Tourism, the manufacture of parts or pharmaceuticals will have a place in a new sector with a potential of 2.7 trillion dollars.
In the week that Dana Newman visited Madrid invited by the Bankinter Innovation Foundation, the Insight probe arrived on Mars and NASA selected nine private companies to transfer payloads to the Moon. Two examples of the fact that space exploration is still alive and that private initiative is making its way into a sector that until now has been dominated by large public programs.
“I think that Blue Origin, Amazon, will be a major player in the commercialization of space and lunar activities,” says Newman to EXPANSIÓN via email. In his aerospace adventure, Jeff Bezos already performs suborbital flights and, according to the former NASA director, is well positioned in the commercial exploitation of the orbital space region.
Space is an increasingly interesting territory for private companies. A report by BoA Merrill Lynch figures at $ 2.7 trillion the potential of this activity over the next 30 years and ensures that 16 of the 500 largest fortunes in the world already invest in these businesses. They do Bill Gates (Kymeta), Mark Zuckerberg (Seti), Larry Page (Planetary Resources) or Elon Musk (SpaceX), apart from Bezos himself.
Newman, who after passing through NASA during the Obama Administration is dedicated to training astronauts, cites some companies well positioned to win, along with Blue Origin and SpaceX, a leading role in the aerospace industry. Among them are Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Grumman, Arianne, Airbus, Sierra Nevada, Blue Origin or Thales Alenia.
“The incentives to private companies continue to be given by NASA and ESA, there will still be state investment”
There are also examples of lesser-known companies or even start-ups. One of them is Made in Space, dedicated to manufacturing fiber optic parts in conditions of weightlessness. “It’s a small company that is doing very well, there are also several new small satellite companies that are succeeding, like Rocket Labs,” he explains.
The nanosatellites, barely 20 centimeters in diameter and deployed by dozens in a single launch, are called to revolutionize telecommunications.
On December 6, a reused SpaceX rocket – this is its third trip – put into orbit 64 nanosatellites known as CubeSats. They have barely a kilo and a half of weight and one of them is Spanish. The initiative, which involved 34 private companies, aims to place 500 of these devices in orbit in 2020. They will provide telecommunications with high latencies and support the 5G.
“What I see is a renaissance in aerospace marketing for all companies, small and large, recent and long-standing,” says Newman.
“The two avenues for business success in the aerospace sector will be to provide technologies or business models”
Yes it seems demonstrated, from his point of view, that the two routes for business success in this business are “to provide innovative technologies or innovative business models”.
The variety of businesses and applications is wide. Both the European and North American sectors of the International Space Station have already opened private laboratories to private companies. The first is called Casis and the second, Bartolomé. Private companies that wish may hire Airbus and ESA to transfer their “payloads” to the station.
However, the space station has its days numbered. At the end of its useful life, it will be “exorbitant”. “In the future, commercial commitment is in the orbital space region, there are great opportunities for companies with commercial purposes to become the protagonists in this region,” explains the old NASA directive.
“There are already private providers with interest in providing the infrastructure for the orbital space region,” he says. In this area, located between 160 and 2,000 kilometers from the surface of the Earth, an object can take just two hours to travel around the planet.
Commercial applications are varied there, says Newman. “They will be open to tourism, to the manufacture of parts or pharmaceutical developments, just to comment on three applications,” he says.
What is the main obstacle to this development? “Launching costs are very high and they are the main stumbling block,” says Newman. They have been reduced to a tenth in just 20 years, but they remain the goal to beat.
Other difficulties have to do with risks and financing. “Space flights are always risky, but funding is increasing for private aerospace companies, especially for the most innovative ones.” BoA cites the profitability and difficulty of transporting humans as the two main difficulties of this business.
“The incentives to private companies are now given by NASA and ESA, and apart from the success of the companies, there will still be stat
e investment,” predicts Newman.
Also published on Medium.