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          xyHt  | Pangaea Past Issues | Field Notes Past Issues                                            April 10, 2018—No. 206

Rocket Billionaires

Here’s a great example of serendipity. Not so long ago I took a break from my daily routine and flipped on the TV. The set was tuned to the science channel, and just as the screen flickered to life I beheld the live broadcast of the first launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy as it lifted off. I watched in awe not only as the rocket soared into the heavens but also as the booster stages descended to their landing pads for reuse. It was just like watching science fiction. I was thinking of wrapping my head in an Ace bandage to keep it from exploding!

Naturally, when I saw the book, Rocket Billionaires: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the New Space Race, on sale I picked up a copy.

Thumbnail sketch. As you might assume, the book gives us the inside story on Bezos and Musk and their contributions to the new space race, via Blue Origin and SpaceX, respectively. Moreover, we get an overview of the past, present, and possible future of space exploration and all the major players, including United Launch Alliance (ULA, Boeing and Lockheed’s joint venture), Virgin Galactic (Richard Branson, another billionaire) and others. Apparently the author missed billionaire Paul Allen and his Stratolaunch project. (That’s okay, you read about in the last issue of Pangaea so you’re all caught up.) This book is so well written and fact-filled that I had a hard time putting it down—an observation I usually reserve for the suspense/thriller genre.

Takeaways. Bezos and Musk and their commercial space efforts have essentially re-started the space race. After the Space Shuttle program was terminated in 2011, the U.S. found itself without an in-house launch capability for major space missions. Further, NASA was hamstrung by factors both external (politics and budgeting) and internal (an overcautious attitude thanks to the Challenger disaster) that many say contributed to the moribund state of U.S. space efforts. Along comes SpaceX that proved that it could provide satellite injection at one quarter of the cost of ULA’s approach. And the race was on.

Furthermore, to re-start the space race, they had to accomplish the impossible. Private companies launching rockets into space? Not so long ago that idea would have gotten you laughed out of the offices of NASA and big military contractors. Re-using rocket boosters? The best minds in the industry said that this was either physically impossible or completely infeasible from an economic standpoint. Scoreboard says, “New Space entrepreneurs 2, experts 0”.

Why should we even care about the space race being reignited? I can think of two reasons. First, “better, cheaper, faster” satellite launches means better, cheaper, faster satellite remote sensing, which should be of interest to all in the geospatial community. Second, the creation of a future where humanity is a space-faring species ensures its survival. Saving the human race? Yes please.

Musk’s visionary plans of Mars colonization seems the stuff of dreams. Some experts are saying “impossible.” You know, like private firms using reusable rocket boosters to get into space. To be fair, Musk’s timetable is probably over-optimistic, but the critics’ take is over-pessimistic.

I’m betting on the Rocket Billionaires.

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This Month: UESI 2018 Surveying and Geomatics Conference
The big news: the UESI 2018 Surveying and Geomatics Conference is the first ASCE-related surveying conference since 1992, bringing surveyors and engineers together. What: this conference features presentations linking surveying and engineering, specifically in applications to sustainable infrastructure development. Enjoy two preconference workshops, over 50 technical presentations and four keynote speakers. When and where: April 22-24 in Pomona, CA. Learn more and register at the conference website.
Webinar: Rapidly Scale Operations with HD Imagery
The big news: Nearmap will be hosting a Webinar on Wednesday, April 25 “Rapidly Scale Operations with HD Imagery” 2pm E.S.T.  What: learn how a leading municipality scaled operations across all departments for greater efficiency and productivity. You’ll also hear about practical use cases for HD aerial imagery; get a sneak peek at new forms of 3D location content and much more. To reserve your spot, register here.
AUVSI Announces Keynote Speakers for XPONENTIAL 2018
The big news: the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) announced keynote speakers who will guide discussions about the benefits and future of unmanned systems at AUVSI XPONENTIAL 2018, the industry’s largest trade show, from April 30 to May 3 at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. What: the experts will present keynotes devoted to themes critical to the advancement and growth of unmanned systems. More than 8,500 industry leaders and forward-thinking users from the defense and commercial sectors are expected to attend the show to learn the latest on public policy, business solutions, and technology applications. To learn more about XPONENTIAL 2018 and the keynote speakers, check out the conference website.

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