We have talked about and enjoyed the so-called space race for many years. Mankind was finally able to achieve an ancestral dream. In order to achieve it, mankind had to gain technological know-how, as well as the ambition and capacity of some countries to overcome challenges in terms of budgets which were virtually unreachable. Apart from the spirit of adventure, the great driving force was, curiously enough, the desire to demonstrate the superiority of some great powers over others. Only some great nations or groupings of nations could afford this race involving huge budgets. In order to organise their efforts, space agencies (NASA, ESA, etc.) were created as the technological and administrative branches of the different national and supranational projects. This way of venturing into space meant that advances relied on state budgets, leading to some very intense periods and others which were all too calm. The rules have finally changed after 50 years of incursions into space.
The commercial race has already begun: There are a lot of people with ideas and the economic capacity to find their place in space.
Though business budgets have gradually been replacing the driving force state budgets represented over the years, we have only just recently seen a true business revolution in this fascinating race. Technology has continued to move forward, making it more accessible. Large companies are able to generate more resources to make firmer commitments. The cult of entrepreneurship and business adventure have done the rest. In just two or three years, new “private” names have appeared, taking on the risk and the lead in the adventure of space and also, why not, the business opportunities that can be foreseen. Today we are talking about businessmen like Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic or Jeff Bezos of Blue Origin. We can read that Google has bought Skybox, a start-up that manufactures and launches satellites. Planet Labs already has more than 70 satellites in orbit and has announced a significant investment in its constellation and OneWeb has begun to develop its own constellation. Large corporations like Airbus and Safran are joining forces to develop new, more competitively priced rockets to launch satellites. Deep Space Industries is detailing its plans to carry out mining activities on asteroids. Aerojet Rocketdyne and ULA, a joint venture by Boeing and Lockheed Martin, are looking into the development of new rocket engines. Numerous companies or foundations now have the economic capacity to launch micro-satellites, or CubeSats, for all kinds of purposes. And of course companies involved in the telecommunications or the earth observation business are investing increasingly large amounts of money in space as an essential part of their business model.
There can be no doubt that the great powers’ budgets are no longer the only driving force. The commercial race has already begun and there are a lot of people with ideas and the economic capacity to find their place in space. Private investment as a driving force has become a new decisive stimulus, multiplying the number of initiatives and leading to the appearance of commercial competition. Today we are indeed going to move forward quickly, while at the same time seeking efficiency in such effort. There’s something I’ve always said: any industrial or technology sector can improve or worsen, as the case may be, but there’s only one outlook for space, to continue growing. Moreover, we are only just beginning.