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Doom and Gloom

Mark Wade looks back on 2004, and sees little to be happy about: The Year in Review – 2004

The year 2004 saw the continued decline in the exploration and utilisation of space. The number of launches to orbit reached the lowest level since 1961. Given competition by terrestrial technology, the commercial communications satellite industry seemed unlikely to ever expand beyond replenishment of its current constellations.

The number of satellites continued its even more spectacular decline, and also reached the lowest level since 1961. Navigation, civilian and military surveillance, earth monitoring, and other applications satellites seemed unlikely to expand the size of their constellations in the future either. Unmanned planetary exploration was being funded at a level beneath the notice of national budget officials. Despite rhetoric about new space initiatives and budget increases, NASA and the Department of Defence seemed only to have perfected the art of spending billions on studies and bureaucracy without producing any hardware.

But it wasn’t all bad:

A few bright spots did exist. The winning of the X-Prize by SpaceShipOne demonstrated the first (however limited) manned commercial spacecraft. By year’s end the launch was imminent of the Falcon I, one of several new purportedly lower-cost commercial launch vehicles.

Except, Falcon I still has not launched, and probably won’t until at least March from the looks of it.

The article is a wet blanket over the optimism engendered this past year by Rutan’s successful X-Prize flights and the announcement of the VSE, but perhaps that’s a good thing…a dose of reality as antidote to too much enthusiasm. After all, how many entrepreneurial white knights (pardon the pun) and Great Visionary Programs have come and gone in the past thirty years?

[via Victor Atkins]

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