06 april 2021
Space travel is back, never completely gone. Private companies and investors are gearing up for another gold rush.
I still have vague memories of July 20, 1969, the day of the moon landing, and July 21, the day when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped on the lunar surface. As a nine-year-old, I was glued to black-and-white television with about 500 million other earthlings. I was convinced that by the year 2000 we could go on vacation to the moon, possibly also to Mars. Not so.
A space station orbiting its own planet, satellite launches galore, robotic vehicles on Mars, it could never match the impression that Armstrong and Aldrin made on me that 21st July.
Neil Armstrong – First Moon Landing 1969
But there is hope. For a few years now, international meetings such as the World Economic Forum in Davos have been talking about the space economy. Satellites are already of paramount importance for telecommunications, navigation and nuclear weapons enforcement.
This year’s SXSW technology festival devoted a remarkable amount of attention to space travel. That went from architecture in space into a real ‘space gold rush’, in which asteroids are mined and 3D printing becomes an essential space technology.
Reusable rockets and NASA’s collaboration with the private sector are reviving enthusiasm for space.
At the root of all that enthusiasm are developments such as reusable rockets that make space travel much less expensive. The US space agency NASA’s willingness to partner with the private sector is a second major change.
It Artemis program NASA and its international partners want to have the first woman and the next man on the moon by 2024. By the end of the decade, there must be ‘sustainable exploration’ on the moon and then send astronauts to Mars.
The International Space Station (ISS) will also be decommissioned by the end of this decade. Private companies are widely looked at for new space stations and the transport of cargo and people to and from those stations. The US Sierra Nevada Corporation recently proposed a three-story space station and a space plane, the Dream Chaser.
Those space stations will not only be for professional astronauts. Citizens, tourists or scientists are also expected. Possibly as early as September, SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft will bring four civilians into orbit for three days.
The financial world sees new opportunities in it. California star investor Cathie Wood’s investment firm recently launched a new fund focusing on space exploration. The fund invests in reusable rockets, satellites and drones, among other things.
Something tells me that space technology investors will experience peaks of euphoria as well as lows of bitter disillusionment. Internet investors also went through such cycles, while technological disruption continued uninterrupted.
That ‘one giant leap for mankind’ that Armstrong talked about that July 21, 1969 will have its sequel this century. It took longer than I thought and hoped. But as Microsoft founder Bill Gates said in the 1990s, we always overestimate the changes that will happen in the next few years, but most of all underestimate the changes in the longer term.