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商业 - 科技

小型卫星和廉价科技正在推动太空业走向繁荣

Jonathan Vanian 2018年07月24日

过去卫星的尺寸像公共汽车或者汽车,现在卫星可以小到像洗衣机或冰箱。

当前太空市场的热闹,要归功于小型卫星和廉价科技。

上周三,在科罗拉多州阿斯彭市举办的《财富》头脑风暴科技大会的太空行业座谈会上,维珍轨道(Virgin Orbit)的CEO丹·哈特说:“小型卫星目前是我们行业的主要推动力。”

哈特解释说,过去卫星的尺寸像公共汽车或者汽车,现在卫星可以小到像洗衣机或冰箱。太空科技公司Maxar Technologies的CEO霍华德·兰斯认为,现在各家公司更多地发射这些带传感器的小型卫星进入太空,完成各项工作,比如拍摄地球图像、监控温室效应气体、追踪远洋航海船只的运行轨迹。

维珍轨道是理查德·布兰森的维珍集团的旗下企业,哈特说维珍轨道正在研发可以吊挂在波音747机翼下方的“小型卫星发射器”。如果能从这个装置成功发射卫星,就等于实现了太空发射领域的一个伟大壮举,因为这种发射方式类似于传统的“飞机式发射”。

哈特还谈起了最初布兰森找他来领导维珍轨道时的情形。

哈特说:“他没有具体回答,只说:是的是的。我感到心潮澎湃。”

发送这么多小卫星到太空的一个隐患,是在地球低轨道发生事故的概率会增大。兰斯认为,美国和其它国家的政府需要通力合作来解决太空布满垃圾这个潜在问题。

兰斯说:“我们遇到过卫星在轨道上被损毁的事。如果不解决太空垃圾问题,情况只会变得更糟。”

兰斯也提到,Maxar针对卫星损毁问题的一个解决办法是,将一颗定制卫星发送到低轨道,用来修理其他卫星或提供燃料。

兰斯说:“我们现在正在投资开发一颗特殊的卫星,这颗卫星可以在轨道上组装其它卫星。”

兰斯表示,这样的科技就像是我们“在电影里看到的一样”。Maxar计划在三年内开始与美国政府合作,发射那些可以修理其他卫星的专用卫星。

至于将人类送上太空,就像杰夫·贝佐斯的蓝色起源公司(Blue Origin)试图开发的太空旅游业,在兰斯看来“还是有点遥远”。

兰斯说:“我当然不会看50年那么远,但我认为20年内,太空行业就会大为不同。”(财富中文网)

译者:宣峰 

You can thank smaller satellites and cheaper technologies for helping contribute to the current space market.

During a panel on the space industry on last Wednesday during Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colo., Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said “small satellites are now a really major mover in the industry.”

Although satellites used to be the size of buses or cars, they now can be as small as a washing machine or refrigerator, Hart explained.

Now, companies appear to be sending more of these smaller satellites, armed with sensors, in space to carry out feats like capturing imagery of the Earth, monitoring greenhouse gasses, or tracking the movements of shipping vessels cruising the world’s seas, said Howard Lance the CEO of space technology company Maxar Technologies.

Hart said that Virgin Orbit, part of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, is building “a small satellite launcher” that’s hooked onto a Boeing 747 aircraft. A successful launch from this mechanism would be akin to the “holy grail” of space launches, because it would be similar to more conventional “aircraft-like launches,” he said.

He also shared what was it like when Branson first approached him about leading Virgin Orbit:

“There was no answer but yes,” Hart said. “My blood was just pumping.”

One of the pitfalls of sending so many smaller satellites to space, however, is that there’s now more of a chance that accidents could occur in Earth’s low orbit. Lance believes that the U.S. and other international governments need to work together to address the potential of the skies filling up with too much space junk.

“We’ve had our satellites in orbit get damaged,” said Lance. “It’s only going to get worse before it gets better.”

One way Maxar is dealing with damaged satellites, Lance noted, is by sending a customized satellite into low orbit that could help repair or refuel other satellites.

“We’re funding right now a special satellite that will be able to assemble other satellites in orbit,” Lance said.

He noted that while technology like this are like “things you see in the movies,” the plan is for Maxar to launch those satellite-repairing satellites with the U.S. government in three years.

As for the idea of sending people to space, like Jeff Bezos’s Blue Orbit company wants to do to foster the idea of space tourism, Lance said that it’s “kind of a longer term” play.

“I certainly don’t think 50 years,” Lance said. “I think [in] 20 years you’ll see space commerce in a different way.”

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