Since its first era as a technological battlefront in the Cold War, space has become a burgeoning open access platform and sphere for cooperative, mutually constructive purposes, poised for exponential opportunity growth. Though it began in earnest only in the last decade, the “democratization of space,” as a 2016 RAND Corporation report bearing that title stated, represents “a movement,” opening the cosmos to “developing countries, start-ups, universities and even high schools.”
Now, almost 100 nations have their own satellites in orbit, with the UN’s “Access to Space for All” initiative, launched in 2018, ensuring the number will grow.
Meanwhile, the transformation of what many call NewSpace continues, as does the meaning of democratization, now including equal opportunity, diversity, and sustainability — on earth and in space. Much of that change is propelled by the type of start-ups noted in the RAND report. While SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic -- and their billionaire owners -- have become the public face of this new era of space and are setting the pace with their visible achievements, more than 10,000 space technology companies were in business at the end of last year, according to industry tracker Space Tech Analytics. These enterprises are the innovators pushing the boundaries of technology and inclusivity in NewSpace.
Dan Jablonsky, president and CEO of Maxar Technologies, which provides advanced space services for businesses and more than 50 governments, said, “We’re intentional about being inclusive.”
Democratization: A mission critical requirement
At an "Opening Spaceflight for Everybody" virtual symposium hosted by NASA in November, former astronaut and current agency space operations director Kenneth Bowersox joined other participants in citing the “extremely powerful”benefits of diverse teams even on missions in space, including on NASA's Artemis mission, which plans to return humans to the moon in 2024. That mission will include the first woman and first person of color on the moon. In addition, the European Space Agency is researching the feasibility of disabled persons traveling to space safely.
“You're going to see a lot of diversity — enough to create a whole economy,” said Marshall Smith of Nanoracks, a space access provider and habitat developer founded in 2009, forecasting “a massive change in the way we do business in space and on the ground.”
In its February report, “State of Space 2022: Industry Enters Era of Access and Opportunity," the Space Foundation said: “Without the necessary talent and the diversity of talent, no one is going anywhere in space.”
Continued public-private partnerships are also foundational for NewSpace and the diversity it promises, enabling governments to outsource space services while fostering economic growth and innovation with potentially far-reaching benefits. Start-up Lunar Outpost developed sensor technology to monitor moon dust for NASA, which it will adapt to protect firefighters on earth. Last year, as part of Northrop Grumman’s team developing a lunar transportation vehicle, it won NASA’s first space mining contract (albeit at a symbolic $1), toward its efforts to gather moon dust, or regolith, for the agency.
On the forefront on an inclusive industry
Numerous NewSpace companies are working to support the Artemis program’s goal of establishing a sustainable human presence on the moon, endorsed by more than a dozen nations, which will create the tools for future exploration. Intuitive Machines is developing experimental ice mining equipment; Masten Space Systems will demonstrate precision landing technologies; and Eta Space is among the companies developing technologies for handling liquid propellants in space. Established companies are also contributing. Nokia is onboard to build the first lunar cellular network, and Toyota is partnering with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency on a pressurized lunar rover.
The open access at the heart of the democratization of space continues to expand. New Zealand’s Rocket Lab, which has orbited more than 100 satellites, opened in February a third pad at its private launch complex. Astra, which last year became the third private company put a satellite in orbit, and first launch company listed on Nasdaq (and sponsor of this Space Economy series) — now has 50 flights booked aboard its agile, go-anywhere launch systems. Firefly Aerospace in Texas plans to begin low-cost launch service for payloads up to 10,000 kg by year’s end. And space tourism, totaling about $650 million in 2020, will be a $3 billion market by 2030, a UBS report estimated.
In the financial sector, with economic activity expected to more than triple by decade’s end to $1.4 trillion, according to Bank of America, vehicles like the ARK Space Exploration & Innovation ETF, and Spaced Ventures, a sector-focused investment platform (“our planet’s first public space investment portal”), aim to democratize opportunities for investors.
While the challenges ahead for New Space — technological, financial, societal, and regulatory — cannot be overstated, its opportunities and the path forward appear truly open to all.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.