What Will Everyday Space Look Like?

Scott Smith
Feb 23, 2018 · 6 min read

Filling in the blanks in the coming commercial space wave.

(Source: giphy)

The recent launch by SpaceX of the Falcon Heavy vehicle—and its payload of used Tesla roadster, helmeted driver dummy and endless loops of David Bowie—moved a lot of people. Most cheered another audacious feat of engineering, seeing the most massive launch vehicle depart Cape Canaveral since the heyday of the Saturn V. Talk of multiple engine cores sounded more like a discussion of supercomputing than aerospace.

Others winced at what felt like crass symbolism of sending a car commercial into the solar system. Yes, I know there would be a test payload either way, and a cherry red roadster seems sexier than a concrete block, but we all have opinions. (Those who thought it was cool/harmless, save the rebuttal, and keep reading). The fact that people cared enough to watch the launch worldwide, and flood Twitter with responses shows how space is connecting with a post-Shuttle generation, and reconnecting with those who remember the previous Golden Age.

It was the second unusual object fired into space recently, after the Humanity Star, a multifaceted carbon fibre sphere recently put in orbit by Rocket Lab, which can be tracked via the link above. This artificial star is expected to encircle us only for nine months until orbit decay pulls it to its death, but its launch marks yet another commercial provider coming online, with new launch locations, cheaper equipment, and a higher frequency of smaller satellite deployment. And more well-funded companies (and NASA) are yet to bring their next big craft to market.

Spaceport America (Image: Flickr / Barbara Brannon (CC BY 2.0))

The points here are threefold:

  • With the flood of commercial space investment, young companies stepping in to put (increasingly reusable) equipment in orbit or to nearby bodies mean commercial space exploitation is not only a reality, but is fast becoming part of the daily background. Extraordinary moments may soon feel more like non-events, with launch plumes becoming a regular part of the landscape. Launches with private citizens aboard are still “a few years out” but new crewed capsule designs seem increasingly like high-end SUV interiors.
  • More countries are getting serious about playing in the space game, from Luxembourg’s moves to become the Switzerland of space wealth, to a boom in African space initiatives to countries like the UAE playing both a short and long game on space habitation. Aspirations for new spaceports are cropping up in interesting, well positioned places.
  • After a short space winter arguably marked by the winding down of NASA’s Space Shuttle, and declining interest in ISS exploitation, space is not just in the aerospace press, but it’s creeping back into the cultural sphere as well, with signifiers like limited edition kicks and a Grammy for NASA’s Golden Record, 40 years after the original was sent to space among many increasing signals. The wave of consumer product interest will only grow as the rhythm of near-Earth activity increases.
Welcome to Spaceport Sweden (Image: Flickr / Anders Sandberg (CC BY-NC 2.0))

So, how do we become not just passengers, but possible co-designers of the space experiences that impact—or involve—us as individuals? The technologies, roadmaps, and regulatory frameworks are unfolding now, but the early stages of future service, product and policy design are still just a curious glint of light in the distance. If we don’t (or do) want a future shaped by floating sports cars or wealthy tourist flights only, now is as good a time as any to sketch other possibilities.

This takes us to the next logical question: how might the trends we see emerging in everything from geopolitics to supply chains to social values and identities play out in the shape of everyday space?

Mapping New Designs for Everyday Space

Needless to say, as a group Changeist have an abiding interest in space as a near future territory. Members of our team have worked on past space communication initiatives, written about the difficult personal choices we may face in space (check out Madeline Ashby’s ‘Death on Mars’ in ‘Visions, Ventures, Escape Velocities: A Collection of Space Futures’ from ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination), and speculated on suborbital travel’s impact on real estate, or asteroid mining’s attractiveness to investors, why the Moon is hot, and India’s race to Mars, among other things. But the textures of everyday space are moving quickly away from fiction toward emergent fact. This takes us to the next logical question: how might the trends we see emerging in everything from geopolitics, to supply chains, to social values and identities, play out in the shape of everyday space?

Frequent future night skies? (Image: giphy)

For example, what new or modified rights do citizens or businesses have in low-earth orbit? What new roles might an activist or historian have in the near offworld? What new services might emerge to handle flexible work forces in an everyday space setting?

Sketching Possibility

Naturally, when faced with these sorts of questions, we’ve created some basic tools to help guide exploration by diverse groups: a starter brief, a set of cards, and structured activities to flesh out possibilities.

  • The starter brief lays out the landscape (or air- and spacescape) as we know it today. What are the catalysts, interesting issues and emerging uncertainties? What are some of the challenges and questions we can take a stab at?
  • The cards, which we previewed an early version of on Instagram recently, include the issues mentioned above, and a range of others as conversation/scenario starters drawn from across the STEEP spectrum. They touch on topics such as long-duration separations of families, protecting space heritage, new types of hyperdrive technology, and competing space development ideologies. They also contain a starter set of roles (e.g. research, activist, VC) and a set of sectors (e.g. aerospace, energy, government, agriculture) to help focus ideas around different responsibilities or points of view.
  • The activities are designed to help fuse different drivers, roles, and contexts together, identifying possible needs, and a framework for sketching new policies, products, services or even experiences that service these needs. These can be connected to scenario development and prototyping, or business canvas-style modelling.
A stater set of space topics (Image: Changeist)

What Then?

As said above, we’re doing this to catalyse discussion and ideas about, and add texture to, the tangible shape of everyday space—one that’s a lived experience for more than just a handful of astronauts, scientists, engineers, and aerospace entrepreneurs, but which may include you and us. It’s a way to fill in the late “second horizon” where tangible futures take more coherent shape, rather than just imagine wild sci-fi objects or situations that fit a wish list. What might the look and feel, the media, objects, the must-have accessory, the brands, or the affordances of everyday space be? What’s on sale at the spaceport travel store? What do we need to do to be ready for these futures (or avoid them)? What do the outlines look like today?

If you want to explore this with us, we welcome opportunities to design in-house workshops with companies, educational institutions, agencies, public bodies or other kinds of organisations. The outputs can be public, or feed in-house creative or strategy.

What might the look and feel, the media, objects, the must-have accessory, the brands, or the affordances of everyday space be? What do we need to do to be ready for these futures (or avoid them)? What do the outlines look like today?

Want to flesh out the future of everyday space? Whether its home-managed nanosatellites, concierge desks at inflatable hotels, mortgages for Mars or stationary shops for stationary orbit, get in contact with us and we can tailor this set of tools to a broad exploratory workshop or a tight brief, find the right catalysts and location, and discuss launch costs and logistics.

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Phase Change

Essays, Observations and Speculations from the Changeist Lab

Scott Smith

Written by

Futures, post-normal innovation, strategic design. http://changeist.com

Phase Change

Essays, Observations and Speculations from the Changeist Lab