For the smaller space going nations the 21st century began with slow but steady growth.
Japan and India had just launched their rather successful MOV space capsule and finished a few missions in low Earth orbit. This cooperative success brought a number of other Asian nations onto the table, who also wanted to go into space and saw the benefits of cooperation.
The first nations to be added to the Indo-Japanese space program were Indonesia and the Philippines, in early 2002, followed by South Korea in early 2003. While these three nations had historical baggage when it came to Japan, especially South Korea, India provided a good counterweight to Japan, especially since the MOV was an Indian development.
South Korea brought their industry into the mix, which rivaled that of Japan and a good amount of experience with satellites, as Samsung Communications produced several satellite busses that were of high quality and used in the majority of Asian and Pacific communication and weather satellites, with the exception of Japanese and Chinese ones.
Indonesia provided a location for a launch complex directly on the equator, allowing to make full use of the rotation of Earth and thus gain a good amount of additional payload capacity for launches into geostationary orbit.
The Philippines provided additional funding and two astronauts that had been trained in the United States and had already flown twice, due to the excellent relations between the two nations.
While the space agencies of the five nations remained independent, their cooperation was aptly named Asian-Pacific Space Community. This name was chosen to show that they were a community of nations interested in space, even though the politics behind closed doors were extremely competitive, they felt that their differences should not stand in the way of going their own ways in going to space.
Australia joined the Asian-Pacific Space Community in 2004. They added the refurbished launch complex in Woomera to the assets of the APSC, as well as locations near Darwin for a second launch complex and three European trained astronauts.
With the creation of the APSC and its expansion to six member nations, it was decided that a space station would be the next logical step, as the MOV had been built for a reason. Originally the intention had been to lease space on the European Columbus, but in the end it was decided that, if they could build an advanced reusable capsule, they could also build a space station.
The design for the station called for three modules: A service module, responsible for energy and thermal control, equipped with three docking ports and a pair of identical, inflatable modules to serve as actual living and working space. To save weight, the inflatable modules were designed in such a way that they could be launched completely empty, with the equipment following on one or more MOV flights. Additionally more inflatable modules or service modules could be docked to the already existing modules should the need arise.
Following a development of five years, the station was launched in 2009. To try and avoid political problems over the name of the station and show the outside world that everything was going just fine, it was named Asian-Pacific Space Station.
While just three launches were needed to get the modules into space, an additional five MOV launches were needed to connect the three modules, as well as furnish the station before it could be inhabited. With about 425 cubic meters as usable volume, the station was larger than most initial space stations of the bigger space powers and, although it was smaller than current ones, it was by far the most modern station in orbit as the Asian-Pacific Space Community used state of the art technology to show their capabilities.
The DH-1 of The Rocket Company became available by 2013 and the APSC was interested in acquiring three until 2014. They were largely used to run logistics for the Asian-Pacific Space Station, as the MOV more readily offered crew transport capabilities and were more suited as ‘rescue boat’ for the station.
The newly available launch vehicle became more interesting however, as engineers of the APSC realized that the orbital stage of the DH-1 had quite a large Delta-V capacity, enough to go to the Moon, land with its nominal payload of about 2 tonnes and return to Earth orbit. The Orbital Stage just needed to be refueled in orbit and it was ready to go.
The APSC acquired two more Orbital Stages of the DH-1 and modified them to carry landing gear for the Moon. To refuel the orbital stage, Japan took the same route as other space nations and modified the first stage of their N-4 vehicle to act as a booster for an actual N-4. The N-4B was able to carry 20 tonnes of payload to the Asian-Pacific Space Station and was used to add a small refueling section to the space station, with about 80 tonnes of hydrogen and oxygen.
On April 3, 2016 the preparations were finished and the two Orbital Stages with lunar capacity launched to the Asian-Pacific Space Station, where they docked to refuel. Both Lunar Stages carried three astronauts and equipment, with one carrying a lunar rover, for safety reasons.
Both Lander Stages touched down in the Grimaldi crater on April 7, followed by a stay of one week. During this time the six astronauts, one for each of the six APSC nations, surveyed the area and took samples, as well as confirming the existence of a small lava tube shown by images made by the Japanese lunar probe Selene in 2010. After their return, the dust samples from the Grimaldi crater showed a relatively high content of Helium-3, making the crater very interesting for the APSC in the near future, especially since working commercial fusion reactors were only a few years away.
