The Future of the Space Economy
In this episode of The Future Of, Jeff is joined by Carolyn Belle, Director of Advanced Systems for Astroscale, and Andrew Maximov, CEO and Founder of Precious Payload, and Adrian Mangiuca, Vice President of Infrastructure at Voyager Space Holdings, to discuss the opportunities of building a sustainable and successful space economy.
Andrew Maximov: The moment we would stop relying only on lifting the resources off the ground to space because it’s pretty expensive and complex, and we would start to get some sources from in space, be it asteroids, or moon regolith as a reaction mass, or just using solar power, that’s where the space economy will really take off and start growing financially, because that’s where I believe will be the birthplace of the real sustainable space economy––when the space economy can actually feed itself with the sources needs to build more satellites and build more infrastructure there.
Jeff Dance: Welcome to The Future Of, a podcast by Fresh Consulting, where we discuss and learn about the future of different industries, markets, and technology verticals. Together, we’ll chat with leaders and experts in the field and discuss how we can shape the future human experience. I’m your host, Jeff Dance.
Jeff: In this episode of The Future Of, we’re joined by Carolyn Belle and Andrew Maximov to explore the future of the space economy. Welcome, both. It’s a pleasure to have you with me on this episode, and I’m excited for you both to bring this space down to earth.
Andrew: Awesome. Thanks for having us.
Carolyn Belle: Happy to be here.
Jeff: Great. Let’s start with some introductions, Carolyn, if we can start with you, if you can tell the listeners a little bit more about yourself and your experience in the space of space.
Carolyn: Yes, absolutely. I am really a space nerd at heart. I didn’t come out of the space nerd closet, as I term it, until I did my first internship at NASA, where I realized that I could have a future in space, I could contribute to this that, growing up, I didn’t realize was something that I could work in and spend my time and my career in.
I started out on the science side of things in astrobiology, trying to understand how we would look for life on other celestial bodies, but really have spent all of my career focused after that, on enabling us to grow the space economy, so working in market analysis and consulting, working with a lot of different companies and governments in the sector, then worked more on the physical side of things.
I wanted to start being able to touch my work rather than just being on the computer, so I worked in building ground stations, ground antennas to communicate with satellites around the world so that satellite operators didn’t have to each build their own, but they could tap into a more global resource.
What I do now is working on the sustainability of space, working with satellite operators to plan ahead, to make sure that we have access to space, not just today and tomorrow, but really for the infinite future ahead, and we can continue to benefit from this resource, the working to make sure that we change the way that we operate in space to get a lot more out of it.
Jeff: Great. Can you double click on Astroscale where you are now as a director of advanced systems? What do they do?
Carolyn: At Astroscale, our vision is to enable the safe and sustainable development of space for today and for future generations. What we do is address the sustainability challenge in a few different ways and how we define sustainability is not just the traditional view of environmental sustainability of the space environment itself, but also the economic piece. How do we make sure that we’re designing companies that we’re designing satellites in a way that really delivers sustainable value?
Whether that’s for a company, academia, national security, whatever it is, but really making sure we get the most out of everything we put in space.
The prongs that we’ve approached for that challenge are active debris removal. Today, there are millions of pieces of space debris, space junk that have been left in orbit, and each of those presents a risk to satellites that are operational today, the occlusion risk that could damage or destroy them if those two objects were to hit each other. We are going after those large pieces of debris. We’re going to send a robotic servicing space crop to go up dock with them. They weren’t prepared for it. They weren’t designed to be grabbed in space, but we’re going to find a way to grab them and then bring them down so that we remove that threat.
We’re also working with satellite operators to prepare for the end of life of their satellites. If they design a satellite, that’s going to operate for five years, but then something fails and they’re not able to bring it down, bring it out of orbit, we have a solution to go up, grab that, bring it out of orbit.
On the flip side of that, that end of life is extending life. If we design a satellite to operate for 15 years, but the only thing that fails after 15 years is that it runs out of gas, let’s just find a way to keep it in orbit, keep it operating rather than continue to launch more things in space and leave more things in space. That’s really what we focus on. We definitely have a much broader long-term roadmap that I’m working on, but that’s the core of where we’re at today.
Jeff: It’s really cool that this company is focused on this. It looked like there’s 250 employees or more. When you think about designing the future with intent, a company already focused on some of the problems of the future, given that here we are now, but the space is going to explode, we’re going to go to infinity and beyond, and it’s only going to get bigger, so how do we address some of those challenges today? It’s awesome to hear that your company’s already working on this, maybe the future garbage truck in a sense?
Carolyn: Yes, we call ourselves the space sweepers. That’s our logo. That’s what we want to work on. Yes, so we do want the space to explode, but not objects in space. That’s the main goal, just the economy.
Jeff: Yes. Andrew, over to you. Can you tell us more about yourself and your experience in space?
