Posts with «government agencies» label

Juul asks appeals court to block the US ban on its vaping products

Juul has asked a federal appeals court to temporarily block a Food and Drug Administration ban on sales of its vaping products in the US. The agency issued the order on Thursday, citing a lack of sufficient evidence provided by the company to show its devices are safe. The FDA acknowledged that it wasn't aware of "an immediate hazard" linked to Juul's vape pen or pods.

“FDA’s decision is arbitrary and capricious and lacks substantial evidence,” Juul said in a filing with the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, according to The Wall Street Journal. The company called the ban extraordinary and unlawful. It requested an administrative stay until it can file a motion for an emergency review of the FDA’s order.

Juul claimed that, without the stay, it would suffer significant and irreparable harm. The company makes the lion's share of its revenue in the US. If the stay is granted, Juul and retailers will be able to keep selling its products there. The company argued in the filing that the order marked a move away from the FDA's typical practices, which allow for a transition period. 

"We respectfully disagree with the FDA’s findings and decision and continue to believe we have provided sufficient information and data based on high-quality research to address all issues raised by the agency," Juul's chief regulatory officer Joe Murillo told Engadget after the FDA issued the order. "In our applications, which we submitted over two years ago, we believe that we appropriately characterized the toxicological profile of JUUL products, including comparisons to combustible cigarettes and other vapor products, and believe this data, along with the totality of the evidence, meets the statutory standard of being appropriate for the protection of the public health."

In 2020, the FDA required makers of e-cigarettes to submit their products for review. It looked at the possible benefits of vaping as an alternative to cigarettes for adult smokers. It was weighing those up against concerns about the popularity of vaping among young people. The agency has authorized 23 "electronic nicotine delivery systems," including products from NJOY and Vuse parent Reynolds American.

The FDA slammed Juul in 2019 for telling students that its products are "totally safe." The Federal Trade Commission and state attorney generals have investigated Juul over claims it marketed its vape pens to underage users. In the last year, the company has agreed to pay at least $87 million to settle lawsuits in several states — including North Carolina, Washington state and Arizona — which alleged that it targeted young people with its marketing. It has faced similar suits in other states.

NASA to launch study on unidentified objects in the sky

NASA wants a deeper understanding of the many unexplained, flying objects that appear in the sky. The agency is launching a study team this fall to observe UFOs, now known as UAPS (unidentified aerial phenomena). While it may be tempting to think of UFOs as the stuff of sci-fi and conspiracy theories, NASA’s announcement states right off the bat that there is “no evidence UAPs are extraterrestrial in origin.” Instead, the focus of the mission appears to be on gathering data and furthering our scientific understanding of UAPs. There’s a practical reason why. Unexplained flying objects — no matter the origin — can pose a threat to flight safety and national security, as military officials have noted.

“The limited number of observations of UAPs currently makes it difficult to draw scientific conclusions about the nature of such events. Unidentified phenomena in the atmosphere are of interest for both national security and air safety. Establishing which events are natural provides a key first step to identifying or mitigating such phenomena, which aligns with one of NASA’s goals to ensure the safety of aircraft,” said the agency in its announcement.

NASA is far from the only US government agency with an interest in UAPs. Last month, Congress held its first hearing on UFOs in over 50 years, where Pentagon officials noted that reports of UAPs are more frequent now than in the past. More than 143 incidents of unidentified flying objects have been reported to the Pentagon since 2004 and remain unexplained, according to a report released last year by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

NASA’s UAP study will be led by astrophysicist David Spergel of the Simons Foundation and NASA’s Daniel Evans, the assistant deputy associate administrator for research at the agency’s Science Mission Directorate. The study will take nine months to complete, and the team will consult with a field of experts in science, aeronautics and data analytics.

Upon the study’s conclusion, NASA promises to make both its findings and all the collected data public. “All of NASA’s data is available to the public – we take that obligation seriously – and we make it easily accessible for anyone to see or study,” Evans said in a statement.

Canada joins Five Eyes allies in banning Huawei and ZTE 5G telecom gear

Canada is banning 4G and 5G telecom equipment from Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE, joining its "Five Eyes" allies in doing so. The decision follows a three-year review that was delayed by political tensions with China after Huawei’s CFO Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada on a US warrant. 

"Our government will always protect the safety and security of Canadians and will take any actions necessary to safeguard our critical telecommunications infrastructure," said Canada's innovation minister, François-Philippe Champagne, in a press release.

