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On March 2, SpaceX plans to launch its first test of an unmanned Dragon vehicle which is designed to carry humans into low Earth orbit and to the International Space Station. If the test is successful, later this year, SpaceX plans to launch American astronauts from United States soil for the first time since 2011.

3月2日,SpaceX计划首次发射无人驾驶的“龙”号运载火箭,该运载火箭的设计目标是将人类送入近地轨道和国际空间站。如果测试成功,今年晚些时候,SpaceX计划自2011年以来首次在美国本土发射美国宇航员。

While a major milestone for a private company, SpaceX’s most significant achievement has been in lowering the launch costs that have limited many space activities. While making several modifications to the fuel and engines, SpaceX’s major breakthroughs have come through recovering and reusing as much of the rocket and launch vehicle as possible.

作为一家私营公司的一个重要里程碑,SpaceX的最重要成就是降低了限制了许多太空活动的发射成本。在对燃料和发动机进行多次改装的同时,SpaceX的主要突破在于尽可能多地回收和再利用火箭和运载火箭。

Between 1970 and 2000, the cost to launch a kilogram to space remained fairly steady, with an average of US$18,500 per kilogram. When the space shuttle was in operation, it could launch a payload of 27,500 kilograms for $1.5 billion, or $54,500 per kilogram. For a SpaceX Falcon 9, the rocket used to access the ISS, the cost is just $2,720 per kilogram

从1970年到2000年,发射一公斤到太空的成本保持相当稳定,平均每公斤18500美元。当航天飞机运行时,它可以以15亿美元,即每公斤54500美元的价格发射27500公斤的有效载荷。对于用于进入国际空间站的太空猎鹰9号火箭来说,成本仅为每公斤2720美元。



SpaceX has since focused on recovering key parts of the Falcon 9 to enhance reusability and reduce costs. This includes the Falcon 9’s first stage which, once it expends its fuel, falls back through the atmosphere reaching speeds of 5,200 miles per hour before reigniting its engines to land on a drone recovery ship.

此后,SpaceX专注于回收猎鹰9号的关键部件,以提高可重用性并降低成本。这包括猎鹰9号的第一阶段,一旦耗尽燃料,它会以5200英里每小时的速度返回大气层,然后重新点燃引擎,降落在一艘无人驾驶回收船上。

In 2018 alone, SpaceX made 21 successful launches. The new Falcon Heavy rocket – a more powerful version of the Falcon 9 – launched in February. This rocket can lift 63,800 kilograms, equivalent to more than 27 Asian elephants, to low Earth orbit and 16,800 kilograms to Mars for just $90 million. The test payload was Musk’s own red Tesla Roadster, with a mannequin named Starman in the driver’s seat.

仅在2018年,SpaceX就成功发射了21次。新的猎鹰重型火箭——猎鹰9号的一个更强大的版本——在二月份发射。这枚火箭能将63,800公斤(相当于27头亚洲象)送入近地轨道,16800公斤(相当于1.68万公斤)送入火星,成本仅为9,000万美元。测试的有效载荷是马斯克自己的红色特斯拉跑车,驾驶员座位上有一个名叫斯塔曼的人体模型。

In addition to the crewed Dragon tests this year, SpaceX is continuing development of its Starship, which will be designed to travel through the solar system and carry up to 100 passengers sometime in the 2020s. Musk has also suggested that the Starship could serve as the foundation for a lunar base.

除了今年的载人“龙”飞船试验外,SpaceX还在继续开发其星际飞船,这艘飞船将在2020年代的某个时候穿越太阳系,搭载多达100名乘客。马斯克还建议,星际飞船可以作为月球基地的基础。

Impact on space exploration

对太空探索的影响



In addition to substantially affecting human spaceflight, SpaceX has also launched payloads for countries including Kazakhstan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and, most recently, Israel. On Feb. 21, 2019, a Falcon 9 launched a privately built Israeli lunar lander which, if successful, will be the first privately built lunar probe.

除了对载人航天产生重大影响外,SpaceX还为哈萨克斯坦、孟加拉国、印度尼西亚和最近的以色列等国发射了有效载荷。2019年2月21日,猎鹰9号发射了一个以色列私人制造的月球着陆器,如果成功,这将是第一个私人建造的月球探测器。

Overall, SpaceX has significantly reduced the barriers to space, making it more accessible and democratizing who participates in space-based commerce and exploration.

总的来说,SpaceX大大降低了进入太空的障碍,使太空更容易进入,并使参与太空商业和探索的人更民主。

Challenges ahead

挑战

Despite SpaceX’s successes, it faces significant challenges. Earlier this year, SpaceX laid off 10 percent of its workforce to reduce costs. NASA remains suspicious of some of the launch procedures SpaceX plans to use, including the fueling of the rocket with astronauts on board, which was linked to an explosion of a Falcon 9 on the launchpad. The Department of Defense’s inspector general has also announced an investigation into how the Air Force certified the Falcon 9, though it is not clear what initiated the probe.

尽管SpaceX取得了成功,但它也面临着重大挑战。今年早些时候,SpaceX为了降低成本解雇了10%的员工。美国宇航局仍然对SpaceX计划使用的一些发射程序持怀疑态度,包括搭载宇航员为火箭加油,这与发射台上的猎鹰9号火箭爆炸有关。美国国防部监察长也宣布对美国空军如何认证猎鹰9号展开调查,不过目前还不清楚是什么原因引发了调查。



Musk, regardless of his personal missteps, and SpaceX have aggressively pushed technological boundaries that have changed minds, my own included, about the potential of private companies to provide safe and reliable access to space.

马斯克不顾个人的失误,而SpaceX积极推进技术边界,改变了包括我在内的许多人对私营企业提供安全可靠的太空通道的潜力的看法。