Andrew: Yes, sure, absolutely. I have a completely different background and completely different angle at space, but I guess, it would be beneficial for the audience. First of all, I’m a startup owner and founder of a startup. The company is called Precious Payload. We’re building the software that makes it quite easy to plan and execute custom space missions. We are a remote first team of roughly 20 people across four different countries, and we work globally. We help certain developers around the world to ship their satellites to space up to 12 months faster, then basically helping them to streamline and fix their supply chains.
On my personal background, I’ve always been amazed by space exploration, and the question was always for me how space exploration can help us answer questions such as where we’re coming from, are we alone in the universe, and help us better understand the earth and its surroundings. That’s where I ended up getting the master degree in microelectronics, working on assembly code for communication subsystems for the satellites.
Then just after university, I started my startup career, so I entirely skipped the corporate world; never been employed in any company, so right first thing had jumped in the startups, and bootstrapped and sold to B2B software startups before I understood that, hey, it doesn’t really excite me. Literally, I wrote myself a one-pager in 2015. I told myself, “Okay, how can they reconnect or how can they connect to the space industry, and what I can bring on a table using the skill that I have?” which is building beautiful B2B software that can automate complexity really well. That’s how Precious Payload has been born in 2017.
Jeff: Awesome. Just broadly, can you tell us more about the space economy today? Carolyn, can we start with you, and then we’ll move over to Andrew?
Carolyn: Sure. If we take a really broad view of the space economy, the players that are active, you have commercial industry, and those could be the large companies that most of us are familiar with, the Boeings, the Lockheed Martins, but many, many small companies today that have been founded in the last 10 years. We have a perfect example on the podcast today of that. Several governments, so the NASAs, the NOAA’s that we traditionally think of, national security, and then academia or non-profit. That’s really who’s active in space.
In terms of how the economy is structured, the value chain is pretty basic. It’s designing and building satellites. It’s launching them, that piece that we all get excited about seeing a rocket launch. It’s operating them in space, which is a pretty basic approach right now. You launch something to space and you never interact with it again. It’s sending data down to the earth or it’s providing communication services.
The last piece is that interconnection between the satellite operator and then the end user, because it’s very rare for that to be direct. There are a couple of cases but not a lot. Because of that, a lot of us aren’t really aware of how much we use the space economy because there’s always that interconnection.
What the space economy does, communications, not just like satellite TV that we often think about, but anytime we’re watching a live event or live sports, all of that’s being transmitted over satellite navigation, timing, capabilities, a lot of earth observation, we’ve been seeing a lot of examples in the last few months of what you can really see from space. There’s so many elements to the space economy. It’s really hard to wrap up. We’ll see if Andrew has a more specific way to jump into that.
Andrew: Yes, sure. What I also often see is that people that try to understand what is the total value of the space economy, I also would add GPS-enabled companies there as well. That’s how sometimes you have Uber and Lyft there as well as part of the space economy because hey, without GPS, it would not be possible to have this company. I think Carolyn made it a really good overarching summary of what are the key components there.
I would just add that I think the growing piece is also- because again, I’m coming from the B2B software side, it’s the companies that are trying to analyze and create insights out of the communication observation data that’s coming from satellites. It’s becoming, also, a bigger and bigger size of our market because those are the companies that are actually connecting this all space infrastructure to the end user like the rest of businesses, governments, etcetera. That’s also, I would say, a really important part of the space economy.
Jeff: Where is that money primarily coming from? Is that like launching satellites and supporting satellites? What are the big pieces of that?
Carolyn: Government funding is a big piece of that, that goes into manufacturing and launch and operations but, really, it’s everything we just talked about. The communications and the GPS side is a huge part of the value that’s derived from space. It gets to the point when we’re trying to quantify the space economy. This used to be my job and it was always tricky. Where do you put a barrier as to where the space economy ends and where maybe more terrestrial begins?
That point of anything enabled by location-based services is coming from GPS, or we have other government constellations that are similar to GPS––do we count those? Do we count all of that? Do we count all of the chipsets that are receiving that data? Banking is enabled by GPS. Do we include the whole banking industry? It really becomes this cascading question of how do you define what’s part of that and what isn’t. It really is a mix of commercial and government to get to that total where we’re at today.
Jeff: What are some common misconceptions about the space economy?
Andrew: I guess the biggest one is that hey, people say that you often say that space is so expensive and why do we even need to launch all these rockets in really expensive space stations, etcetera, when we just can spend the same money to fix the real problems here on earth? I think that’s the greatest misconception and greatest, I would say, disbelief in space, in general, from a lot of countries’ citizens.
I guess the way to answer that would be that, I would say, the majority of the companies and scientists and engineers that are working in space, their mission is to help accelerate technology development that would really help with the real terrestrial problems here.
If you look back in the history of the last 50 years, you will see that dozens, if not hundreds, of the technologies developed for the space industry actually became our day-to-day products and services that we use and we don’t even think where they’re coming from. I guess yes, I would say that that’s, for me, the biggest misconception about space.
Carolyn: I totally agree. I think there’s a huge lack of awareness as to the true value that space provides to everyday life. I talk with my colleagues all the time about how we want an app that you could load on your phone and it would show you how many satellites you’re using at any given time for the different parts of your day. It’s a huge number.
