Space transport is the use of spacecraft to transport people or cargo through outer space. In human spaceflight, the people transported are the crew who operate the spacecraft, and occasionally passengers. Some cargo carrying spacecraft, like the Progress, have no crew or passengers during their flight and operate either by telerobotic control or are fully autonomous.
Currently, spacecraft most commonly use rocket technology for propulsion. Rocket engines expel propellant to provide forward thrust. Different ranges and types of rockets and other spacecraft have been used (or proposed) for different environments and goals, including:
There are also several non-standard propulsion systems in the works which do not directly rely on rocket propulsion, including solar sails, magnetic sails, plasma-bubble magnetic systems, and using gravitational slingshot effects. For launching from the Earth's surface launch loop's or a more technologically difficult concept is the space elevator.
There are other forms of transportation to orbit beyond rockets that leverage new technologies like carbon nanotubes that will create new mass transit capabilities to orbit. These new materials will allow us to create cables, a tether, that stretch from the surface of the Earth all the way to orbit. These cables will allow us to create space elevator mass transit systems that can augment and/or replace today's conventional methods to gain orbit. Most 'concept' depictions of these show a counterweight at the orbit end of the cable. Practicality demands that the 'counterweight' will most likely be an orbiting station of some sort, something Bigelow Aerospace or a company like the hotel chain Budget Suites of America will be keenly interested in solving.
Published in July 2009.
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