a broach range of other tech projects. SpaceX’s Dragon and Falcon families of spacecraft have not only captured public fascination, but also secured for themselves a number of high-profile operations with governmental agencies. The company’s 2012 Dragon spacecraft launch marked them as the first private company to operate alongside the International Space Station (ISS), itself a joint project between several space agencies. Since then, the company has flown ten missions to resupply the ISS, firmly cementing it as the first link between government-funded and privately held space agencies.
The 5th of this month will see yet another joint operation, this time between SpaceX and NASA. The company will be launching the spacecraft Zuma from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the home base of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. SpaceX has been fairly tight-lipped about the project, which is unsurprising given that the craft itself is set to be operated by the United States government. The two agencies had initially planned for a November 2016 launch, but unspecified reasons led to several delays. Other details include that the payload is aiming for a low earth orbit and is restricted to a launch window of just two hours. Users will be able to watch the mysterious launch via a livestream being managed by SpaceX.
Apart from the highly secretive Zuma launch, SpaceX also has its Falcon Heavy test scheduled to take off from Cape Canaveral in later January. The Heavy, if all goes well, will set the record as the most powerful rocket to date. Unlike the Zuma project, SpaceX founder Elon Musk has been open about the Heavy’s unique payload. The craft is already fitted with one of Tesla’s Roadster vehicles and will be aimed squarely at Mars.