Even when we look at the core economics of it, NASA has done a variety of studies on, for every dollar that the US government puts into NASA programming, there’s this range of $7 to $20 that they return to the US economy. It is a really significant return on investment and even to the point that sometimes it’s hard to identify what those true spin-offs are or what the value is.
I think one of the other big misconceptions that riles me up is a lot of the talk lately about space is just about billionaires in space. It’s such a small bit of what’s going on in space. Are there billionaires doing things to space? Yes, absolutely, but there’s so much more to the spectrum of what we’re doing and so many more important things about what we’re doing.
I want us to be able to expand that dialogue beyond just it being a billionaire’s playground because, for me, space is truly our opportunity to enhance life on earth for everyone. That, to me, is not just all humans. I think space really enables us to engage with our planet in a different way and really deliver value back to so many parts of the terrestrial ecosystem.
Jeff: That’s cool. Speaking of billionaires, Elon is such a big player in the space. Is he a little lunatic, or is he like a god? Is he the Zeus of the space economy? What are you guys’ thoughts on Elon?
Carolyn: I think he’s trying to be a bit of both, honestly, from that question. There’s no doubt that what he has done with SpaceX has driven immense value to the space economy. What SpaceX has been able to achieve in terms of increasing the frequency of launch, and reducing the cost and putting reusability into launch has been huge. That impact and the potential that that offers to the rest of the industry is undeniable.
I just think it’s a question of many of the other entities that are at play in the industry also offering value that often doesn’t get perceived because there’s a pretty big personality in the room.
Andrew: I would also add to that it’s not only Elon. It’s not only those CEOs of these companies. There’s actually real operators behind those personalities. Gwynne Shotwell was actually running daily operations in SpaceX, and she makes it possible where Elon, of course, is working on fundraising, inspiring, the vision and mission and pushing it forward. There’s really dozens, hundreds, thousands of engineers and managers and people that were pushing it forward every day. Absolutely. I would totally agree that without space, it wouldn’t be where we are today.
Jeff: What are some unheard-of industries that are making the best use of space to expand their business? Any thoughts there? We talked about some of the majors but what are some of the micros?
Carolyn: A lot of little ones that you, well, not little industries but they use space in a different way. If we look at the finance industry, trading on Wall Street, some of their interest in space came from satellite communications that could reduce the latency at which they received market data relative to other investors. Even if it’s just a tiny amount ahead of time, it allows their algorithms to drive better returns on those investments. Often, we don’t think about them using space.
If we look at the insurance industry relies on a lot of earth observation data and analytics to be able to assess risk when they’re making investments or when they’re making reinvestments. Stores, retail, urban planning uses a lot of space-based data, things like that in it as well. I think there’s so much potential for additional industries to use space.
Andrew: I would also add to that, that my favorite business case that is slowly coming to market now is the idea of autonomous cars, fleets having their own small satellite constellations to provide connectivity outside of urban areas. I think that’s really exciting because this concept has been around for, I think a decade but most recently, I guess one of the Chinese companies that actually announced the plans of doing that. Imagine a car manufacturing company having their own fleet of satellites.
I also recently read the biography of Sam Walton from Walmart and actually realized that in 1987, Walmart built their own satellite constellation to provide real-time connectivity of exchange of business data between different centers. I guess history repeats itself where, again, I totally see a business case for, as Carolyn said, insurance companies having their own satellites. Maybe not a full constellation, but a satellite or two that will provide a unique data set, which is not available for the others. I think the connected car manufacturers are also a good example of having your own space as in space would make sense.
Jeff: How important are robotics, AI, and drones to the future of the space economy? We have a lot of technology evolving right now and we see a lot of innovative combinations that spring up new industries. As we think about some of these new spaces that are really growing quite rapidly, much like space, where costs are coming down and innovation is going up, how do you see some of these spaces, industries, and technologies impacting the space economy?
Carolyn: I’ll jump on that. What we do at Astroscale involves all three of those that you just mentioned. Robotics, autonomy, and AI, drone technology, and how we can apply that to space. When we’re talking about the segments of the space economy, one of the big gaps that exist today that we’re starting to fill is delivering value in space. As of today, once you launch a satellite, it is on its own until it dies and there’s nothing you can do about it unless you can send a command to fix it from the ground, but that’s a limited sight.
What we need is the ability to offer value from something in space to another part of the in-space economy. That will absolutely leverage robotics, is key to that for our ability to keep satellites in operation, or once we get to the step of being able to repair problems with satellites on orbit so that they can continue operating advanced robotics are going to be key to that.
Having a lot of different end factors, different bits and pieces on the end of robotic arms, to be able to implement those changes that are needed. Then autonomy to be able to manage all of these interacting spacecraft so that you don’t have to have operators on the ground, and that fixed ratio of operators on the ground to spacecraft and orbit. If we want a space economy, we need to step away from having human operators involved in every satellite.
