Although this certainly is a feather in Elon Musk’s cap, the development is also of significance for private space initiatives.
On Monday, as NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley splashed down in coastal waters close to Florida after completing the demo flight in SpaceX capsule, it marked the first time in 45 years that astronauts had completed a water landing. More important, it was the first time a private company had completed an orbital flight—the last orbital space flight was 11 years ago by NASA. Although this certainly is a feather in Musk’s cap, the development is also of significance for private space initiatives.
For one, except for the US companies, there are hardly any private sector initiatives involved in space exploration. Europe has a few, but none have demonstrated the capabilities that SpaceX or BlueOrigin—Jeff Bezo’s enterprise—have. In fact, of the top players involved in space exploration, almost all are in the US.
The Indian space arm, Isro, has collaborated with the private sector in the past, but these collaborations have entailed using private initiatives as suppliers. Till now, Isro has completed only one technology transfer to an industry consortium that includes Godrej Aerospace, L&T, and Hindustan Aeronautics. But, this has also been limited to PSLV and SSLV launches.
SpaceX’s achievement will give Isro the confidence to provide a fillip to its private initiatives. Last month, Isro had formally announced the launch of its IN-SPACE programme, which will aid Indian start-ups with technology transfers, so that India can have its own SpaceX, and the focus of Isro can shift to exploratory missions.