The Agência Espacial Brasileira in Brazil, or rather Lutz Kayser, the head of OTRAG, saw the writing on the wall and realized that the time for cheap commercial spaceflight was finally dawning, several decades after his first tries to realize it with the OTR rocket family.
While the OTR family was a commercial success, it had become tedious to build larger and larger rockets with more and more payload. The OTR 361 was made of nearly 361 single rocket modules, layered around each other in three stages, making the construction problematic, even if the factories were equipped for this work.
Kayser realized that the OTR rocket had to be simplified, but at the same time more capable to be able to weather the coming storm of cheap launch vehicles. The heads of the AEB were sceptical, but Kayser convinced them by pointing out the success of SpaceX Inc. with their Big Dumb Booster approach, which was not too different from the OTRAG approach.
Eventually OTRAG got the green light for a larger version of the Common Rocket Propulsion Unit. The Common Rocket Propulsion Unit 2, short CRPU-2, was a slightly upscaled version of the CRPU-1, with a diameter of 50 centimeters and a length of 22 meters. The propellant mix was not changed, but Kayser was able to increase the specific impulse of the simple engines and make use of modern and smaller natively built electronics to control the rockets engine. To further increase the efficiency of the rockets used in the first stage of the new OTF-2 family, Kayser moved away from his normal approach and designed a CPRU-2B by adding a side mounted air intake to the module, turning the conventional rocket engine into a simple air-augmented engine, raising the specific impulse by 50 percent and the thrust by 10 percent.
Being a simple design, the CRPU-2 was rapidly designed and built, allowing a test program to run from 2004 to 2010, including a test of the first full OTR-2 rocket, the OTR-2 9, a two staged design that showed the same capabilities as the OTR 121, lifting about 3.2 tonnes into a 185 circular orbit at 7 degrees inclination, for a fraction of the cost and weight of the launch vehicle.
The OTR-2 family had its first official launch in 2011, lifting the 14-bis into orbit on top of a OTR-2 64, as well as a number of additional satellites, as the OTR-2 64 had nearly double the payload capacity of the OTR 361.
In 2005, Argentina began talks with Brazil to combine their efforts in space, largely inspired by ESA and the APSC. Both national space agencies fused into a single agency, the Southern American Space Agency, Agência Espacial Sul Americana, short AESA, with Brazil bringing in more resources and knowhow compared to Argentina.
The first project of the AESA was to create their own space station, which, much like the OTR launcher families could be commercially exploited by leasing space to others. While the Schenberg module on the European Columbus was a good investment, the AESA wanted their own station and not be dependent on Europe for access to their module. The AESA realized that they could save money by buying their space station directly from EuroSpace and ESA.
With Argentina and Brazil being friendly nations and already cooperating in space, ESA was willing to sell a number of space station modules to the AESA, provided that the AESA could launch them on their own.
With the new OTR-2 family, the AESA was quite able to do so, especially as the OTR-2 100, had a payload capacity of about 20 tonnes, enough for a partially loaded ESA InflaHab.
By 2009, the AESA had completed the Amerigo Vespucci space station, with space for up to 10 astronauts, with four places earmarked for potential leasing customers. The station moved around Earth in an orbit of 430 kilometer with an 28 degrees inclination , allowing a majority of space going nations to approach the station.
The AESA also remained somewhat commercial in nature and sold launch capacity on the OTR and the new OTR-2 families, mainly South and Central American nations as well as some West African ones.
As it was, the AESA was well prepared for the raise of other cheap space lift alternatives, such as SpaceX Inc. or the DH-1 of The Rocket Company. In fact, like the APSC before, the AESA acquired two DH-1 launch vehicles to augment the, by now, three SP-1 Santos-Dumont.
With the successful launch of the APSC lunar mission, the AESA realized a new commercially viable product in space in the form or refueling services for the DH-1 Orbital Stage, incidentally giving rise to potential private and commercial lunar missions.
The Amerigo Vespucci was expanded by a long truss segment, with a number of oxygen and hydrogen tanks connected to it, able to contain nearly 200 tonnes of hydrogen and oxygen propellant for the DH-1 Orbital Stage, for any nation or company able to launch to the station.
A good number of other nations were also interested in the DH-1, though their export was under oversight of the US State Department, preventing the export into nations like North Korea or Egypt. It did not however stop third parties from buying the DH-1 and selling them for a larger profit to blacklisted nations.