We’re already seeing that being run autonomously, but we need those other pieces as well. There’s so much potential for technologies that are developed and tested terrestrial to be used in space. Sure, there are unique challenges that we face. The radiation environment in space is totally different from on earth, but depending on how long you want something to operate or the extent to which you can protect it, the ability to use what we call commercial off-the-shelf capabilities that might come from automotive or might come from drone, using those technologies in space, it does two things.
One, it can reduce the cost of what we’re doing in space, because those are usually much lower cost capabilities than a bespoke space solution. It also increases the speed at which we can deploy new innovations in space. Traditionally, the timeline to put anything in space is very long. We’re often seen as a super high tech next-generation industry, but we’re pretty far in the past because it takes a long time to design something, test it, get heritage, put it in space. If we can leverage innovations from other industries, we can shorten that and really increase what we can do in space on a more rapid timeline.
Andrew: I would probably add to that really quickly that, yes, again, from the software perspective, I really see that a lot of the applications that are being developed right now on satellites would not be possible without let’s say AI. Imagine you have a hyper spectrum camera that you put on the satellite, which happens already like this year and next year, there’s more and more hyper spectrum possibilities being launched in space.
One picture that you take with such a camera would weigh around four gigabytes per file. You’re looking at terabytes per satellite per day. Imagine you have 50, hundreds of those. A lot of these things would not even work if you couldn’t free process the data on the satellites, or use onboard processing to analyze the images, even before you beam them down to AWS clouds on the ground. Those applications are only enabled because there’s AI and some machine learning involved there.
Jeff: In addition to the conversation we had with our guests on today’s episode, we asked another expert to provide their insights on the future.
Adrian Mangiuca: I’m Adrian Mangiuca. I’m the Vice President of Infrastructure at Voyager Space. That basically means I work on our space station portfolio. Infrastructure basically means these big long-term investments that you see return on based upon the value they add to services. Essentially, infrastructure is some big fixed capital asset, think roads, airports, power grids, etcetera, that people depend on to make money doing something else.
Basically, I describe myself as a space economist in this role with some added subtleties that I have to help figure out how to keep the revenue flowing. Besides that, I was the principal investigator for the NASA-funded NanoRacks Leo commercialization study. I’ve worked at the Department of State, the World Bank, and I’ve traveled quite a bit. That’s a little bit about me.
Adrian: These ideas are as far away or as close as we want them to be. I need your audience to understand that the problems hindering our exploration of the cosmos are not technological, really. They’re economic and political. It is a matter of political will how much we are willing to invest in game-changing technologies, just as it is a matter of political will to solve some of today’s most pressing social and environmental challenges.
Now, the Apollo program showed us beyond the shadow of a doubt that when the right global exigencies align, a nation can find the will to fund the most extraordinary endeavors, ones which continue to provide materially enriching benefits to our civilization today. We can progress in enormous leaps if we choose to. For slightly over a decade, we chose to go to the moon, and beyond wildest hope we accomplished it for all humankind.
The point is here, the technologies you mentioned are already here, and if they’re not here they’re just around a corner. Just as an acorn awaits the water to grow into a mighty oak, the seeds of these ideas are awaiting funding, attention, and ultimately human will to become reality. If you care about this stuff, and you’re wondering why it’s taking so long, yes, sure get a degree in STEM. That’s really important, but also vote, demand change.
Jeff: What else is accelerating this space right now? We got the technology helping accelerate. We have some of the private investment that’s coming in, a lot of entrepreneurs. What else do you guys see that is accelerating this economy?
Andrew: I think what really enables the speed and velocity of new concepts and new business models coming to the space industry is just the amount of launch vehicles, launch vehicles that are coming online every couple of months. I think it’s been exciting because prior to that, a lot of missions would need to wait for years for suitable affordable launch opportunities. Now between ’16 and 2025, there would be dozens if not two dozens of new launch companies that have gone to market.
Of course, that industry would be disrupted again when space launches the Starship spacecraft as a means of transporting the really heavy-lift satellite space, because that would again change the whole equation of what type of satellites you can afford to launch. I imagine that by 2025, I hope that the new companies coming to market would stop decreasing the size of satellites and start really building bigger satellites because the whole trend has been let’s make them smaller, let’s make these CubeSats.
CubeSats are not that exciting because they have very limited capabilities. It’s where I really think and I hope that with the advent of dozen new launch systems, such as Starship on Newland from the origin, people would stop making satellites smaller, would actually make them bigger so they can do more and do some crazy ideas that happen in backlog for decades.
Carolyn: Yes, I agree, and we are seeing what had been––he industry started with small stats back in the ’60s, small stats, and then we got bigger. Then in the early 2010s, we got smaller again, and now we’re starting to get bigger. I think there’s value in all of those sizes. We don’t want to think about only large satellites offering value, or some people on the flip side only want to talk about CubeSats. It’s really getting the right satellite for your needs, and those needs may change over time.
