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Space: the new commercial race

Picture of Enrique Ponce

Enrique Ponce

AERTEC / A400M Flight Test Center


For several decades we talked about and enjoyed the so-called space race. Human beings were 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 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 and 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. Over the last few years, new “private” names have appeared, taking on the risk and leading the way in this space adventure, embracing the business opportunities that might be generated. Today we talk about businessmen like Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, Jeff Bezos of Blue Origin and Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic. Amazon, Google, Facebook, OneWeb and Planet Labs are all investing private equity and launching satellite constellations. Deep Space Industries, Planetary Resources and Kleos Space are developing technology for mining asteroids. Bigelow Aerospace is manufacturing habitats for space. Rocket Lab in New Zealand and PLD Space in Spain are startups set up by local entrepreneurs that are developing launchers to put objects into orbit at competitive prices. Numerous companies and foundations have the economic capacity to launch microsatellites, or CubeSats, for all kinds of purposes. And of course, companies involved in the telecommunications or earth observation business are investing increasingly large amounts of money in space as an essential part of their business model. Even nations, such as Luxembourg, are developing new legislative frameworks to attract new space entrepreneurs along with the venture capital that works with them.

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 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.

Space X Dragon, by NASA


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