"We’re disappointed but not surprised. We’re surprised it took the government so long to make a decision," Huawei spokesperson Alykhan Velshi told The Guardian. "We see this as a political decision, one born of political pressure primarily from the United States."

Two of Canada's largest wireless providers, Bell and Telus, switched to Ericsson and Nokia equipment in 2020 to build their next-generation 5G networks. However, both operators have some Huawei 5G equipment in place as part of so-called non-standalone 5G networks integrated with previous 4G networks. Those 4G networks were also built using Huawei equipment. Huawei has sold over $700 million in equipment to Canadian operators since 2018, mostly to Bell and Telus. 

Both operators reportedly approached the federal government in the past to ask about compensation from taxpayers for potential removal Huawei or ZTE gear. The CEO of a smaller Northern operator, Iristel, previously said that a requirement to remove existing equipment would be "catastrophic." 

However, Champagne said that operators will be required to remove any Huawei or ZTE gear at their own expense. Existing 5G equipment must be removed or terminated by June 28, 2024 and any 4G equipment by December 31, 2027, according to the policy statement.

Canada's Five Eyes intelligence allies, the US, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, have already banned Huawei and ZTE wireless equipment. Canada has faced growing pressure to do the same, over fears it could compromise the security of all five nations, given that China's laws require state companies to cooperate with intelligence services. 

Homeland Security 'pauses' disinformation board three weeks after creating it

The Biden administration may be struggling in its efforts to fight security-related misinformation. The Washington Postsources claim the Department of Homeland Security has "paused" a Disinformation Governance Board just three weeks after its April 27th announcement. Officials reportedly decided to shut down the board May 16th, but that decision appears to be on hold after a last-minute effort to retain board leader Nina Jankowicz. She resigned from the board and the DHS today (May 18th).

While the leakers didn't directly explain why the Disinformation Governance Board was frozen, they claim the White House neither had clear messaging nor a defense against misinformation and threats levelled against Jankowicz. The board was meant to examine approaches for fighting viral lies and had no power over content, but far-right influencers and outlets misrepresented it as a censorship tool and villainized Jankowicz. The campaigns led to harassment and threats against the board leader — in other words, the board was the victim of the very sort of attack it was supposed to prevent.

We've asked the DHS for comment. In a statement to the Post, the department said the board's role had been "grossly mischaracterized" and that Jankowicz had been targeted by "unjustified and vile personal attacks and threats." Previously, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and White House press secretary Jen Psaki have respectively tried to clarify the board's objectives and debunk falsehoods with little effect.

There is a chance the board could survive depending on a Homeland Security Advisory Council review. If the reports are true, though, the US government may have to rethink its anti-disinformation efforts if they're going to survive both criticism and internal scrutiny.

SpaceX's Texas expansion plans derailed by environmental paperwork

SpaceX can't start expanding its launch facilities in Boca Chica, Texas anytime soon. According to documents obtained by Bloomberg and CNBC, the Army Corps of Engineers has closed its review of the company's application to build a new launch pad, landing pad and other related infrastructure in Boca Chica. SpaceX reportedly failed to provide the Army Corps with the environmental information it requested, and the permit process can't continue without it. 

The company was planning to build new infrastructure on 17 acres of land that includes wetlands and mud flats. As CNBC notes, the Army Corps has stewardship over wetland areas that serve as habitat for fish and wildlife in the country. It oversees any development over wetlands to ensure it doesn't cause significant impact on the endangered species living in them, as well as on drinking water for people in the area. It's also in charge of examining whether it's feasible for companies applying for a permit to move construction elsewhere.

In the letter it sent to the company, the Army Corps listed the information it's seeking from SpaceX, including how its expansion would impact the wetlands exactly. It's also asking for data on threatened or endangered species that may be significantly impacted by the construction, as well as the company's current knowledge on the presence or absence of historic properties on the land. While the Army Corps suspended the company's application, SpaceX can reinitiate the permit process if it can provide all the information being requested. 

The Federal Aviation Administration is also conducting a separate review of the facility to determine whether launching the Starship out of Boca Chica will cause safety issues or have significant environmental impact on the area. SpaceX was supposed to hear from the FAA last year, but the agency has delayed its decision quite a few times since then: Its latest target date of completion is April 29th. Without permission from the FAA, it won't be able to launch its massive spaceship from Boca Chica for its first orbital test flight that's expected to take place in the next few months. Elon Musk previously said that if SpaceX fails to secure the permits company needs in Texas, it will move Starship launches to Cape Canaveral in Florida. 