Really back to your question, Jeff, about what’s allowing us to do more in the industry is that we can launch individual components that we want to test on small sides at a more rapid pace. We don’t have to wait for everything to be ready to put on a three-ton satellite, but we can, as we develop something, launch it, test it, get feedback, and then improve it for the next iteration. That’s really helping us move faster, even if the ultimate solution is to have a couple hundred-kilogram satellite rather than a small sat.
It also needs to be bespoke to where you’re trying to offer value. Sometimes you need a larger satellite. If you want to have better resolution, you might need a bigger satellite depending on the imaging, just because physics still exists. You can’t make everything tiny. For some capabilities, having a small sat works. Through all of that, we need to be responsible with how we’re planning.
There’s so much discussion lately about constellations, mega constellations, not just tens or hundreds of the satellites, but thousands of satellites, which can offer really unique solutions, can offer wonderful coverage of the earth, but we just have to do it in a way that we are removing those satellites at end life so they don’t present a risk, and also being careful about how often we replace them.
One of the other trends we’ve seen is that people are launching satellites with shorter lifetimes. Maybe they only want it to operate for three years, for five years, because then the cost profile of what you need to put into that satellite physically to protect it from the space environment is lower. That can be okay as long as we don’t leave those objects in space, where then we’re launching 10,000 satellites every five years and they just stack on top of each other.
Jeff: Fresh, we’ve worked with a couple companies on space-oriented things. One was with Hyundai, a walking car concept. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but hopefully a future space vehicle, I know, gets a little dusty up there on the moon, but hopefully we’re going back there at some point, and then Mars later on with the help of Elon. We’ve also did some design thinking work for a construction company that wanted to build some self-organizing materials that could build things in space.
One of the companies we’re excited about working with and didn’t get the opportunity to was, was Planetary Resources. We met with them. I know they got a billion in funding. They wanted some help with some workflow software, actually to think about how they could speed up their processes. We didn’t get the opportunity because I believe they died.
Curious about the concept of asteroid mining. Back then, they were probably developing the $500 million-satellites, or I don’t know, tens of millions for the small CubeSats that we saw in their space, but maybe they would do a lot better now. That being said, do we see that as a viable economy, asteroid mining?.
Andrew: I can pick this one up because I had an opportunity to meet with the team, watch them grow, watch them die. I’ve been with them for the entire cycle. We’re still friends with a lot of people from there. I guess what the history of that company tells me is it is and it was and will be an extremely tough question for these companies that have the visions for decades.
When you’re trying to raise the money for something that might be profitable in 20, 30 years from now, the biggest challenge that you have is how to commercialize technology that you are developing along the way. I think in ’17 there were like two, I would say, competing companies in the space industry, and sometimes resources that were claiming to be asset mining companies.
I think the space industry, thanks to the engineering team, they early on said, hey, in order to get to asteroids sustainably and affordably, we’ll need to build the water-enabled trustor, the propellant system that uses water as propellant because in the future, you could mine this water from the asteroids, and then use it to refuel the satellites. Trying the resources, they didn’t have this proxy plan in the beginning.
Then when the new investors told me, “Hey, listen, we actually want to sit down with some revenue along the way,” they tried to sell the idea of building the hyperspectral satellites that would use their camera systems to survey the asteroids by further missions, just observing what minerals can be mined from there. They tried then to pivot to build this hyperspectral release for earth, but it was too late. It was too late, and they already burned so much money trying to actually build the first asteroid’s prospective mission.
Again, the companies that are successful today, at least in securing the first revenue and investor money while keeping these long-term visions are the ones that really early on from day one, built the systems and business models that enable them to get sizeable revenue along the way and find the real use cases for technology today here on earth.
A good example is the Kennedy Space, where at some point of time when they started to raise hundreds of million dollars, if you look at their pitch deck, they actually say, “Hey, we are a 3D printing company that happens to have a rocket as a first byproduct of that 3D printer.” They actually found a lot of niche applications in having the largest 3D printer on the planets to print other stuff as well. That’s a good example. Their mission still says we want to build a self-sustaining colony on Mars.
Carolyn: Looking at the amount of capital to deploy some of these big things, we’ve seen so much investment go towards more software-centered capabilities because it can require less capital to roll out your preliminary product versus building something in space. Looking at how we get to the 20-year, to the 30-year vision to that trillion-dollar space economy in 2040, one of the things we’re missing in space is infrastructure on which to build these capabilities.
If we look at how the terrestrial economy has grown, we’ve seen primarily the government, but also some private enterprises invest in infrastructure to provide that base layer on which everything else can grow. I think that’s something that we really need. Infrastructure is expensive. Building a highway system across the US, building a train system is expensive, but it’s something that then is the foundation for moving things around, and that’s how you deliver value.
Adrian: What will the space economy be in 20 or 40 years? First of all, I hope and genuinely believe that a space economy will exist in 20 to 40 years. I think enough political exigency exists today to build permanent crewed space platforms, space stations.
