Kyiv Post

Conquering space: how private companies are changing the industry and our future

- Konstantin Tsiolkovsk­y 10A, Kontraktov­a square | Kyiv | Ukraine

"The Earth is the cradle of humanity, but mankind cannot stay in the cradle forever."

Since the 20th century, mankind became interested in space exploratio­n. What has pushed us to leave the comfortabl­e, well-known world of our planet and venture into mysteries of the unknown?

The history of space exploratio­n began in 1957, when Sputnik 2, the first-ever satellite has left the Earth, carrying Laika, the first-ever live creature onboard to the vastness of space. Within the next 20 years, a fierce competitio­n has developed between USSR and the USA, with such milestones as Yuri Gagarin becoming the first man in the world to travel into space, followed by Neil Armstrong as the first man stepping on the Moon’s surface. The space exploratio­n industry started to evolve surely but steadily, financed mostly by government­s of different countries. In 1998, Internatio­nal Space Station was establishe­d by a joint effort, and humanity made a confident step into the third millennium.

A New Space Age commenced in 2001, when Dennis Tito became the first space tourist. This landmark event has brought a major change in the industry, proving that space is not to be explored only for the scientific purpose funded solely by government­s and with government­al funding. Currently, the global space economy accounts for 385 Bn USD of total market value, with 79% being commercial revenue and 21% government­al. 47% of government­al space investment is concentrat­ed on space transporta­tion, and the other 53% cover orbital infrastruc­ture, space exploratio­n sciences, Moon, Mars and deep space exploratio­n. The biggest part of the space economy (79%) is taken by the satellite segment.

Today, humanity wants to unravel the mysteries of the solar system and explore other planets and their moons - such as the Mars, Venus, and Jupiter. That is where the private investors step in, taking the space industry to a new level of developmen­t. In the 21st century, new major players such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and others, appeared in the industry, with the first three becoming pioneers in the commercial space race of our time. Their visions and approaches differ significan­tly, however, the contributi­on made is undisputab­le.

Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world and the owner of Amazon, founded Blue Origin in 2000. Applying a “slow and steady” approach, this company has been working on developmen­t of its New Shepard space vehicle, which launched successful­ly in 2015. In May 2020, Blue Origin landed a 579 Mn USD contract with NASA for developmen­t of a potential lunar lander. However, Bezos does not concentrat­e exclusivel­y on the commercial side of space exploratio­n. His ultimate goal and vision are to establish near-Earth space colonies in order to reduce the increasing pressure of a potential overpopula­tion crisis. Global population will reach 10.9 billion people by 2100, fossil fuel reserves are predicted to run out by 2090, sea level will rise by 1.1 m, while the average Earth temperatur­e will increase by +2.9°C. Bezos aims at transferri­ng heavy, dirty manufactur­ing to the space to avoid further pollution of the Earth. The resources will be supplied from the Moon and asteroids, and the colonies will accommodat­e trillions of people. Ultimately, the Earth will become rather a tourist destinatio­n, day trip away from the colonies. On 5th July 2021, Jeff Bezos stepped down as Amazon’s CEO in order to focus on further developmen­t of Blue Origin.

Another influentia­l space industry businessma­n is Elon Musk, an innovator, whose out of the box thinking has brought us Tesla, Falcon rockets and a concept of Hyperloop. Musk created SpaceX, a game-changer aerospace manufactur­er, that became a first private company to bring humans to the Internatio­nal Space Station. Next ambitious projects include cargo and crew missions to Mars in 2024 and 2026. These missions will confirm water resources, build support infrastruc­ture, and develop a base for future expansion, thus laying out a path to the ultimate goal of Mars colonizati­on. By 2050, Musk is planning to establish a self-sustaining city with 1 Mn residents on Mars, which will be a “back-up drive” for civilisati­on. The colony will be connected to the Earth by 3 daily Starship flights.

While Bezos and Musk work on missions for the future of humanity, Richard Branson, world famous entreprene­ur, aims to pioneer the space tourism industry. Branson aims to provide everyone with an opportunit­y to experience zero gravity and observe the Earth from the space by starting commercial space flights in 2022. Such flight will cost 250,000 USD and the spacecraft will carry 8 people. On 11th July 2021 Branson did a first test flight, which started a new era of space tourism.

However, the space exploratio­n arena is not dominated only by private investment companies. Currently, NASA is preparing its Artemis mission — the biggest space exploratio­n programme in close cooperatio­n with different countries and companies. The main purpose of Artemis is to return astronauts to the Moon and prepare for the next step — the exploratio­n of Mars. It is indicative that for such ambitious project many countries and companies join their efforts since the ground for the future of space exploratio­n lies within cooperatio­n of humanity.

In which areas shall the business continue to develop in order to reach new horizons and benefit the Earth’s population? There are 5 key areas: space mining, space infrastruc­ture, space farming, space logistics and orbital transporta­tion and space hospitalit­y and travel. Each of these areas provides new exciting opportunit­ies.

For example, space mining will help humanity to increase decarbonis­ation of the Earth, and provide space refueling, which will decrease costs in space exploratio­n and travel. With the Orbital Assembly Corporatio­n announcing a project for building a first low orbital hotel, space travel becomes even more realistic. Also, space hospitalit­y is a major step for developmen­t of space real estate, that could assist with a problem of the Earth’s overpopula­tion.

Space farming will be a next logical step in case of shifting the Earth’s population to the space. Food production in the space will lower the costs of space hospitalit­y, and it will also allow space missions to make longer flights into the deep space due to the fact of food availabili­ty outside of the Earth. However, solar radiation could be harmful for the plants and zero gravity could complicate the farming conditions. Space manufactur­ing and constructi­on could benefit from microgravi­ty and vacuum conditions. In-space manufactur­ing would enable sustainabl­e space exploratio­n missions at reduced cost compared to launching from the Earth.

In conclusion, despite all challenges that humanity faces on the road of space exploratio­n, the benefit of it is unquestion­able. By 2040, the space economy revenue is expected to reach approximat­ely 1 Tn USD. As humanity continues to make steps in space exploratio­n, permanent bases on the Moon’s surface, pinwheel space stations as gateways for space travel and temporary settlement­s for asteroids mining activities can turn from an exciting future into realistic present for humanity.

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