Building Infrastructure for the Space Industry with New Rocket Companies
Preparing for the Future of Work in Space
On May 30th, at the Kennedy Space Center two NASA astronauts, Doug Hurley alongside Bob Behnken launched the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule aboard a Falcon 9 rocket and blasted off to the International Space Station. This launch has generated heartfelt emotions and opened many discussions. This makes sense considering this is the first time in nine years that astronauts have flown to space from US soil using US built rocket engines. But it becomes even much more interesting when you consider that this marks the very first time a commercial company launch vehicles sent astronauts into space.
SpaceX Crew Dragon: A new milestone for private space flight
It’s not as if private space flight is an entirely new phenomenon.
Prior to 2010, a few private individuals had the privilege of entering orbit when the crew size of the International Space Station was increased and there was no longer room for paying astronauts on the spacecraft. While that was, no doubt an amazing experience, the recent exploits of SpaceX Crew Dragon bring us closer than ever to space commercialization.
NASA then started a commercial crew program in 2010, with Boeing and SpaceX subsequently winning Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts in 2014. That contract was to develop and test their commercial crew vehicles as well as for initial flights to the International SpaceStation. After years of back and forth and various challenges, the Elon Musk built SpaceX Dragon’s Falcon 9 launched for space and docked at the ISS minutes after the launch on May 30.
The case for a commercial space
Saturday’s launch for the ISS was a turning point for space commercialization and private companies.
It demonstrated we will very soon evolve the space industry from being solely government-backed to actually being self-sufficient. It’s about getting private enterprises and investors to invest, providing financial resources that could be used toward rocket development, as well as other space equipment and experiments.
After about six decades of building basic space infrastructure, it’s time to welcome private interest and investment into this previously government run endeavor. The contracts awarded to Boeing and SpaceX in 2014 signaled the beginning of this new phase. Rather than hire companies, the government and NASA now contract certain services and functions to commercial establishments to provide the launch system through new types of public private partnerships.
At the moment, this is only a subtle change. However, it’s indicative of the shift in trajectory for the space industry. NASA has already started handing off responsibilities to other companies who in turn would now assume more risks and responsibilities of space. It may not be the future we anticipate just yet. Nevertheless, it is a gradual shift towards a self-sufficient space industry with more infrastructure development to support the move.
As Rick Tumlinson, the founding partner of SpaceFund said, “We founded SpaceFund to both support and profit from this revolution. You may have even heard me talk about what is happening in terms of it being ‘the day before the internet.’ It is now dawn. And what will happen as this new day for space unfolds will be ever more exciting.”
Navigating a new world, and new markets
Just like the internet 30 years ago, private investing in a previously government owner/controlled entity may seem risky to some. Clearly, businesses and startups in the space industry will struggle with figuring out the new market as the commercialization of space continues. But looking long term, as Tumlinson and his team point out, there are opportunities for investment in several infrastructure projects. The areas that provide the most opportunities include transportation, communication, human factors, supply chains and energy.
Commercialization will, without a doubt, add a breath of fresh air into space (ironic since space is literally a vacuum). With more innovation and well planned strategy, we can build on the current momentum to move towards a new space industry that will be fully autonomous and self-sufficient. Although we may still have many years ahead of us before this can be fully realized, the opportunities and possibilities of such an industry will be out of this world when it becomes a reality.