I have the good fortune to be closely involved with one of those, Starlab. While I agree that humans are super demanding in terms of resources in space where everything’s always trying to kill us, and robots might be cheaper, I believe that humans’ neediness is also kind of a blessing. It creates demand for ancillary services.
Think about it, resupply, repair, maintenance, entertainment, generally stuff to do all the things that make up a human life. The demand that’s generated merely to keep people alive doesn’t even get into the opportunities that open volume on orbit presents to folks on earth. Open volume like space platforms that they’re built for researchers. You got research, innovation, and discovery enabled by space. Where a permanent presence in space exists, so exists demand both in space for supplies from earth and on earth for content and goods generated on orbit.
Where demand exists, natural supply follows. As supply follows, information about price spreads, and it is our task to create a policy environment to both facilitate that and keep it open, free, and fair for all participants. I think we’ve taken the first step by beginning programs like NASA, CDFF, or Commercial Destinations Free Flyers efforts, of which Voyager is a part. As we progress down that path, I think that the space economy will become more real.
Jeff: Let’s talk about that future a little bit more. We’re here today, but in space you probably think in terms of decades. What do we anticipate the space economy being like 20 to 40 years from now? We know that it’s predicted to be big, but what are some thoughts about what that future looks like?
Carolyn: My vision is maybe a bit more sci-fi.
Jeff: I love it. I love it.
Carolyn: Yes, where we can get, if we really address the problems as we’ve identified them today, which involves a lot of different players across the industry, across academia, across policy, we can get into that. I see this future of space where there’s a more robust, dynamic, interconnected activity in space. Right now, satellites are out there on their own, but I think for us to deliver more value, we need to be able to provide services to those spacecraft.
We need to have different orbiting platforms that enable much more research to occur in space, that then can drive value back on Earth, whether that’s to cosmetics or biopharma, or whatever that application might be, having those established resources, being able to lower the risk, it’s a huge thing that investors come to, with there’s so much risk involved in space. In 20 and 30 years, understanding that better and managing that better.
I really envision the buzzing space economy where I see satellites moving around, autonomously servicing others, having resources in space, having an outpost on the moon, there’s so much potential. It’s also going to create new applications in space.
As we moved over time, it started with communications, which is great. In the ’90s, we saw companies say, “Wow, we could also take pictures from space,” and there’s so much analytics that that drives back on earth. What we’ve been able to achieve with GPS, what we’ve been able to achieve with asset tracking, understand what ships are where. There’s so many new untapped things that could exist in the space economy in 30 years, that it’s almost hard to envision really what those could be.
Andrew: I’ll add to that. I think if you just look at, let’s say, what the future can hold for a space economy for the next 20 years, there’s two things. First, there will be a lot of incremental updates in existing systems. We’ll have bigger rockets, smarter satellites, more debris, less debris, etcetera. I think there’s one piece of, I would say technology or the business model that would unlock the exponential growth of a variety of different business models.
That’s where if we, as humanity, can tackle the problem of resource utilization in a very small application, it could be like, “Hey, let’s build a solar power station in space that would power our satellites,” for example.
I think what I’m trying to say here is that the moment we will stop relying only on lifting the resources off the grounds to space, which is really expensive or complex, and we’ll start to get some resources from in space, be it asteroids, or moon regolith, as a reaction mass, or just using solar power, that’s where the space economy will really take off and start growing financially because that’s where I believe will be the birthplace of the real sustainable space economy, when space economy can actually feed itself with the source it needs to build more satellites and build more infrastructure there.
Carolyn: Maybe literally feeds itself from a cannibalistic approach. I want to see the circular economy in space where we take debris and turn it into something else. You take debris and melt it down, turn it into feedstock, 3D print it into something new.
Andrew: Yes, 100%.
Jeff: That’s cool to think about. Will Amazon be up there, and we’ve got Blue Origin. Can I get Amazon Prime space, and get some $200 milk or something like that, or?
Andrew: There’s the brilliant book called Artemis by the author of The Martian. It’s the story of the city on the moon, where the actual currency that they trade with each other in moon city is the equivalent of launching goods to the moon that deliver from earth to moon, like a trading ground where you could send something from earth to the moon. It’s a very funny story. It drives imagination forward and how it could work to deliver there.
Jeff: The currency would be interesting. Any other thoughts on what could be? We talked about the sci-fi reality, and sometimes the movies, the books we read actually do paint some realistic ideas, and sometimes they’re not realistic too. Any other sort of visions that you guys have?
Andrew: I’ll add to that. I always particularly enjoy the space technologies that are actually visible to naked eyes, such as the climate of stars and satellites. I got dozens of calls from my friends around the world when they say, “Hey, what’s going on in the sky?” We see this big link off the chain of satellites there. What’s going on?”
I think that’s another thing that people would certainly enjoy looking at and think more about the space economy, is when it will be normal to have some normal products like B2C consumer products, part of those, part of which were manufactured in space. I think because there’s a number of applications and a number of products and materials that benefit from being manufactured in space, like fiber optic cables, or some other parts of the traditional supply chains of the process we used to be.
