Silicon Valley one of the stars of Space 2.0

As NASA has cut back and outsourced some of its work, U.S. players in the age of Space 2.0 include big companies, startups and even high-school students.

In a documentary airing tonight at 7:30 Pacific time (you can also find the video here), Bay Area public television station KQED shows how the people and culture of Silicon Valley have helped inspire the private sector to think and dream big about space. We’re talking exploration for scientific reasons, commercial flights to outer space, mining the moon.

The documentary mentions well-known companies such as SpaceX, which last year ferried cargo to the International Space Station for the first time and plans to keep doing so. Although SpaceX is based in Southern California, its CEO is Elon Musk, one of Silicon Valley’s big names.

Also included are not-so-high-profile companies such as Mountain View-based startup Skybox Imaging. “We’re trying to build the iPhone of satellites,” company co-founder Dan Berkenstock says, explaining that the company is working on less-expensive satellites containing the latest tech components that can transmit updated satellite images more often.

The idea of Silicon Valley as a hotbed for this era of space exploration isn’t new. Mike Cassidy wrote for the Mercury News earlier this year about  a Space Hacker Workshop at the Hacker Dojo in Mountain View whose purpose was to encourage experiments for space exploration. These efforts and commercialization are “the democratization of space,” Sean Casey, a space program veteran who started the Silicon Valley Space Center, said.

Elsewhere, a satellite developed by students from magnet school Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Virginia launched into space on a Minotaur 1 rocket Tuesday. The TJCubeSat — seven years in the making and the first of its kind created by high-school students to be sent into space — is expected to transmit messages to Earth and back for at least three months, according to the Washington Post. The TJCubeSat was one of 29 satellites in the rocket’s payload; some of the others were made by college and graduate engineering students from different universities.

“Up until about 20 years ago, only governments would have been able to do it,” Carlos Niederstrasser, a systems engineer at Orbital Science — which provided the initial donation for the high-school project — reportedly told a local TV station.

 

Photo: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches Friday, March 1, 2013 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for its second resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel/MCT)

 

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