FAA extends environmental review of SpaceX Boca Chica launch site (again)

SpaceX has to wait even longer to find out if it can launch Starship flights out of its Boca Chica facility in Texas. The US Federal Aviation Administration has delayed its decision on the environmental review of the launch site yet again, pushing back its target date of completion to April 29th. SpaceX must secure the FAA's approval, along with a vehicle operator license, to be able to launch Starship missions out of Boca Chica as planned. 

To be exact, the agency is looking into whether launching the massive reusable vehicle out of the facility will have a significant environmental impact on the area and will be a threat to the safety of the public. Its original target date for completion was December 21st, 2021, but it pushed the date back to February 28th, 2022 and then again to March 28th. On the official page for the environmental assessment, the FAA said it's updating its target date to April 29th "to account for further comment review and ongoing interagency consultations." The FAA received 19,000 comments for the draft version of the review published last year.

SpaceX chief Elon Musk recently revealed that the company is hoping to send Starship into orbit for the first time in May. If the FAA finishes its review on time, and with a favorable result for the company, then there's a chance the launch could happen in a couple of months. It's worth noting, though, that Musk's timelines could be a bit too optimistic.

In case the Boca Chica site fails the FAA's environmental review or if the agency issues an environmental impact statement (EIS) to dig deeper into the company's plans over the next few years, then SpaceX could shift to its backup plan. During a Starship presentation earlier this year, Musk said SpaceX already has approval to launch the Starship from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The move would delay the vehicle's first flight by six to eight months, since the company has to build a launch tower on the launch site, but at least the wait wouldn't last for years. 

New SEC rules require would companies to disclose climate goals and emissions

Public companies would be required to disclose greenhouse gas emissions they produce under new rules proposed by the US Securities and Exchange Commission. The move is part of the Biden government's push to identify climate risks and cut emissions as much as 52 percent by 2030. The SEC's three Democratic commissioners voted to approve the proposal, while Republican commissioner Hester M. Peirce voted against it.

"I am pleased to support today’s proposal because, if adopted, it would provide investors with consistent, comparable, and decision-useful information for making their investment decisions, and it would provide consistent and clear reporting obligations for issuers," said SEC Chair Gary Gensler.

Under the new rule, companies would need to explain how climate risks would affect their operations and strategies. They'd be required to share the emissions they generate and larger companies would need to have those numbers confirmed by independent consulting firms. They'd also need to disclose indirect emissions generated by supplies and customers if those are "material" to their climate goals. 

The SEC proposed rule changes that would require registrants to include certain climate-related disclosures in their registration statements and periodic reports.

— U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (@SECGov) March 21, 2022

In addition, any companies that have made public promises to reduce their carbon footprint would need to explain how they plan to meet those goals. That includes the use of carbon offsets like planting trees, which have been criticized as being a poor substitute for actually slashing emissions, as Greenpeace said in a recent report

The SEC already allows for voluntary emissions guidance, but the new rules would make it mandatory. Many companies like Ford already share emissions date from factory production as well as vehicle fuel usage. However, "there are lots of companies that won't do it unless it's mandatory," task force chief Mary Schapiro told The Washington Post ahead of the report's release. 

After the proposed rule is published on the SEC's website, the public will have 60 days to comment. The final rule will likely head to a vote in several months, and would be phased in over several years. The ruling will likely be challenged in court by Republicans in states like West Virginia, along with business groups, on the grounds that climate change is not a material issue for investors in the near future. 

However, experts have warned that time is of the essence. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently issued a report stating that many of the impacts of global warming are "irreversible" and that there's only a brief window of time to avoid the worst. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called it a "damning indictment of failed climate leadership." 

FAA delays its decision on SpaceX environmental review at Boca Chica launch site

SpaceX has to wait until March 28th to find out if the Federal Aviation Administration is giving it clearance to launch Starship flights out of its facility in Boca Chica, Texas. The agency is conducting an environmental assessment of the company's plans to launch the massive reusable vehicle out of the facility and looking into whether it will have significant environmental impact on the area. This isn't the first time the agency has moved its target date for completion either: It previously pushed back its original target date of December 31st, 2021 to February 28th, 2022. 

