To infinity…and beyond!
The global space economy, a market that in 2040 could grow to 1 trillion dollars, between reusable rockets and commercial human space travel.
It has been nearly half a century since humans left their first footprint on the moon. During that time, human space exploration has focused mainly on human-crewed low Earth orbit missions or unmanned scientific exploration.
After a period in which the space market remained somewhat under the radar, today, the high levels of private financing, technological advances, and the growing interest of the public sector have given a new impetus to space exploration and started to make us dreaming again looking at the stars.
What caused this push? A single transformative technological change can often trigger new epochs of modernization, followed by a series of complementary innovations. Today, the development of reusable rockets can provide a similar tipping point. We are talking about SpaceX, the company of Elon Musk, which is among the leading promoters to have rekindled this hype. Other private space exploration companies have also developed technologies with big ambitions, such as human-crewed landings on the moon and other planets or rocket launchers aboard airplanes that could launch small satellites at a much lower cost.
Following Musk came two other billionaires, Richard Branson of Virgin and Jeff Bezos of Amazon, respectively, with Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, precursors of the first private human flights into space. All three imagine and dream of selling space travel to private citizens in the near future, starting from the fringes of space with the Virgin Galactic space plane, passing through sub-orbit with a Blue Origin rocket and capsule, up to travel in LEO (low Earth orbit) via a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule and a Falcon 9 rocket.
The public sector also played its part. In December 2019, the Trump administration established a US space command, including a space operations force and a space development agency. Then, in May 2020, NASA launched a crewed flight to the International Space Station (ISS) on a US rocket developed commercially by a private company, the aforementioned SpaceX. The launch represented the first time the United States has launched a human-crewed mission to the ISS since the shuttle program was retired in 2011.
NASA is also bringing astronauts back to the moon and then to Mars with its Artemis program, whose first test launch should take place as early as the end of this year. The ultimate goal with the Artemis 3 mission is a moon landing that transports the first woman and first person of color to set foot on the lunar surface. As their note reads:
With Artemis missions, NASA will land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon, using innovative technologies to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before. We will collaborate with commercial and international partners and establish the first long-term presence on the Moon. Then, we will use what we learn on and around the Moon to take the next giant leap: sending the first astronauts to Mars.
While reusable rockets will help reduce costs and make space operations increasingly affordable, satellites' mass production and satellite technology's maturation will also be crucial. Currently, the cost of launching a satellite has dropped to $ 60 million, from $ 200 million, thanks to reusable rockets, with a potential drop of up to $ 5 million.
Several reports over the past year from major investment banks have predicted that the global space economy, currently valued at around $ 350 billion, could grow to $ 1 trillion or more in 2040. A space industry to be trillions of dollars will then open up new markets. This consequently implies a growing interest in investments in this sector, with potential opportunities in fields such as satellite broadband and high-speed product delivery. In the short term, space as an investment theme is also likely to impact several sectors beyond aerospace and defense, such as the IT hardware and telecommunications sectors.
The hottest and most dreamy topic is certainly also commercial human space travel.
Who knows how long it will take for the latter, you're wondering. The answer is sooner than you imagine. Axiom Space, a startup I invested in three years ago (today a unicorn), will make its first space trip with its first three private customers as early as 2022! The price, for now, is not affordable for everyone: the three customers will pay a ticket of 55 million dollars each for an eight-day stay on the International Space Station.
We are waiting for prices to drop a bit 😅, but space is getting closer and closer.