I’m really looking forward to the moment where you get this shipment from Amazon and then it’s said, oh, this piece of technology has been manufactured in space and was brought down to earth on a space capsule. Not carry it on the scientific labs such as the International Space station, but actually went to the platform in a small capsule, and then actually went to consumers through Amazon, whatever.
Jeff: Got it. Instead of two-day delivery, it’s 2000-day delivery, but we’re getting some goods from Amazon from space. The notion of space sending goods down here, I’ve heard of, obviously mining, you’re talking about technology, biopharma. There’s that environment enabling certain things that come the opposite direction. That’s really interesting to think about. Good.
Let’s talk about the ethics, the ESG side of space. How do we build? How do we be thoughtful here? Obviously, Carolyn, your whole company is centered around this, the ethics and equity of space. What thoughts do you have around this area?
Carolyn: It’s a big area that I think we, as an industry, need to look at ourselves and address as we move forward, really. There’s a lot that we can do on the ESG side in terms of contributing to terrestrial companies, understanding ESG. There’s a lot of monitoring that can happen from space to verify that those metrics are being met. Many people in the space industry stop there, rather than looking at ourselves and how we can also implement some of those same things.
There are a number of challenges. I think part of it is by listening. We have an industry where we have a lot of wonderful leaders who have a lot of great experience in the industry, but I think we also need to spend more time listening to university students about what they’re interested in and what challenges they face listening to early-career people and their perspectives on the future, really balancing out where we’re trying to understand what that vision could be, and what priorities are, what changes we need, what struggles we’re seeing.
There has been this loss of talent. We have a dripping pipeline as you go from high school to university through early career where we lose a lot of the diverse perspectives that can offer value. I think addressing that is helpful.
One of the other things I think we really need to do is engage people beyond the space industry. We have been insular almost intentionally as an industry for so long. We have these phrases ‘space is hard,’ or ‘rocket scientists,’ or like the ‘epitome of intelligence.’ We really offset ourselves as something special in the world, where really, we need to integrate with the entire––trust the real economy and in society and bring in different people, different viewpoints.
Do we need brilliant engineers? Yes, absolutely, but we also need brilliant communicators. We need storytellers. We need people who are really good at finance and business to figure out ways to make the economy more effective, more profitable, and broaden it out. We really need to bring people from other industries in, and I think open up ourselves a little bit more to make that more equitable.
Then there’s another whole layer to that, which is how do we engage the global community. Space is this really unique place where we, as a world, all share one environment that we want to operate in and benefit from. It’s not like aerospace where you can really define above a country, okay, this is American airspace, or this is the distance from the shore for sea space.
Space is fully shared once we’re up there.
How do we make sure that we have equitable access to that, and it’s not just the countries that were there first. It’s not just the US, or the former USSR that were there first and really established dominance, and have thousands of satellites in orbit. How do we enable those countries that are newer to space, that are launching their first satellite, that they can still have access to that? How do we do that?
There’s a lot of conversation that needs to happen, and it’s not an easy problem, but it’s one that really, I think for us to hit this trillion-dollar economy in a way that’s not one of those terrifying futures that we see in sci-fi movies, we really need to address that global problem as well.
Jeff: That makes sense. Seems like things could go one way or another easily. Really designing with intent, having those conversations, building bridges, making sure we have good representation is really important to that future together.
Carolyn: Yes, we can get dystopian real quick, and I don’t want to see us go down that path. I already see some tendencies toward that if we don’t nip them in the bud.
Jeff: I think in my own experience having worked with organizations, startups, and governments in more than 25 countries now, I think that what I see is that, first of all, the industry shaped by the newcomers to the space industry, and those are mainly the young professionals, the engineers, the people who just should finish their master degrees. I think it’s crucial to enable them, A, to learn from the past because the commercial space industry has been around for what, 30, 40 years now, at least. There have already been a few cycles, like economic cycles there.
There’s a lot of studies that the younger generation just don’t know. I learn something new every week through talking to people in their 50s and 60s and 70s. The second thing is that there are a number of organizations out there that have this global ecosystem of promoting space for peaceful use.
I always recommend people to look for International Space University. I think Carolyn, you were part of the last community as well, like SGC, Special Nation Advisory Council, the SEDS, which is Students for Space Exploration.
Those, for me, like five or six organizations that really shape the mindsets and the ethical frameworks that’s then being headed forwards to commercial organizations, startups, and governments, and it would really pay attention to what that agenda there is, and is it inclusive and how it talks about the ethical problems. That’s where I would focus on.
Jeff: Really interesting to hear your guys’ emphasis on some of the younger generation, and the mindsets, and the inclusivity. It makes sense if we think about the future and we’re like, these advances take a long time. It’s like that next generation coming into power, or to influence, or to capital, or to collaboration. We want to set up that generation for maybe more success than we’ve had in the past. Looking at the past, thinking about the future, that resonates.