Now, the FAA has updated the project page to reflect the new target date and explained that the delay is "to account for further comment review and ongoing interagency consultations." The agency received over 19,000 public comments on the draft version of the review published in September last year. 

During the most recent Starship presentation, SpaceX chief Elon Musk said the company doesn't know where things stand with the FAA exactly. However, they apparently got a rough indication that the agency will complete its environmental assessment in March. In case SpaceX doesn't get an approval or if the FAA issues an environmental impact statement (EIS) to dig deeper into the company's plans — a process that could take years — it does have a backup plan. 

Musk said during the same event that SpaceX had already secured approval to launch the Starship from Cape Canaveral in Florida, and it will delay the vehicle's first orbital flight if needed to build a tower for it in the location. SpaceX has been conducting all of the Starship's development and testing in Starbase and only has a launch tower for the vehicle in Boca Chica. 

Even if SpaceX does get permission from the FAA to launch the Starship once its environmental review is done, it doesn't mean we'll get to see the vehicle lift off for its first orbital flight soon. Musk said hardware readiness is on track with regulatory approval, but we'll have to wait for the company's announcement for a concrete date. 

US carriers ask the FCC for $5.6 billion to replace Huawei and ZTE equipment

The price of removing Chinese equipment from American wireless networks is likely to cost more than the government had anticipated. According to Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, US carriers have requested approximately $5.6 billion in reimbursements to “rip and replace” their existing Huawei and ZTE infrastructure.

While we have more work to do to review these applications, I look forward to working with Congress to ensure that there is enough funding available for this program to advance Congress’s security goals and ensure that America will continue to lead the way on #5G security.

— Jessica Rosenworcel (@JRosenworcelFCC) February 4, 2022

In 2019, the FCC voted unanimously to ban US carriers from using the Universal Service Fund to subsidize the cost of purchasing networking equipment from companies deemed a “national security threat.” The first two firms the agency added to that list were Huawei and ZTE. In 2020, former President Donald Trump signed the Secure and Trusted Telecommunications Networks Act, mandating that carriers replace equipment from the two manufacturers.

That same year, the FCC established a program to reimburse smaller telecom operators for replacing equipment the law had deemed a risk to national security. At the time, the agency estimated it would cost carriers more than $1.8 billion to comply with the order, and it subsequently set aside $1.9 billion to cover reimbursements.

“While we have more work to do to review these applications, I look forward to working with Congress to ensure that there is enough funding available for this program to advance Congress’s security goals and ensure that America will continue to lead the way on 5G security,” Rosenworcel said.

US carriers sent 181 applications to the FCC for funding support before the filing window closed on January 28th, 2022. As things stand, the agency only has enough money to grant about a third of all the requests it received.

Billionaire space barons want to build 'mixed-use business parks' in low Earth orbit

The Space Race is no longer a competition between the global superpowers of the world — at least not the nation-states that once vied to be first to the Moon. Today, low Earth orbit is the battleground for private conglomerates and the billionaires that helm them. With the Mir Space Station having deorbited in 2001 after 15 years of service and the ISS scheduled for retirement by the end of the decade, tomorrow’s space stations are very likely to be owned and operated by companies, not countries. In fact, the handover has already begun.

“We are not ready for what comes after the International Space Station,” then-NASA-administrator Jim Bridenstine explained at a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee’s space subcommittee in October. “Building a space station takes a long time, especially when you’re doing it in a way that’s never been done before.”

NASA is on board with this transference, having drafted and published its Plan for Commercial LEO Development (CLD) in 2019, which calls for “a robust low-Earth orbiteconomy from which NASA can purchase services as one of many customers,” as part of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at Johnson Space Center. The CLD plan lays out the agency’s necessary steps towards establishing a commercial space station ecosystem. These start with allowing private corporations “to purchase ISS resources,” i.e. lease space on the station for commercial activities, “allow companies to fly private astronauts to the ISS,” which SpaceX did last April, as well as initiating “a process for developing commercial LEO destinations” and working to “stimulate demand” for those destinations and services.

NASA

“NASA by its very nature is an exploration agency,” the space agency wrote in 2019. “We like to challenge the status quo and discover new things. We like to solve impossible problems and do amazing things. NASA also realizes that we need help and do not know everything. We can only accomplish amazing things by teamwork. NASA is reaching out to the US private sector to see if they can push the economic frontier into space.”

