The past 50 years in space have been defined by governments, but the future belongs to private companies. Why it matters: The space industry is growing, and what was once the purview of nations is increasingly being taken over by companies looking to profit from their work in space. That new dynamic will shape the coming decades in orbit and beyond.
The big picture: Morgan Stanley predicts space could become a $1 trillion industry by 2040, built on the ideas of private companies and nations that back them.Yes, but: Launch costs have gone down in recent years, but that’s no guarantee the trend will continue.
Those groups of small satellites risk cluttering certain orbits around Earth, but they also represent a potentially huge business for companies to reach their bigger goals.Companies are also looking to science as a possible way to profit in space. Rocket Lab, for example, plans to launch its own mission to Venus, while other companies are sending satellites to space to keep an eye on the Earth’s surface and climate.“For years I’ve been hearing, the cost of launch is going to drop; it’s going to drop; it’s going to get smaller and smaller,” Victoria Samson of the Secure World Foundation tells Axios. “It hasn’t quite gotten there yet, it might.” Regulation also hasn’t yet caught up to the companies launching hundreds of satellites to orbit each year, creating concerns about space junk and collisions between spacecraft that could become more frequent in the future.
One of the most consequential things happening today that will affect the future of space is a megaconstellation of internet-beaming satellites called Starlink being launched by SpaceX. Other companies plan to do the same.Nations have historically been focused on scientific missions and exploration, but private companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin have different goals.They want to establish a permanent human presence on Mars and bring about a future where millions of people are living and working in space.To do that, the cost of launching infrastructure — like satellites, telescopes and other tools — needs to come down, and a lot more people need to go up.
Although this flashy part of the space industry may not bring in huge amounts of revenue, it could bring more interest to the sector and help it grow. In the coming years, these companies will have to prove themselves, Samson says. “Can they get people up there safely and back down safely?”Companies like Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and SpaceX have just started launching their first passengers to space.
The bottom line: There are far more players in space today — and there will be more in the coming decades. It’s a whole new ballgame up there.Between the lines: Even though companies will dominate much of the space landscape in coming years, nations will increasingly use the domain as an important geopolitical and international relations tool. China and the U.S. are aiming for the Moon — and the U.S. is using contracts with private companies to get there. Space is also increasingly becoming militarized and weaponized.
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