in 2012, two large, well-funded companies, Virgin Galactic and SpaceX, will begin making regular journeys to suborbital and orbital space, commencing the post-NASA era of commercial space travel. But those companies will not be alone in their efforts. In 2009, the Federal Aviation Administration changed its regulations to allow amateur rocketeers to launch their craft as high as 93 miles, and now, as composite materials and electronic tracking systems become increasingly affordable, small companies and even garage inventors are taking flight.
Last June, Danish engineers at a micro aerospace nonprofit called Copenhagen Suborbitals launched a 1,440-pound rocket from a platform in the Baltic Sea to a height of more than two miles, all on a budget of just $100,000. By design, the rocket fell far short of the Earth-space boundary, but the engineers will attempt a more ambitious launch this summer. If all goes well, their rockets will reach an altitude of 35 miles. Eventually, the capsule could carry a human passenger to space.
Also in 2012, several teams will compete for the Carmack 100kft Micro Prize, established last year by John Carmack, one of the creators of the computer game Doom. The first to launch a rocket to an altitude above 100,000 feet (19 miles, or just into the stratosphere) will win $10,000. In September, Derek Deville, a Florida engineer, sent a 320-pound rocket to a height of 121,000 feet in just 92 seconds, but the rocket failed to record required GPS data, so Deville didn't take the prize. Another team, in New Zealand, launched its own garage rocket in December, and two more groups claim to have rockets ready for flight. By January, the prize may already be claimed, and the do-it-yourself space program will have liftoff.
2012: THE YEAR IN SCIENCE
I suppose that Planetes-type space debris disposal units are also nearing the horizon. I wonder if people would start taking space elevators anchored to geosynchronous satellites/space station more seriously, since we could then use those stations as our space ports and make the exchange of supplies to corporate asteroid miners and mars colonizers a breeze.
Space elevators should be anchored near less populated areas with limited air traffic, like desert outposts, arctic/antartic, or even artificial islands and seasteading structures dedicated to pose as some sort of resupply station for our space ports.
From what I know of the space elevator concept, I believe they have to be put on the equator to stay aloft and keep balance without too much wobble. I don't think they could be put on the arctic/antartic as they wouldnt stay up if they were put on the earth's axis.
Science always asks "can we," but doesn't seem to ask "should we."
Interesting past time but rockets have never work getting into space economically or safely. They are and have been a dead end technology fun to play with and that is about all. If you what to get into space you will have to use a ground to orbit space plane or what is called anti-gravity if we what to be a space faring species.
Space exploration will depend a cheap delivery system. That system already exists. Back in WWII the Germans used a Ramp to launch their V-2 rockets to speed with the boosters falling off before the RAM-Jet fueled by gasoline or other combustible later in the war kicked in. At Disney and other ride attractions they are using electromagnets to accelerate passengers without a chain system. In the Tower of Terror they use again magnets to both accelerate and slow down the run-away elevator cars. Tapping solar power, geo-thermal power, methane gas from dumps, and wind power that power can be used to build a ramp with an increasing angle to the sky before the actual space rocket is launched into space. That would reduce tremendously the need to vertically fight gravity with huge engines that need to gulp a tremendous amount of fuel to get those beasts into the air. On the return descent skipping through the atmosphere to use friction in a gradual fashion will slow the approach before our space vehicle needs to land on mother earth. Concepts such as this have been on the drawing books for years. But the key is using renewable eneregy sources at the launch site along with a guided rail ramp to accelerate the vehicle close to escape velocity before the needed additional thrust onboard is needed.
Until a backbone for a space elevator capable of supporting its own weight is developed, the space elevator concept will remain a pipe dream. Even the exotic carbon-based materials like fullerene cannot yet meet this basic standard.
A much better concept than the classic "elevator" for orbital insertion is the launch loop. Check it out on wikipedia ;)
I'm surprised that no one noticed the error in the headline. There is a big, big difference between launching a rocket into space and putting a satellite into orbit. These projects are all about reaching exceptional altitudes, but the rockets do not go into orbit. They go up and then they fall right back down. Achieving orbit is an entirely different matter. Not only do you have to reach high altitude, but you need to achieve speeds of some 15,000 MPH or more parallel to the surface of the earth so that you continue to spin around the Earth instead of falling back down. That's why rockets need to burn massive amounts of fuel to put objects into orbit. It's an entirely different game than the amateur efforts describe here, and I doubt that an amateur will succeed in putting a satellite into orbit any time soon.