Carolyn: Yes. I think it’s that next generation, and it’s also the populations, the communities that haven’t been invited to the space community so far that have a really unique perspective, unique challenges that they face. We talk a lot about gender and racial diversity lacking in the industry. Another big one that I’m really passionate about is disability. Disabled people have been excluded from the space industry for a long time.
Each of those communities offer such a unique perspective of the challenges they face. Because it’s undeniable that everything we do in space is a challenge. The more perspectives we have to how to overcome those really will help us get to a better solution ultimately.
Jeff: Just a couple more questions before we wrap up. What personal goals do you both have being connected to space? It’s unique. It’s also awesome. Do you have any kind of personal goals like, hey, I’d like to go to space sometime, that’s one of my personal goals? I’d love to hear any thoughts there.
Carolyn: I’m going to go with two goals, one that’s easier to measure than the other one. The reason that I’m in the space industry is I want to enable us to get more out of space, and to build this future space economy that I envision that offers value to everyone on earth. That’s why I choose roles in the industry that I think allow me to enable others to be successful. Hard to measure.
Something I would love to see in my lifetime is that whether it’s a space agency or a private astronaut entity––not talking tourism––I’m talking about real hard research that’s happening in space. I would love to see a disabled astronaut go to space. If I can help that path happen.
Andrew: My, also, two goals would be, number one, is just, my goal is to help at least 5,000 space missions get to space and fulfill their mission goals over the next 30 years. I think that’s if in 30 years there would be like 50 companies that said, “Hey you made it all possible. We actually were able to build some sustainable business models in space,” if I could contribute to that future, where we’ll better understand our role in space and where we came and are coming from, that would make me happy.
The second goal is what I’m always dreaming about is how to create real jobs in space, how to create not astronauts like, but actually capitalism-driven jobs in space. The moment we will get our first commercial job in space, we’ll get competition. Competition will also increase the number of jobs there. The real people who would commute for shifts to work in space, they would need more services to make their life easier. It would give birth to the services industry and product industry. I really want to help those businesses, if not build my second business in that scene where we could create first real commercial jobs in space.
Jeff: Awesome. The market will be growing. In the future, there’s going to be more jobs supporting that. If I have a full-time career but I want to get involved, so I already have my full-time, I’m probably not going to go back and get reeducated, any thoughts about how I could get involved in the space economy where maybe it’s more part-time?
Carolyn: I think there are a lot of different ways you can do that, and it depends on the scale in which you want to engage. There are a lot of associations that one can join. There are a lot of just events about space that if you want to learn more about what companies are doing, you could pop into those, whether they’re virtual or in-person, depending on where you’re located, to be part of that space community.
That’s what I did early in my career when I was working in science education, but wanted to stay a little bit tied to space. Specifically, I volunteered for this group called Yuri’s Night that was trying to celebrate humans in space around the world. I love the global nature of it. I loved how celebratory it was, but it was just volunteering as many hours as I wanted. That’s one route.
There’s also so many opportunities to work in space without being formally educated in something space related. I think that’s definitely a myth that we need to go after because some of the best people that I know who work full time in space had a career that was in a totally different field up until the point they entered. If you have a passion for space, we can teach you on the job, what you need to know.
If you work in accounting, but you want to do something in space, yes, come on over and then you can be part of it. If you just have a technical aptitude, even if you’re not an aerospace engineer, I know some wonderful people who become aerospace engineers by training on the job. There’s so much potential. I’m always happy to talk to people if they’re interested in coming into space and they don’t know how to do it. I’ll give you some ideas. We want you to be here.
Jeff: One last question for you, Andrew. If you had, let’s say a cool billion to invest, where would you be investing it right now in the space economy?
Andrew: A billion? To be honest with you, a big chunk of that would go buying the secondary shares in the secondary markets, shares of SpaceX. I really believe there’s a market there, and you can actually get a good exposure to the secondary market there. I really believe that the scale of this company could be over a couple of trillion dollars in the next couple of years or decades. A large chunk would definitely go there, definitely.
Aside from that, you have now over 15 or 20 publicly-traded stocks that are linked to what we call a new space, so in innovations and space. They’re not performing well yet, but if you want to bet on the space industry, that’s the place to go. In terms of the startups, the best place may be to invest in startups in the space industry. They are quite bullish on space and evident batch they have at least four or five companies doing hardcore space stuff so, yes.
Jeff: Well, it’s been great having you both. Appreciate your leadership, your passion for space, for both shooting for the moon here, and for your insights and wisdom in sharing with our guests. We loved having you on the show and look forward to keeping tabs as we work on the future together.
Carolyn: Absolutely. It was a great time. Thanks.
Andrew: Thanks for spreading the word about space, Jeff.
Jeff: The Future Of podcast is brought to you by Fresh Consulting. To find out more about how we pair design and technology together to shape the future, visit us at freshconsulting.com. make sure to search for The Future Of in Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, or anywhere else podcasts are found. Make sure to click subscribe so you don’t miss any of our future episodes. On behalf of our team here at Fresh, thank you for listening.