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SpaceX launch opens new frontier in space commerce

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LONDON – The successful launch of entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon Heavy on Tuesday marks a major turning point in humanity’s approach to space exploration. For the first time since the United States and the Soviet Union began their race into orbit, the world’s most powerful rocket was designed and built by a private corporation.

It’s a sign of what increasingly looks to be a massive shift in the dynamics of human activity in space. Until recently, such rockets were very much a government business. The Saturn Five rockets that took Neil Armstrong and his colleagues to the moon were produced by one of the largest and most expensive government projects of all time.

Private companies have long seen potential business opportunities in space. Commercial launches began in the 1980s with French firm Arianespace, but until a decade ago corporations, particularly in the U.S., were more likely to use U.S. or Russian government rockets to get their payloads into space than the other way around.

The implications of the change are enormous. Indeed, it now seems likely that if and when humans do eventually reach Mars, it may well be under the flag of private enterprise.

That’s a goal electric car tycoon turned space entrepreneur Musk in particular is entirely open about. Tuesday’s Falcon Heavy launch carried with it his own cherry-red Tesla Roadster, flung toward the red planet to the strains of David Bowie.

It’s a shrewd marketing gimmick — but also an unmistakable........

© The Japan Times