Humanity’s ascension into space started on October 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union launched the first man-made satellite into orbit, known as Sputnik. Manned space exploration soon followed, but it was always under the purview of government agencies. That was changed in May of 2020 when SpaceX became the first private company to launch humans into space.
Humanity is now amidst the beginning of the commercial space industry, which promises manned settlements on the moon and Mars as well as tourism, resource extraction, and entertainment. But the challenges are as vast as the opportunities. This blog will highlight some of the biggest opportunities and challenges humanity will face in the commercial space industry.
Opportunity: Space Tourism
Many people dream of going to space one day, experiencing zero gravity, and doing the things that until very recently only astronauts were able to do. Companies like Virgin Galactic promise to let regular people do what the astronauts do, but this so-called “space tourism” is just a precursor to even more profitable forms of enterprise.
Challenge: Human Safety
One of the biggest logistical challenges is making sure the humans that are sent out of Earth’s atmosphere are safe from the inherent dangers of space travel. If the ultimate goal is for some humans to live off of the earth, then habitats must be created that allow a reasonable quality of life for those humans. Human biology is adapted to a relatively narrow range of conditions to create a livable environment
Opportunity: Resource Extraction
One future space enterprise that companies are looking forward to is being able to extract resources from asteroids and possibly other planets without having to worry about government bureaucracy. Scientists believe that Near Earth Asteroids could hold trillions of dollars worth of materials. Visionary organizations like the International Space University, have been studying how to extract and utilize space resources since it was formed in 1988.
Challenge: Accessing Capital
Space travel and exploration is no longer the monopoly of governments and is now in the hands of ultra-rich billionaires. Some of these billionaires are visionaries who see space as future opportunity for mankind, and others are small mined attention seekers with no vision at all. Some smaller space startups do exist, but the challenge for them is accessing capital. In 2015, about $129 billion in VC funding was spent across 7,872 deals. Among those, only $2 billion was spent across 44 deals related to space travel. This low percentage is explained by the very high investment horizon of 7 to 10 years. There is also a very high risk involved with going to space, which limited investment opportunities.
Private space travel presents as many opportunities as it does challenges. Promises like space tourism and resource extraction will likely be hampered by concerns for human safety and access to the money required for many years to come.