One of the most controversial nations to sell the DH-1 to, was Israel, as some within the US State Department felt that Israel acquiring manned space launch abilities could reignite the problems in the Middle East after the situation had cooled down a little in the wake of the Arab Awakening of 2014.
The raise of the DH-1 also allowed nations like South Africa to launch their own manned space program. As the Apartheid had been phased out by 1999 the government needed a way to divert the public eye from internal problems. The first South African astronaut was Daniel Dhlomo, launched in 2016. South Africa was relatively quick to merge its fledgling space program with that of Zimbabwe, which still hurt from the Mugabe administration.
As this meant a more or less sudden increase of orbital traffic, the big players in space met up in the wake of a G-12 conference to talk about setting up international rules for orbital and cis-lunar travel as well as future interplanetary travel. By 2016 the G-12 nations had agreed to form a space version of the ICAO, the International Orbital Traffic Control Authority.
Another big problem surfaced in 2015, when a transport ship carrying grain to Pakistan was appeared to be captured by Somali pirates. However the transport actually carried a DH-1 that had been secretly acquired by Pakistan. The pirates did not demand a ransom for the transport, diverging from their normal modus operandi. Instead the DH-1 was unloaded and transported to an unknown location.
On October 4, 2015, the captured DH-1 launched from a primitive launch complex near Hafun, after the pirates were able to fuel the launch vehicle with the help of machinery also captured and trained using the flight simulator systems, that were part of the complete DH-1 package. The rogue astronauts orbited twice before managing to rendezvous with the APSC station Asian-Pacific Space Station. Two space suited pirates then threatened to fire weapons, apparently RPG-7 and AK-47 on the station, demanding a ransom of ten billion US dollar.
The situation was resolved with the help of the Soviet Union, as the orbit of Asian-Pacific Space Station and the rogue astronauts interjected with one of the Soviet Polyus II platform. The lasers of the Polyus first killed the two pirates, before destroying the heatshield and tanks of the DH-1. Preventing a recompression of the DH-1 cabin would have been sufficient to resolve the situation, but the Soviet Union wanted to remind the world what they were capable of. While the damage to the Orbital Stage was extensive enough that the APSC astronauts could not land it for a closer investigation, it was possible to backtrack part of the Orbital Stage and allow The Rocket Company to discover the original purchaser of the DH-1.
While the company that bought the DH-1 was registered in Turkey, the owners were Pakistani with ties to the pakistani ISI. The US State Department and The Rocket Company both admitted that they had not fully investigated the purchaser in this case, as Turkey was considered to be a safe country for the export of the DH-1.
To India the incident was an attempt of Pakistan to sabotage the Indian space program, and the use of Somalia as try to disguise the operation as an act of piracy. The Asian-Pacific Space Community considered the event to be an act of terrorists, and eventually sparked off the Asian-Pacific Cooperation Pacts Somali Incursion, with backing of the United Nations, to remove the warlords from power and install an actual government , as well as the Indo-Pakistani War of 2015.
This incident was seen as the first documented case of space piracy, even if it was also the first terroristic act in space. While the rest of the world was appalled by the act of terror by the pirates, they also weren’t all too pleased with the Soviet response. The Soviet Union made it clear that they would not tolerate anything like this happening again, as it would set precedents that were unwelcome.
This new potential threat made the G-12 nations more interested in keeping the current status quo, but knew that all they could do was to place regulation to avoid such problems in the future.
There were advocates for a new ‘Outer Space Treaty’, however the G-12 nations were more interested in keeping the current situation when it came to arms in space, especially with their secret understanding about defending the planet. In 2017 the Space Security Conference was held in Geneva, where the European Union invited all space going nations and representatives of the space capable corporations to deal with the security of orbit.
To keep weapons out of the hands of anyone who might cause problems, regulations were passed to keep private organisations and nations new in space from arming their space assets. In the case of non compliance, the established national space agencies and forces were allowed to intercept the armed spacecraft. The word ‘intercept’ lacked any clear meaning however and some noted that the Soviet destruction of the rogue Somali astronauts counted as ‘interception’.
This of course resulted in a number of complains from nations that hoped to have independent space flight capabilities soon and was seen as a try to create a two class space access, where the big space nations could dictate terms to the smaller ones. Private and commercial entities did not see it as being very different from existing laws and law enforcement on Earth.
It also introduced a ‘Code of Conduct’ for any professional astronaut, cosmonaut or taikonaut. It was based on generally accepted rules for sailors as well as the Aviators Model Code of Conduct.