The emergence of private space companies began in the early 2000s: Space X was established in 2002 and Blue Origin in 2000. Currently, the three major players are Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and Space X. Their goals are to make space more accessible for people not formally trained as astronauts. Space X is making other technological leaps with the StarLink wifi satellite system and their reusable rocket boosters. Recently, they have been focused on planning the trip to Mars by developing Starship: the tallest rocket ever.
The main motivation of these companies is profit and passion. They are all run by billionaires who made their fortunes in other companies. They want to become the first to reach the goals of commercialising spaceflight, in order to have a firm grip on the industry when it ‘takes off’. They have enough capital to be able to cover the early failures of R&D, which is why they are able to outclass small competitors and even public agencies like NASA. They receive funding through investments and fulfilling contracts. Space X mainly makes money by launching satellites to space, through the rideshare program.
These companies will definitely be profitable in the future, it’s just a matter of how many years it will take. Space X is definitely the closest to that goal due to its stellar R&D, contracts with NASA, and work with the ISS on the Dragon 2 Capsule. Virgin Galactic also secured a ton of money from space rides already being booked by influential people. All these companies heavily rely on social media for marketing. Richard Branson even flew on his craft a few weeks ago, which was heavily discussed online.
There are many legal concerns with commercializing space. Countries and companies cannot own parts of the Moon or other planets, but the smell of profits from mining could result in abolishing these laws. Potential collisions in orbit or technical difficulties with expensive payloads on board would require the development of a sound insurance system. Who will control certain regions of the orbit, once the volume of commercial flights increases? Can space be used for criminal means?
Let’s hope that the rise of these private companies will only result in bringing space closer to everyday people, solving climate change, and developing new technologies. Getting a perspective on our pale blue dot from space could have a great impact on the polluting activities of very influential people.
Gohd, C. (2021). Elon Musk is thrilled as Space X’s Starship becomes world’s tallest rocket – and he’s not alone. Space.com. https://www.space.com/elon-musk-thrilled-spacex-starship-worlds-tallest-rocket.
Monica Grady. (2020, November 20). Private companies are launching a new space race – here’s what to expect. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/private-companies-are-launching-a-new-space-race-heres-what-to-expect-80697.
Neuman, S. (2021, May 2). 4 astronauts splash down in SpaceX Dragon capsule after 6 months in orbit. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2021/05/02/991232213/astronauts-splash-down-in-spacex-dragon-capsule-after-6-months-in-orbit?t=1628526534258.
Wattles, J. (2021, June 30). SpaceX launches 88 satellites in Rideshare mission. CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2021/06/30/tech/spacex-rideshare-transporter-2-missions-scn/index.html.