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astronomy picI think most people will have seen the recent launch by NASA of the Orion capsule around the Moon. They might also have heard that it was an important step in men returning to the Moon after so long a time. What most people might easily miss, is how many other countries are sending unmanned landers there, and just how many space launch and satellite nations there are.
I'm writing this on the day that the UK is expecting to make it's first space launch, a capability we would have had long ago if it wasn't for the appalling cancellation of the brilliant Black Arrow rocket back in 1971, so it seems a good time to remind ourselves just how big a business space has become.
You might rightly expect that most satellites are made by America, Russia and China, but did you know that the UK is the fourth largest manufacturer? Well over 500 satellites so far, worth billions to the economy. Where is the nearest rocket factory to us here on the Costa Blanca? It's in Elche, right on our doorstep. PLD Space, are a successful company that so many of us have never heard of, Spain has a launch site being developed near the Portuguese border where they have been testing rocket motors for PLD.
The list of new players in the space race goes on and on, how many of us know about the very experienced Swedish launch site? Over 500 sounding rockets have been launched from there, and they will be launching orbital rockets soon.
Many people might have missed the very successful Mars probe sent by the United Arab Emirates, and that there are many countries building Lunar landers. Over the next year or two Japan, India, Russia, the USA, South Korea and the UAE will all be going or trying to go to the Moon and I expect others will follow.
So, what's driving all this exploration? Firstly, space launch costs have dropped considerably in the last decade, mostly because of technical advances. Secondly, countries do not want to be left behind in a changing world, the future is out there as the old saying goes. Lastly, the discovery of water on the Moon is a game changer for any bases that are built in the decades ahead. Simple H2O is remarkably useful, not just for drinking but because it can easily be changed into lots of other things, even potentially rocket fuel. All this makes the moon a very attractive place to launch missions to the rest of space, including Mars.
Lastly, for successful players in this game, there's a lot of money to be made and that's always a huge motive for anything. Do you fancy a trip around the Moon? Perhaps you will fly past the new lunar orbiting space station now being built. Tickets aren't available yet, but one company is planning to sell them soon, a snip at 150 million dollars a seat, months of training included.

Charles Oates,
Vega Baja Astronomy Group.

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