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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
Human spaceflight — orbital, suborbital and beyond — will be key to the growth of the space industry in the coming years.
Why it matters: Right now, most revenue in the space industry is tied up in government contracts, but experts say the maturing industry will need tourism to grow into the $1 trillion economy some predict it could be.
Driving the news: Two space tourism companies — Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin — are expected to fly passengers to suborbital space this year.
Details: NASA funded the development of SpaceX and Boeing's crewed systems, and now other companies are hoping to make use of them to fuel their own businesses.
Yes, but: The market for suborbital tourism and especially orbital tourism will likely be limited to just the most wealthy people on Earth, at least for the immediate future.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are the American front-runners in the race to launch tourist flights to the edge of space, but they're approaching it in two very different ways.
Details: Blue Origin — backed by Jeff Bezos — plans to use its New Shepard space system to launch customers to suborbital space in a capsule that separates from a small rocket and then comes back to Earth under parachutes.
By the numbers: Both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic’s systems are designed to fly passengers more than 50 miles above the Earth’s surface.
Virgin Galactic flew its first test passenger in 2019 and is expected to fly Branson sometime this year. Blue Origin has yet to launch a person with its space system.
Between the lines: The FAA is able to regulate the safety of the public under the launch licenses these companies need to fly their suborbital vehicles, but the government doesn't have the ability to regulate the safety of the systems themselves.
Tectonic activity on the surface of Mars. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
Mars shakes with quakes more often than scientists initially expected, according to a new series of studies using data from NASA's InSight lander published this week.
Why it matters: Mars looks like a cold, dead world, but its geology is complicated. The InSight lander, which has been studying the Red Planet from its surface since 2018, is giving scientists a more full picture of the rusty world.
Details: According to NASA, InSight has recorded more than 450 signals from seismic activity so far, with the largest quake measuring in at about 4.0 magnitude.
“If you just take a simple model of Mars, you wouldn’t expect it to be hot enough inside to be producing magma. So, what it says is that there’s probably some variability at depth that the source of which is not obvious at the surface.”— Suzanne Smrekar, an author of the new study, said during a press conference
Be smart: Mars doesn’t have plate tectonics the way Earth does. Instead, these quakes are likely caused by volcanic regions shaking the world or the cooling and contracting of the planet itself.
The last company vying for a $12 million DARPA prize for launching rockets two times from two locations with little notice could stage its first flight as early as this week.
The big picture: DARPA's launch challenge is designed to simulate a real-life scenario that the military may require of its launch providers in the future.
Details: The company — named Astra — was originally aiming to launch its first rocket from Kodiak, Alaska, today, but bad weather in the area has pushed the attempt back.
Between the lines: Astra isn't hanging its hopes on winning the DARPA challenge to make its business successful. CEO Chris Kemp told Axios that Astra doesn't expect its first launch will get a satellite to orbit.
Go deeper: You can watch the launch webcast live through DARPA.
Katherine Johnson at NASA. Photo: NASA.
Astronomy expands its scope from the heavens to humans (Sarah Scoles, Wired)
From Dubai to Mars, with stops in Colorado and Japan (Kenneth Chang, New York Times)
Elon Musk wants to build a private "SpaceX Village" (Dave Mosher, Business Insider)
NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, depicted in "Hidden Figures," dies at 101 (Marisa Fernandez, Axios)
A large cluster of stars 19,000 light-years from Earth harbors something strange: Within the cluster, a neutron star left over after a supernova explosion orbits a star not too different from our Sun.
Yes, but: Chandra found this star system has gone from behaving like a more typical binary to a millisecond pulsar and then back again.
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