The world's first amateur space programme

Signal of change / The world's first amateur space programme

By Kirsten Zeller / 21 Jun 2016

Copenhagen Suborbitals is the world’s only amateur space programme; a non-profit based in Denmark seeking to send someone to space on a budget rocket. The aim is to launch a human beyond the Kármán line, 100km above the earth’s surface and do so with donations, independent of government sponsorship. A group of 50 volunteers and part time specialists have taken up the outlandish hobby outside of their 9 to 5’s.

Although the team's goal to achieve human space travel in the planned rocket SPICA-I is not yet near, initial missions have already successfully passed. Next up, the Nexø I Mission will sail a rocket 6 – 10 km from a launch platform based in the international waters of Baltic Sea before landing it safely in the ocean by parachute. Although averse to governmental rules and regulations, the Suborbitals have assured the public that their intentions are peaceful and that no explosives, nuclear or biological weapons will be on board any of their rockets. They have also pledged to make all of their technical information freely available to the public.

So what?

It’s a good question. When asked by reporters what purpose the project serves, Suborbital responses have been along the lines of “why not?” and “because we can”. Likewise on the organisation’s website their collective aim is simply stated: to have fun and demonstrate that expensive feats like human spaceflight can occur outside of the confines of government sponsorship. This concise explanation for an extraordinary extracurricular activity is undoubtedly uplifting.

The venture resonates symbolically too, there is something very 21st century about amateur astronauts. In 1961, 55 years ago, the Russian astronaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man to travel to space. It was a defining moment for the 20th century which marked a new frontier of human achievement. Space has since remained the realm of States, a platform upon which to demonstrate scientific prowess and power to one another. Private Spaceflight companies have since followed suit, but this will be a first for citizens.

The mission is highly ambitious, keeping someone alive outside of the bounds of our atmosphere and returning them safely to planet earth will involve curtailing volatile conditions such as extreme heat, radiation and a vacuum. Perhaps most impressive though is what citizen innovators might achieve on a modest budget. Their mission speaks volumes, “rocket science” too could be doable.

Image credit: Steffi Reichert

Sources

Copenhagen Suborbitals website (2016)

Gizmag “Copenhagen Suborbitals dream big with Spica rocket” (August, 2015)

Wired “A year with Copenhagen Suborbitals: lessons learned” (November, 2014)

Quartz “A crowdfunded group of amateurs is planning to send a man into space” (September, 2015)

What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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