For the past sixty years, the government has been the key player in driving the space industry and deserves the credit for advances in space technologies. Even when famous space entrepreneurs seem to have made great strides forward, this has not been without the government’s contributions of revenue streams and its guidance towards the development of commercial space businesses such as SpaceX. But what we are seeing now is increasing commercialization of the space industry with the government as a key client. Where do NASA, the Department of Defense, and the space entrepreneur fit into this picture?
There are a number of advocates for innovation and entrepreneurship in the space industry. One that liaises with the Federal and State governments to move regulations forward and open the playing field to new entrants is the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF). They are well-positioned for this role, as their membership comprises 85 organizations across the entire space industry. This cross-section includes inter alia satellite manufacturers and operators, space ports, and launch providers. It is vital that the space industry operates according to the strictest safety regulations and official mandates. However, the rapid commercialization that is being experienced makes it necessary to pave the way for new players with the right skills, entrepreneurial competencies, and investment potential.
NASA and the Department of Defense have serious budgets for developing the space industry. The latter has double the resources of the former. However, this does not necessarily mean that they have to do all the work. They can fund Research and Development in capable entrepreneurial companies to cover a wide range of essential space programs and space technologies. Another role that they already undertake is that of a key client.
As commercialization advances at an ever-faster pace, the launch capacity of this sector is racing ahead of the government. And, as supply increases, so do costs come down. SpaceX alone launched 19 times in one year. New technologies also provide synergies and work towards lower prices. This means more launches and other developments. This helps to open up the market to new capable entrants.
The National Space Council (NSpC) plays its role in White House policies related to the government’s space agenda. Thus, it undertakes an integrational responsibility. NSpC interacts with a Federal Advisory Committee, namely the Users Advisory Group, which brings in non-Federal experts, those from academia, and others operating in the space industry in the commercial arena.
Leadership in the Space Industry
In the past, it was easy to identify the US government and NASA as the leaders at the forefront of the space industry. This has shifted to a more integral, shared leadership with the various parties being able to exert their influences on the whole. An example that highlights the mutual trust and partnering of all role-players is that the NSpC recently shifted a bunch of space activities to the responsibility of the Commerce Department. Commercial businesses are now counted among the leaders in the space industry, and we are likely to see new key players entering the arena. While the government will continue to exert its leadership in terms of rules and driving space exploration, it will not remain the sole monetary backer of the space agenda and the commercial sector will take on an increasingly important financial role.
Advice for Prospective Space Entrepreneurs
Keep an eye on what is happening globally in the space arena. Be willing to accept the support that the government offers and make good use of the research and development funding that comes your way. Focus on your strengths and the unique talents you bring to the table. Don’t be diverted from your focus by the presence of other key players with more and better funding. See what the government needs and how you can fulfill these requirements with the government as a powerful ally and possible future client. As on earth, sustainability is more than hype in the space industry. Solutions are needed for problems such as space junk and how climate change can be monitored via satellites. What support is needed for those in orbit and how can it be provided? Apply your mind to seeking issues and then finding ways to address them.
Take advantage of the many advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning, cloud computing, big data, smart manufacturing, and electronics. See how these can be leveraged to advance space exploration as well as improve life on the planet.
Commercialization leads to monetizing space through various initiatives of these companies, for example, SpaceX lowering costs by having more frequent launches and being able to reutilize rocket stages. Producing nanosatellites with a low-cost, high-volume strategy was the initiative of OneWeb. Planet Labs discovered that cell phone components could decrease the expenses associated with launching satellites substantially. A water recycling technology that was designed for flights to Mars can be used to sustain water resources in showers on earth, thanks to the ingenuity of Orbital Systems.
The space industry needs such leaders and innovators.