Space Wars: The Private Sector Strikes Back
Government agencies such as NASA have been the brains behind space exploration for decades with much success. Such agencies put the first man in space, landed on the moon, and built the first reusable space vessel.
However, since the private venture behind SpaceShipOne won the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004 for its series of manned flights, a new age of space exploration has begun.
In fact, many companies in the private sector have started to achieve great milestones. Our infographic today, created by Visual Capitalist, documents the companies in space that are now vying for space supremacy.
The Old Guard
Rooted in the lucrative government space contracts of the past, the Old Guard consists primarily of defense and aerospace behemoths such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Orbital Sciences.
To put things in perspective, United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed formed in 2006, charges the US Air Force a $1 billion retainer just to be “ready” to launch a satellite into space. To actually launch a satellite is another $380 million more.
Seeing this stagnant situation as a business opportunity were tech billionaires such as Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson, who have helped form The New Guard.
The New Guard
The price tag that is advertised for a launch of the Falcon 9 with SpaceX right now is $57 million. Compared to ULA prices above, this is a meaningful step in market disruption. It’s only the beginning.
Companies like Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries plan to harvest asteroids in space for water and metals such as PGMs (platinum group metals). Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic plans to bring super rich tourists to experience space in coming years for $250,000 a pop.
However, space isn’t for the faint of heart. Recent accidents in 2014 have made clear the elements of human and financial risk that space flight brings. In October, Orbital Sciences’ unmanned Antares rocket exploded over Virginia. A few days later, Virgin’s manned test flight of the SpaceShipTwo ended in calamity with one death and one serious injury to test pilots.
These challenging realities are part of embarking to new frontiers. So far, such incidents and risks have not deterred companies from their endeavours yet. Which companies will succeed in their quests in this new industry?
The truth is out there.
Visualizing the Speed of Light (Fast, but Slow)
In our every day lives, light is instantaneous – but in the context of our solar system and beyond, light is surprisingly slow.
Visualizing the Speed of Light
With the flip of a switch, your room can be instantenously flooded with brightness.
In fact, there is no noticeable lag effect at all.
That’s because emitted photons travel at 186,000 miles (300,000 km) per second, meaning it takes only 1/500,000th of a second for light to reach even the furthest part of an ordinary room. And, if it could go through the wall, it would orbit the entire planet 7.5 times in just one second.
Light Speed is Fast…
In our every day experiences, we never see light as having to “take time” to do anything. It’s inconceivably fast, brightening up everything in its path in an instant — and with a few odd caveats, scientists believe light speed to be the fastest-known achievable pace in the universe.
But what if we get out of our bubble, and look at light from outside the confines of life on Earth?
Today’s animation, which comes from planetary scientist Dr. James O’Donoghue, helps visualize the speed of light in a broader context. It helps remind us of the mechanics of this incredible phenomenon, while also highlighting the vast distances between celestial bodies — even in our small and insignificant corner of the solar system.
Light Speed is Slow…
Once a photon is sent into the vast abyss, suddenly the fastest possible speed seems somewhat pedestrian.
- Moon: It takes about 1.255 seconds for light to get from Earth to the moon.
- Mars: Mars is about 150x further than the moon — about 40 million miles (54.6 million km) in the closest approach — so it takes 3 minutes to get there from Earth.
- Sun: The sun is 93 million miles (150 million km) away, meaning it takes 8 minutes to see its light.
Let that sink in for a moment: the sun could explode right now, and we wouldn’t even know about it for eight long minutes.
Going Further, Taking Longer
If it takes light a few minutes to get to the closest planets, how long does it take for light to travel further away from Earth?
- Jupiter: The largest planet is 629 million km away when it’s closest, taking light about 35 minutes.
- Saturn: The ringed planet is about as twice as far as Jupiter, taking light 71 minutes.
- Pluto: It takes about 5.5 hours for light to go from Earth to the dwarf planet.