Space exploration has been a public-private cooperative effort since the founding days of NASA. For example, the expendable launch vehicles that put satellites into LEO from 1963 to 1982 — the Titan by Martin Marietta, the Atlas from General Dynamics, McDonnell Douglas’ Delta rockets, and the Scout from LTV Aerospace Corporation — were all built by private aerospace companies as federal contractors but operated by the US government. “The US government essentially served as the only provider of space launch services to the Western world,” wrote the FAA. This changed in the ‘70s when the European Space Agency developed its own ELV, the Ariane, and NASA swapped out its own rockets for the Space Shuttle program, which became the nation’s default satellite launch system.

Private space launches, like what SpaceX and Northrop Grumman do, got their start in the US way back in 1982 when Space Services sent up its Conestoga rocket prototype, really the repurposed second stage of a Minuteman missile. The size, number and severity of hoops the company had to jump through to get launch clearance was enough to convince members of congress to introduce legislation streamlining the process, eventually leading then-President Ronald Reagan to declare expanding private sector involvement in civil space launches to be “a national goal.” We’ve seen a number of notable milestones in the decades since including the launch of the Pegasus rocket operated by the Orbital Sciences Corporation in 1990, which was the first fully privately developed and air-based launch vehicle to reach space, Dennis Tito’s ride aboard a Soyuz rocket to the ISS in 2001 to become the Earth’s first space tourist, and the first SpaceX Dragon Capsule mission in 2010, the first time a privately-operated spacecraft was both launched into and recovered from orbit.

The idea of letting private space companies build, launch and operate their own stations grew largely from these earlier cooperative arrangements as well as from partnerships made via the International Space Station US National Laboratory, which is managed by the non-profit organization, the Center for Advancement of Science in Space.

“We leverage our core competencies, facilitate public-private partnerships, and utilize the platform capabilities and unique operating environment of the space station,” the ISSNL’s mission statement reads. ”We create demand, incubate in-space business ventures, provide access for and awareness of fundamental science and technological innovation, and promote science literacy of the future workforce.” More than 50 companies have already partnered with the ISSNL aboard the space station and the agency is currently working with 11 others to “install 14 commercial facilities on the station supporting research and development projects for NASA.”

Axiom's ISS-grown space station

Axiom Space

At the forefront of this commercialization effort is the Axiom Space corporation. The Houston-based company has been contracted by NASA to construct a habitat module for the ISS, install it aboard the station in September of 2024 and then detach the module for use as an independent space platform once the ISS is eventually deorbited by 2028.

“Axiom's work to develop a commercial destination in space is a critical step for NASA to meet its long-term needs for astronaut training, scientific research and technology demonstrations in low-Earth orbit,” NASA’s Bridenstine, said in a 2020 statement.

"We are transforming the way NASA works with industry to benefit the global economy and advance space exploration," he added. "It is a similar partnership that this year will return the capability of American astronauts to launch to the space station on American rockets from American soil."

Axiom has tapped Thales Alenia Space to build both the module itself and a meteoroid shield for the Axiom Node One (a pressurized segment that will connect the Axiom hub onto the ISS).

"The legacy of the International Space Station structure is one of safety and reliability despite huge technical complexity," Axiom Space CEO, Michael Suffredini, said in a 2020 statement. "We are thrilled to combine Axiom's human spaceflight expertise with Thales Alenia Space's experience to build the next stage of human settlement in low Earth orbit from a foundation that is tried and tested."

Axiom has also struck a deal with SpaceX to ferry four “Axionauts” — yes, that’s really what they’re calling them — up to the ISS to train for life in microgravity. The 8-day mission, dubbed Ax-1, was supposed to be led by former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, who would be joined by a trio of space tourists, each of whom shelled out $55 million to ride along. The trip was originally slated to take place in February, however, it was repeatedly delayed due to “additional spacecraft preparations and space station traffic” and is currently scheduled to take place on March 30th. The company is already at work on missions Ax-2 through -4 and has reserved a set of Dragon capsules, though the crew manifests have not yet been finalized.

In addition to the crew habitat, Axiom is building a secondary commercial capsule for Space Entertainment Enterprise (SEE), a startup co-producing Tom Cruise’s latest joint which will be shot at least partially in space later this year. The SEE-1 is scheduled for installation in December, 2024 and will host both a production studio and — somehow — a sports arena as well. Bring on the Battle Rooms.

