Digital Trend Alert
To Space Tourism and Beyond: and there's quite a bit of beyond
Carol Ingley, President, Media Mogul Enterprises
Week of August 2, 2021 through Week of September 28, 2021
Digital Trends and Key Words: SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, Elon Musk, Richard Brandson, Jeff Bezos, the space economy
The Space Economy is Big. Three billionaires aren’t chasing after their place in space without the belief that the space economy is big with potential. Morgan Stanley predicts that the space economy will grow from a $350 billion market today to a $1.1 trillion market by 2040.
With two billionaires -- Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos – flying into space recently within ten days of each other, the space race is officially on. Both Virgin Galactic (launched July 11, 2021) and Blue Origin (launched July 20, 2021) succeeded brilliantly with their initial space flight in a new market, space tourism, but don’t be deceived. Space tourism is a small piece of the space economy pie.
“This is a tiny little step of what Blue Origin is going to do,” acknowledged Jeff Bezos in a CNBC interview after the success of the Blue Origin space flight. “What we’re really trying to do is build reusable space vehicles. It’s the only way to build a road to space…”
There’s another billionaire who has been most aggressive in the space sector. That’s Elon Musk. SpaceX strutted its expertise when, on April 21, 2021, it successfully delivered astronauts to the international space station. As presumably more space stations evolve, the expertise of docking and delivering both cargo and people to these stations in space is critical, a feat that neither Jeff Bezos or Richard Branson have demonstrated with Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic.
The Road to Space. Yet exactly where is that road to space (that all three billionaires intend to build) going to lead? That depends upon who you ask.
Elon Musk thinks the road leads to the moon and Mars. Musk’s ultimate vision for SpaceX is to reduce the cost of space transportation so that Mars can be colonized. Jeff Bezos envisions taking manufacturing into space as well as building space colonies and, yes, going to the moon, too. Richard Branson, for now, seems intent on growing space tourism. The expectation is that Branson’s Virgin Galactic will begin commercial service in 2022.
A Whole Ecosystem. However these roads may evolve, Morgan Stanley sees space not as a series of roads but as a whole ecosystem. This ecosystem is composed of the following: satellite launch, satellite internet, deep space exploration, lunar landing, earth observation, space debris, space tourism and space research. As it turns out, the satellite internet sector of this ecosystem is quite important.
Satellite Industry Growth Factors. More than half the world’s population do not have a dedicated internet connection. Elon Musk’s Starlink, a low earth orbit (LEO) system, addresses this issue, although its U.S. pricing of $99/month for satellite internet with a $499 upfront cost for equipment make it still far too expensive for many in this unserved section of the global population. But Jeff Bezos is not far beyond with what is known as Project Kuiper. How far behind is not quite known. On January 26, 2021, Musk described Project Kuiper in a tweet as , “ ….an Amazon satellite system that is at best several years away from operation.”
What both Starlink and Project Kuiper are trying to do is revolutionize global internet connectivity using LEO satellites. Of course, these satellites have to get into orbit and it is very handy to also have launch vehicles to do that via SpaceX and Blue Origin.
The Leader of the Pack. SpaceX, Elon Musk’s baby, is the one to beat. And it won’t be that it makes most of its money from launching or space tourism. It stands to make most of its money by continuing to launch LEO satellites for a more robust Starlink and creating a winning business model with them. For it’s the satellites that are projected to be the money machine. Yet, for those seasoned in the satellite industry, it’s tough to create a lucrative LEO satellite system. Musk thinks he’s cracked the code. If so, he’ll use money generated from Starlink to fund SpaceX expeditions.
Timeline. Blue Origin was founded on September 8, 2000 in Kent, Washington, while Virgin Galactic was founded in 2004. In between, SpaceX was founded on May 6, 2002. With the recent two space tourism launches by Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic as well as the delivery of astronauts to the space station by SpaceX, all three companies are now officially in the space race. Other countries are also involved in the race. Yes, those roads to space will be built but one wonders if there will be traffic jams. One thing is sure: it’s going to be exciting to watch the space economy evolve – and maybe even participate in one way or another.
Carol Ingley is a marketing and finance consultant as well as a futurist and technologist. She is president of Media Mogul Enterprises.
Digital Trend Alert