- Alpha Centauri: The nearest star system is 4.3 light years away, or 25 trillion miles (40 trillion km).
- Visible stars: The average distance to the 300 brightest stars in the sky is about 347 light years.
If you really want to get the feeling of how “slow” light really is, watch the below video and journey from the sun to Jupiter. It’s done in real-time, so it takes about 43 minutes:
So while light obviously travels at a ludicrous speed, it really depends on your vantage point.
On Earth, light is instantaneous – but anywhere else in the universe, it’s pretty inadequate for getting anywhere far (especially in contrast to the average human lifespan).
Watching the Sky Fall: Visualizing a Century of Meteorites
This data visualization depicts every meteorite that was observed hitting the Earth over a 100-year period, between 1913-2012.
Watching the Sky Fall: Visualizing a Century of Meteorites
Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson once said “The chances that your tombstone will read ‘Killed by an Asteroid’ are about the same as they’d be for ‘Killed in Airplane Crash’.”
Part of the reason for this is the Earth’s atmospheric ability to burn up inbound space rocks before they reach the surface, a process that ensures that most meteors never become meteorites.
Of the 33,162 meteorites found in the past 100 years, only 625 were seen. Today’s visualization from data designer Tiffany Farrant-Gonzalez groups these 625 observed meteorites by the year they fell, classification, mass, and landing location on Earth.
Asteroid, Meteoroids, Meteors, and Meteorites
Not all flying space rocks are the same. Their origins and trajectories define its type.
Asteroid: A large rocky body in space, in orbit around the Sun.
Meteoroid: Much smaller rocks or particles in orbit around the Sun.
Meteor: If a meteoroid enters the Earth’s atmosphere and vaporizes, it becomes a meteor, or a shooting star.
Meteorite: If a small asteroid or large meteoroid survives its fiery passage through the Earth’s atmosphere and lands on Earth’s surface.
Bolide: A very bright meteor that often explodes in the atmosphere, also known as a fireball.
This graphic classifies meteorites into four types based on their composition: stony, stony-iron, iron and other.
Non-magmatic or Primitive
Top 5 Meteorites by Size
While half of all observed meteorites weighed less than 2.5 kg (5.5 lbs), there are a few exceptional ones that stand out. The graphic highlights the five largest meteorites ever observed, and when they fell:
|Sikhote-Alin, Russia||23 MT||1947||Iron|
|Jilin, China||4 MT||1976||Stony|
|Allende, Mexico||2 MT||1969||Stony|
|Norton County, USA||1.1 MT||1948||Stony|
|Kunya-Urgench, Turkmenistan||1.1 MT||1998||Stony|
Each category differs in their amount of iron-nickel metal and what they reveal about the early solar system.
Fireballs in the Sky: Bolides
Small asteroids frequently enter and disintegrate in Earth’s atmosphere randomly around the globe, creating fireballs known as bolides. NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program mapped data gathered by U.S. government sensors from 1994 to 2013.
The data indicates that small asteroids impacted Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in a bolide (or fireball), on 556 separate occasions over a 20-year period. Almost all asteroids of this size disintegrate in the atmosphere and are harmless.
A notable exception was the Chelyabinsk event in 2013, which was the largest known natural object to have entered Earth’s atmosphere since the 1908 Tunguska event. A house-sized asteroid entered the atmosphere over Chelyabinsk at over 11 miles per second, and blew apart 14 miles above the ground.
The explosion released an energy equivalent to ~440,000 tons of TNT, generating a shock wave that shattered windows over 200 square miles—damaging several buildings and injuring over 1,600 people.
Look Out Above
While the night sky appears to be a beautiful tableau of the cosmos, these two visualizations paint a dramatic galactic battle. Rocks inundate our planet as it moves through the darkness of space. The resiliency of Earth’s atmosphere to erode these invaders has allowed life to flourish—until the next big one comes through.
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