The space industry’s shift from a tightly regulated domain with high barriers to entry and a select few competitors towards a more deregulated, easier to enter and hotly contested field is ultimately good for humanity. This shift applies evolutionary principles (variation, selection and retention within a competitive context as the most efficient way to select winners and allocate resources) to an industry that some, including Stephen Hawking, have called a “life insurance” for the survival of the human race.
Today’s space race is far different from the days when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. The emergence of Blue Origin and SpaceX is as much a reflection of a less regulated space industry as the conviction and vision of the individuals who are investing billions in pursuit of bigger objectives. Originally spurred by government seed funding from NASA, space exploration has become big business – and commercial space activity is expected to double over the next decade from today’s US$250 billion.
Yet, there is no substitute for the entrepreneurial spark, energy and ambition that drives commercial space companies – and that will ultimately lead to a multitude of space-related offerings that today seem like pipe dreams.
Even though New Shepard’s suborbital landing is simpler than landing a rocket back from Earth orbit, as is SpaceX’s goal, it is still a significant feat. At present, all rockets being launched into space are either destroyed or abandoned after take-off. So the race to make them reusable is the next crucial step toward making space flight commercially viable and routine.
Democratising space exploration
Jeff Bezos may not have gone where no man has gone before, but in successfully landing its New Shephard rocket back on Earth, his rocket company Blue Origins has pipped ahead of rivals in the race to make space commercially viable. It’s a significant coup in the latest incarnation of the space race. And it may have given pause to Elon Musk, the founder of rival SpaceX.
The commercial space sector stands on the shoulders of giants. There is no doubt of the debt that is due to original state investments, which developed the technology, infrastructure and human capital that is now drawn on by commercial space companies. There is also no doubt that regulation, while overbearing and constraining at times, has been there for good reason. Recent accidents such as those suffered by SpaceX and Orbital are reminders that space travel is difficult, dangerous and unpredictable.
University of Warwick provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation UK.
The winners along the way will be the states and companies with the foresight and finance to develop the commercial applications of space activities. The offerings will create new markets and make an impact on the way we lead our lives.
Loizos Heracleous does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
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