Capitalism… IN SPACE!

On the clear, sunny Florida morning of January 19, 2020, a monumental achievement in space technology was achieved. A successful test of the Crew Dragon capsule’s escape procedures had gone underway. Essentially, this means that the capsule was able to clearly display its ability to separate from a rocket if something were to go wrong during launch. However, before you go congratulate NASA on this accomplishment, you may want to think again.
This is because, while the National Aeronautics and Space Administration had supported the endeavor, the technology tested was not of government design. Instead, the capsule came from the private company SpaceX, run by everyone’s favorite billionaire, Elon Musk. While the implications of this successful test could be delved into, this is not what this article is about. Instead, there is going to be a focus on the aforementioned word “private” in “private company SpaceX.” The recent success of the Crew Dragon is an excellent example of the continuing evolution of the space industry. An evolution away from the traditional government monopoly on the “out of this world” enterprise, and one toward the rise of private cosmic entrepreneurs. In layman’s terms, we will be discussing the commercialization of space.
Until the beginning of the 2010’s, any cosmic endeavor involving anyone else besides the government was unheard of. While private companies did build a lot of the technology used during many of the most famous space missions, this was all done under government regulation. Essentially, national space had total control over the cosmos. Then, on May 5th, 2012, this all changed with the successful usage of SpaceX’s Dragon cargo capsule during a resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS). According to Senior Verge Science Reporter Lorren Grush: “Before 2012, only vehicles operated by governments had ever visited the ISS. The Dragon was the first commercial vehicle to dock with the station.” With this victory for the private sector, the commercial utilization of space had been greatly facilitated, and while many private space organizations had been founded in the early 2000’s, the start of the 2010’s really saw these companies become less like fantasy endeavours and more like realistic, reliable enterprises. Organizations like Virgin Galactic LLC., Deep Space Industries, and Bigelow Aerospace Inc. have been attempting to get a piece out of this untapped market since the turn of the 20th century. Even Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has Blue Origin LLC., a private company that specializes in developing space-centric technology.
But what exact technology is being referred to? In fact, what is meant by “commercial space market?” Sure, there are now privately owned companies utilizing the cosmos, but how exactly are they doing this? What exactly are these organizations up to?
Well, all sorts of things! The aforementioned Deep Space Industries has its sights on capitalizing the asteroid-mining market, taking advantage of all the valuable materials these hunks of space rock contain. Additionally, SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Moon Express are all companies working to get their very own private technology on the moon. And speaking of SpaceX (if we have not enough already), the organization is hoping to begin its mission to Mars by 2022. In fact, according to Matthew Smith of Harvard University’s Science in the News publication, the rocket for this mission has already begun the process of being built, with it donning the professional name of the “Big Falcon Rocket.” However, while all of these capitalistic endeavors sound extremely interesting and, in all regards, awesome, what is in it for us, the average consumer? Well, in addition to the obvious long term facilitation of the advancement of human space travel brought about by these companies, there may also be some more short-term benefits appearing over the upcoming years.
For example, if one has ever wanted to ride in a rocket in a manner akin to riding on a commercial airliner, that dream may not be as far away as they expect. In fact, Virgin Galactic LLC has already sold more than 600 tickets to ride aboard its private spaceships, just for the low low price of $250,000 each! Alright, while the luxuries of space travel may only be available to the one percent at this time, the fact that a venture such as this is even possible makes the future all the more exciting.
Moving on from space travel, private space corporations have also been transporting satellites into the lower atmosphere of Earth. While this can be extremely beneficial for one’s internet coverage, the lack of government regulation on the practice have some worried. The previously mentioned Loren Grush states that “there’s concern that so many satellites will transform the night sky, making it difficult for astronomers to make detailed observations of the Universe when so many vehicles are whizzing overhead.” However, perhaps what is even worse is that Ms.Grush predicts that the influx of orbiting bodies around Earth could lead to congestion and collisions, eventually making the lower orbit of Earth (where most of these emerging companies preside over in their business) no longer viable for cosmic activities.
Whatever happens in the future, the presence of commercial space will begin to have an ever growing influence. From technological to even political caused by the emerging industry, humanity is just beginning to understand the implications of a more accessible universe. But whatever opinion one may have on the topic, there is a universal sentiment that can be shared by all: going to Mars would be pretty cool.

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Image Courtesy of Universe Today