Why the Space Race is unfinished business

The Space Race & its romance

Space Elevator; Wikimedia Commons

There are few events over the course of human history that have been as iconic as the Moon landings. What underpinned Moon landings and the resultant leap in technology thanks to the space programs in the 1960s was undoubtedly the race between the USSR and the USA to be the geopolitical top dog. But the moment the victor became evident there wasn’t any glory left for the competitor to keep playing. It all stopped as abruptly as it had started.

As I had mentioned in my column last week, we are seeing a regeneration of interest in all things space. The romantic notion of humans as a multi planetary species is coming back into public imagination after a few decades when practicality overtook the love for exploration.

While humans look to start a new era in space, the rules of the game is as unforgiving as ever. Space was and will continue to be expensive, harsh and unpredictable. There is no shortcut and the infrastructure, capability and capacities that need to be developed will need to survive everything that can be thrown at it.

What’s different this time around?

The one big difference though is that the idea of space and the conversations around it is no more merely about reaching the finite finish line of humans setting foot on a celestial body like it used to be. It is now about making space a sustainable and integral part of the global infrastructure for humanity. This underpins the rise of NewSpace and private enterprise that is driving NewSpace.

The moment you classify space as infrastructure, the massive investments that are required to make it all happen starts making sense. Sure, it needs a ton of patient capital infusion and it will take upwards of 5 to 7 years for any investment to really start reaping rewards, but once it is all setup, space will provide returns and will keep on giving for a long time, and with minimal maintenance.

What is this race about?

Over the next couple of decades we will see the value added to the global economy by space based infrastructure grow several fold.

Now humans have for many decades been using space as infrastructure in a limited ways like satellites. I believe we haven’t scratched the surface when it comes to possibilities yet unexplored.

The addition of value to the space GDP will come from several sources — some old, some from renewal of old ideas and some brand new thinking. These include evolution of existing services like next generation GPS, wide area wifi and Space based weather prediction as well as introduction of new services like space-debris removal. Add to that space tourism of the Virgin Galactic ilk, evolution of Skybox-Terra Bella type services, renewed interest in Exo-Biology, and research into sustainable multi planetary life.

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A huge factor in pushing through these would be private capital coming into what was once dominated by Governmental budget allocations. What is a given is that private enterprise will bring in huge shifts in efficiencies which would lower costs and that in turn, will be a huge driver for Space 4.0. We are already starting to see this in areas like launch services and ground stations.

Space is an integral part of the global sans-national-boundary infrastructure, the time to join the dialogue, bring in new age thinking and push the boundary is now.

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