It used to be that the only way to get to outer space was through the government. Those days are long gone, as the commercial space industry becomes increasingly crowded with companies geared toward such diverse goals as launching small satellites and mining the moon for minerals. This has made the commercial sector increasingly active for investors. A January report from aerospace consulting firm the Tauri Group found that space start-ups have attracted more than 13.3 billion of investment, including 5.1 billion of debt financing, since 2000. Nearly two-thirds of that investment funding has come in the last five years.
On May 5, NASA launched two, tiny, briefcase-sized satellites (called cubesats) to Mars, but at least one of them still has an eye for Earth. One of the Mars Cube One (MarCO) cubesats, nicknamed Wall-E, snapped a photo of Earth from more than half a million miles away. SEE ALSO: Tiny satellites named Wall-E and Eva are about to take a trip to Mars. Earth appears as a pale blue speck, and to its left is an even fainter speck: our moon. NASA scientists weren't doing this for sport, but to see if the cubesat's antenna had unfolded -- and worked.
A few years from now, we might have the power to make more accurate space weather forecasts thanks to an ESA satellite. The European Space Agency plans to launch a solar-monitoring space weather probe in 2023 to keep an eye out for Coronal Mass Ejections (CME), and it's hoping to send it to a stable orbit called the Lagrange point 5. That location will give the satellite a unique side-on view of the surface of the sun that's bound to face Earth in four to five days. CMEs are enormous and powerful eruptions of plasma and magnetic field from the sun's corona, which can cause widescale blackouts. By getting a glimpse of possible CMEs, astronomers could raise a warning much earlier than we're used to and help power grid companies prepare.
Japan's space agency had said it will abandon efforts to restore or retrieve the ASTRO-H satellite. Also called Hitomi, the satellite was launched in 17 February to observe X-rays coming from black holes. Contact was lost with 273m satellite on 26 March sparking a scramble by Japanese scientists to find out what had happened. The next time a similar satellite will be launched is in 2028 by the European Space Agency. Hitomi was a joint effort between Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), NASA and other groups.
For decades, space travel was seen as a risky investment, one that venture capitalists shied away from. But recently, the commercial space industry has attracted a growing number of investors that now includes the Kingdom of Saudia Arabia, which announced Thursday it plans to invest $1 billion in Richard Branson's portfolio of space companies. In a statement, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, said the country intended to take a large stake in Branson's ventures in an effort "to enhance the role of innovative technology within the Kingdom's blueprint for a modern, diversified economy." The infusion of cash is a huge boon for Branson, who has said that Virgin Galactic intends, at long last, to start flying tourists to the edge of space in the coming months. The investment would also go into Virgin Orbit, a California-based company that is building a rocket capable of delivering small satellites to space.