Nanoracks’ Starlab

Nanoracks

While Axiom Space is trying to bud its orbital platform from the ISS like a polyp, space service company Nanoracks is working to build a free-flying station of its own, with help from Voyager Space and Lockheed Martin, as well as a $160 million CLD contract from NASA. That contract runs through 2025 and “will be supplemented with customer pre-buy opportunities and public-private partnerships,” per a recent Lockheed press release.

Nanoracks is already deeply involved in commercial ventures to, from and on the ISS. Founded in 2009, the company has delivered some 1,300 research payloads and small satellites to the station and currently rents space for research modules aboard its Nanoracks External Platform on the outside of the ISS. Its wide-bore Bishop airlock was the first permanent commercial addition to the ISS.

The company is developing a line of smaller self-contained orbital platforms, dubbed Outposts, which could serve a variety of purposes from refueling stations for satellite constellations, to cubesat launchers and advanced technology testbeds to hydroponic greenhouses. The first iteration is expected to be launched by 2024.

The Starlab itself, which should be ready for business by 2027, will consist of an inflatable 340 cubic meter habitat built by Northrop (similar to the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, that was demonstrated on the ISS in 2016) that can accommodate up to four crew members simultaneously. Four solar panels will generate 60 kW of power for the station to use.

With just under half the usable interior space as the ISS, Starlab’s operations will be centered around its cutting-edge George Washington Carver (GWC) Science Park which includes a biology lab space, plant habitation lab, materials research lab and an unstructured workbench area enabling the station to offer services ranging from fundamental research and astronaut training to space tourism. However, tourists will take a backseat to scientific endeavors aboard the station. “Space tourism is what captures the headlines, but to have a sustainable business model, you really do need to move beyond that,” Nanoracks CEO Jeffrey Manber told TechCrunch last October.

Blue Origin’s Orbital Reef

Blue Origin

With the “pay NASA to pay us to ferry Artemis gear to the moon” plan having been thoroughly imploded by the US federal court system, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin has set its sights on a goal slightly closer to Earth. The space launch and tourism company has partnered with Sierra Space to build, launch and operate a "mixed-use business park" in space, dubbed Orbital Reef.

The 830 cubic meter structure is still in its early planning stages, having garnered a $130 million Space Act contract from NASA last December for its development, and isn’t expected to launch until at least the second half of the 2020s. Few other details have yet been confirmed.

"Now, anyone can establish an address in orbit," Blue Origin declared last October when unveiling the project. "Orbital Reef expands access, lowers the cost and provides everything needed to help you operate your business in space." This from the company that got $28 million for a single seat aboard last year’s inaugural New Shepard flight.

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus-based space station

NASA

NASA’s third Space Act agreement recipient from last December is defender contractor Northrop Grumman, which plans to repurpose one of its existing Cygnus spacecraft for use as an orbital station.

Like Orbital Reef, Northrop’s as-of-yet unnamed design is still in its earliest stages of development, though the company does expect the new station to accommodate up to four permanent crew members once it does initiate operations and could at least double that number as the station is expanded throughout its estimated 15-year service life.

Under the terms of the $125 million agreement, "the Northrop Grumman team will deliver a free-flying space station design that is focused on commercial operations to meet the demands of an expanding LEO market," Steve Krein, vice president of civil and commercial space at Northrop Grumman, said in a statement last December. "Our station will enable a smooth transition from International Space Station-based LEO missions to sustainable commercial-based missions where NASA does not bear all the costs, but serves as one of many customers."

Of course, the US and its commercial constituents are far from the only parties interested in colonizing LEO for business interests. China launched the Tianhe core module of its new 3-crew member Tiangong space station into orbit this past April with the remaining Experiment Modules and separate space telescope going up between this year and 2024. Similarly, India’s space agency is developing a station of its own with plans to launch it by the end of the decade, following the country’s upcoming Gaganyaan mission, the first crewed orbital spacecraft to launch as part of the Indian Human Spaceflight Programme.

These propositions are only the start of humanity’s expansion into the stars from low Earth orbit, to the Lunar Gateway, to Mars and beyond. But the question isn’t so much of when and how we’ll do so, but rather, who will be able to afford to?