European Space Agency (ESA) in collaboration with NASA today launched its most ambitious solar project in outer space known as ‘Solar Orbiter’ mission on Atlas V 411 launcher from Cape Canaveral, USA. Its an ambitious project because it took nearly two decades in the making from planning to executing to history making successful launch towards sun. Launching any object towards sun for study and research on it is very challenging due to high temperature and to withstand it for a period of time. The purpose behind this launch is to study the Sun up close, its creation and how it works and sending pictures of the Sun’s undiscovered polar regions to the respective space agencies.
As per ESA’s official website, Solar Orbiter’s launch mass is around 1800 Kg and is equip with 6 solar panels and 10 science instruments will also investigate the intensity of radiation and energetic particles that emits out from the Sun and how solar storms affects the earth. Solar orbiter will face the Sun from within the orbit of Mercury which is the closest planet to the Sun. To face mounting heat temperature, the spacecraft is fit out with black heatshield technology that will ensure that its scientific instruments remains protected. The heatshields are capable of facing heat temperature up to 500 degree Celsius.
During its first stage, the spacecraft will take less than two years to reach its initial operational orbit. It will then enter to highly elliptical orbit around the sun by using gravity- assist flybys of Venus and Earth. This flybys will prove to be helpful for spacecraft to change its inclination to observe the Sun from different angles and particularly to capture images of the Sun’s polar regions which is a first attempt by any space agency. However, ESA’s Solar Orbiter is not the first mission to study Sun and its activity with close proximity. It was NASA’s Parker Solar Probe mission which was launched in 2018 to study the Sun’s atmosphere known as Corona for the first time and to explore the cause of solar winds and it is still in operational mode. But the ESU’s solar mission is first of its kind in the sense that it will fly towards the Sun’s polar region and is equipped with cameras that will take images of it for the first time while the NASA’s solo solar mission will be the first to pass through sun’s surface closely but doesn’t equipped with cameras to view sun directly. This is where ESU’s solar orbiter supersedes NASA’s Solar Probe and that the former will fly near the Sun’s poles where no other space object with cameras has reached.
But, history has been created by both the space agencies. Earlier, it seems to be a distant dream to study sun’s atmosphere at such close proximity without the nightmare of being burnt up. It now is a reality and is going to prove beneficial for human race.
Can any international space organisation or a private space player claim on the discovery they made in outer space or on the celestial object they mine in space? What about the ambitious dreams of companies who are in neck throat competition with each other to set foot on celestial objects and other planets. Can they claim ownership?
It’s a fact that outer space is no one’s jurisdiction at least on papers it is not possible. Space is free from all domain. All states are free to explore anything beyond earth peacefully. They are free to explore planets, moon and celestial bodies. But in doing so, can any state stake claim that ‘I find it first, hence its mine’? The Outer Space Treaty,1967 prohibits any such thing. According to article 1, outer space shall be free from exploration and use by all states without discrimination of any kind, in accordance with international law and shall be free to access. With same principle, article 2 states that outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty by means of use or occupation or by any other means. But USA in 2015 passed US Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act which some experts suggested that such a law has override the Outer Space Treaty as according to this law, a US company can be an owner and seller of whatever material they extract from the moon, asteroids and other celestial bodies in space including their finding after mining any celestial body.
So now question is, is such an act constitutes violate international space treaty? And what could be done to avoid conflict because at this point of time state space agencies are exploring space at horse speed. Also Outer Space Treaty is not clear as to how its provision regarding no claim of space applies on private companies as an international treaty like international law is not strictly binding on the subjects. Space mining work is in progressive stage with space agencies and non- governmental players have started mining asteroids to extract minerals and water resources present on it. If any state start claiming on any natural space object on ‘first reach, first acquire’ basis, it might become a subject of tension among rest of the world as very soon human race will return to moon for living etc.
For this, besides international cooperation, a separate set of rules and regulations is needed and efforts must initiate among all nation to address this as soon as possible. Amendment in Outer Space Treaty will not be suffice. As law is a subject in which research is non- empirical and suggestive, so in depth research needs to be carried on with the aid of country’s space agencies and non-governmental entities to find a possible solution.
” Human species has drawn line on the earth to possess their territory and land but space must be free of such shackles “…
In the coming months, the world will witness another history making moment in outer space in the form of ‘space tourism’. Big space corporation like Space X, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic etc. are all working tirelessly to launch manned trips to space in the second or third quarter of 2020 although it is more expensive for now with Richard Branson’s company charging $250,000 per trip to space trip. Yet in many ways, it is safe to say that ‘space tourism’ will be the next hot tourist spot and that too beyond earth.
Who would have thought twenty- thirty years back that the time to witness earth from space by human beings excluding astronauts shall become a reality soon all thanks to the big space players who are not only working towards giving prospect customers experience of seeing earth from space but also aims to set up colonies on moon and other celestial bodies also to give more leisure experience to them latest by 2025. Bezos’s Blue Origin is preparing two rockets – New Glenn and New Shepard for the said purpose. Space X is focusing on lunar tourism and aims to send its 2 paid customers on a trip around the moon in 2021. It has also unveiled its starship MK1 prototype for reusable launch system capable of carrying people to moon, mars and even far ahead. Not only non- governmental players are taking interest in this area of space exploration, but the state players are also in partnership with private companies are eyeing to establish their presence in this sector. USA’s space agency NASA in June, 2019 at a news briefing declared that that NASA is opening the International Space Station (ISS) to space tourist from America on US owned commercial vehicle and will cost around $58 million.
Over the past 10-15 years, there have been tremendous development in the field of space exploration and technology not just by developed states but also by other countries like India, Brazil, Australia who are giving tough competition. Space tourism industry is proving profitable not only politically but also financially. This industry is being estimated to be worth of more than $1.18 billion according to (marketstudyreport.com) by 2024. This sector is proving to be giving investors best returns also. Richard Branson’s space company recently went public at New York Stock Exchange as a subsidiary under Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings (SCHH) and thus became first commercial spaceflight company to be listed on the stock market. According to its official website at the time of its merger with SCHH, it was valued at $1.5 billion.
Given the future potential of these companies along with other private space companies, it can be safe to assume that this sector is going to thrive at the same par with other sectors like IT and Airline sector and will be lucrative for investors and human race. It will be the next big spot for tourist, one that space nerd like me is eager to witness. So hop on the big space tourism plane and enjoy the ride.