The last frontier is open for business
A drastic reduction in start-up costs helps fuel a vision of space not just as a field of exploration or science, but as a true industry.
The big picture: In the short term, space is likely to become a place to manufacture high-precision, high-value products that benefit from a microgravity environment. But in the future, as Jeff Bezos noted in July after returning from his space trip, there could be a push to move heavy and polluting industries to space..
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In numbers : Space startups made a record $ 7.6 billion investment last year, and a July report from Space Capital found that $ 9.9 billion was invested in all space companies in the second alone. quarter 2021.
“We are in the second golden age of space, and it will be a sustained golden age, because it is not only driven by government activity but also by commercial activity,” said Andrew Rush, chief operating officer and president of aerospace company Redwire.
Background: Space enthusiasts have long dreamed of not only exploring, but building in space. But the sheer cost of moving equipment and people into orbit has kept those dreams sci-fi realm.
Thanks in large part to the efforts of private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin, the cost of launching payloads into orbit has fallen dramatically over the past decade, opening up space for smaller players who were previously excluded from industry.
“As it gets cheaper and cheaper per kilogram to launch into space, it makes sense that very high value and very expensive items per kilogram are made in space and brought back to Earth,” said Josh Wolfe, co-founder of the venture capital firm Lux Capital, which has invested in several space startups.
Years of work on the International Space Station have shown that microgravity can greatly benefit the manufacture of high-value materials, including fiber optics, drugs, semiconductors, and even bio-printed human organs.
“It’s similar to Amazon Prime, but your stuff isn’t made in China,” says Wolfe. “It’s made over China in space.”
Varda Space Industries closed a $ 42 million Series A funding round in July to fund its efforts to build a manufacturing platform in space for products made most efficiently in microgravity.
What to watch: Improvements in 3D printing would allow more of the work needed to build commercial infrastructure in orbit to be done, rather than moving rockets from Earth.
Made in Space, which is owned by Redwire, put the first 3D printer into space in 2014 and is working on developing an orbital platform for NASA that could assemble structures in space.
Such advances can help the space industry become as detached from Earth as possible, notes Joe Landon, vice president of advanced program development at Lockheed Martin.
“Ultimately the only thing we’re going to launch from space will be people, because everything else we’re going to build and find resources for outside of Earth’s gravity,” he says.
The trap : Space, as the saying goes, is tough, and as the rate of business launches increases, so does the risk of something going wrong.
On Thursday, the FAA grounded Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic after a report in the New Yorker showed that the billionaire’s sub-orbital flight on July 11 had apparently deviated from its course.
The space industry faces the “challenge of developing quickly and growing rapidly,” said Joe Schloesser, senior director of ISN, which helps manage security for contractors. “Anyone who has seen this in other industries knows there can be repercussions.”
The bottom line: Business has flourished by exploiting borders, and space is the largest of all.
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