Spacecrafts to Democratise Access to Space

What would you do if you had access to something similar to a space shuttle? Where would you want to go in space? And what would you do there once you reached that destination?

Those questions are significantly important today, as the role of space as well as the possibilities lying in it are growing almost on a daily basis. Go back just five, ten, or more years and much of the outlooks seriously discussed today would have been considered prosaic, sometimes very poetic lines of text in one of the countless books written by quite a few famous and a multitude of unknown authors – all dedicated to the great visions of a genre called science fiction.

While a lot of aspects will most likely stay fiction, at least for decades or centuries to come, some of those fictional stories meanwhile became “science fact”, and they bring along entirely new opportunities for people and institutions with great ideas and the ambition to turn them into reality: namely people like you!

What to do With a New Space Shuttle Then?

First of all, the primary question might rather be where to go with that shuttle, as you could as well just take a “simple” rocket and maybe a capsule to get there. What is the advantage of a shuttle-like spacecraft? One might argue that in comparison with other solutions, it might be a reasonably priced, reusable delivery and return vehicle that could transport cargo and crew e.g. to the International Space Station (ISS) and also bring both back from space to Earth, able to land on every kind of certified runway around the world, suited for aircraft with the size of a Boeing 737 or an Airbus A320. However, as long as there would be an economically viable plan supporting it, one could go to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), to a geostationary orbit, some Lagrangian point between Earth and the Moon or the Sun and Earth, or somewhere else. One could even travel around the Moon and come back again!

Another reason for a new generation of space shuttles were the capacity for payloads to be transported to and from space. It would be around five or more metric tons or crews of around six or seven people that such a system were able to carry – depending on the type and target of the mission.

As long as the ISS is operational, this kind of reusable space vehicle were able to, besides delivering resupplies and crews for the station itself, send up scientific experiments, equipment and required feedstock for in-space manufacturing, and return ISS-made products to Earth.

And with costs of launches dropping, it will get possible to allow other players than the conventional actors in space access to it. This is a great opportunity to drive the “Democratisation of Space”, as now instead it could be private persons, universities, startups, non-profit organisations, amongst others, having their own space activities, or even whole space programmes.

What else Would There be Besides Connecting Earth and the ISS?

Aside from being a transporter to the International Space Station, whose service might end in 2024 (maybe also later), the new kind of space shuttle could find markets elsewhere. It might as well connect Earth with a possible future Deep Space Gateway planned by NASA in an orbit around the Moon with the aim to better, and ideally also more efficiently, support future deep space missions.

Other possible purposes of such a space transporter were the distribution of swarms of orbiters, sensing devices, or self-organising, manoeuvrable robots around Earth to

  • collect and recycle space junk, clearing our orbits around Earth
  • assemble a space-based industrial facility that will be able to produce materials with features only possible in zero-gravity, in larger amounts and for less cost than before
  • build “truck stops in space”, i.e. refuelling stations for future deep space missions
  • look into deep space and together build a detection system helping to identify potential harms to Earth more easily and earlier, with no interference of Earth’s atmosphere
  • place a new generation of large space-based telescopes to look deeper into the Universe than ever before
  • find innumerable of so far unknown exoplanets which might be in some stars’ habitable zones, allowing liquid water on the surface and, ultimately: Life
  • jointly scan the sky to create a star map with unprecedented detail and scientific value, maybe to provide real-time VR experiences of the night sky
  • gather masses of new kinds of data from space exploration to analyse and interpret, and to lead to new understanding, solutions, and applications
  • also look out for different kinds of possible signals from maybe existing extra-terrestrial civilisations in distant regions of the vast Universe.

A new kind of space shuttle might even be the best choice to bring tourists to space and back, possibly in connection with visits to future space hotels – or at other space facilities. Such facilities include a more commercially operated ISS, a Deep Space Gateway, or others, whose operators would allow paying private persons (maybe citizen scientists with own experiments in mind) to become part of their crews for a while.

Your Business Idea for Access to Space for the Many

In line with the Astrosat & Huntsville Prize of Europe’s first innovation competition around the topics of space exploration, the Space Exploration Masters, Scottish innovation powerhouse Stevenson Astrosat Ltd. and their co-partner from the famous “Rocket City”, the Chamber of Commerce of Huntsville/Madison County, Alabama, USA (in 2017 elected by the ACCE as the Chamber of the Year), are searching for your business ideas to make use of the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, as Huntsville is planning and preparing to become a landing site for this lifting-body spaceplane.

The participants of the Astrosat & Huntsville Prize are invited to submit their ideas related to the examples above or also wholly new ones, to define how the Dream Chaser could be utilised. They may also think about what Astrosat’s philosophy of “Space as a Service” could mean in this context, or what infrastructures, facilities, and services might be needed to be established in Huntsville and around the globe to enable relevant developments.

Last but not least: How would your idea strengthen this European-US, potentially also global collaboration, and which of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals* would it cover?


Have a look at all the topic-specific challenges:

One more thing: If you are really fired up now and full of ideas, you might be able to cover the scopes of this AND the other prizes with different but complementary ideas as well, and thereby profit from the combination of the possibilities that they have to offer to you!

It could be about experiments for the ICE Cubes aboard the ISS in line with the ESA Prize jointly with Space Applications Services, approaches enabling a sustainable space environment and human life in space for the Sustainable Exploration Prize by Airbus Defence and Space and Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, and/or applications around space resources utilisation for the Luxembourg Prize by the Luxembourg Ministry of the Economy and their initiative.

About the Space Exploration Masters

In 2017, AZO has launched the Space Exploration Masters on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA) and in line with the goals of the ESA Space Exploration Strategy, in cooperation with strong world-class partners. The Space Exploration Masters is an international competition to identify best technology transfer business successes, as well as to empower and foster business innovation around space exploration activities in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), on the Moon, Mars, or beyond – for the benefit of society and Earth.


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