NewSpace

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This article is about Space 2.0. For other uses, see New Space (disambiguation).

NewSpace—formerly alt.space; also "new space,"[1][2] entrepreneurial space, and "commercial space"[3][4][5][6]—are umbrella terms for a movement and philosophy[7] encompassing and somewhat synonymous with, yet ultimately substantially broader than, a highly visible, globally emerging, private spaceflight industry. Specifically, the terms are used to refer to a community of relatively new aerospace companies working to independently (of governments and their prime or major contractors, i.e., Old Space) develop faster, better, and cheaper access to space, space and spaceflight technologies, and overall space missions; and designers, refiners, promoters, and advocates of such underlying building-block concepts, architectures, systems, technologies, missions, programs, protocols, and policies.[2]

The psychographic distance between Old Space and NewSpace is also somewhat artificial, complicated by, for example, the fact that Wernher von Braun, the NASA engineer and chief architect behind the Saturn V and Apollo moon landing—thus a veritable icon of Old Space—was known as a consummate dreamer, as the title of Michael J. Neufeld's biography "Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War" makes plain.[8] "As a youth he [von Braun] became enamored with the possibilities of space exploration by reading the science fiction of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells...."[9] Von Braun's later friendship with Walt Disney, a fellow American visionary and kindred spirit who conspicuously embraced fantasy and science fiction as creative forces and fairly embodied the concept and philosophy of Imagineering, also buttresses this contention.[10] Moreover, von Braun was one of the first to chart a serious plan for reaching and settling Mars (as described in his 1952 book "The Mars Project"), a space mission that has come to virtually define the NewSpace generation.[11]

In a similar vein, but in more recent times, Bobak Ferdowsi, a millennial MIT-trained systems engineer and flight director at NASA, became an Internet sensation when he was spotted leading his project team while sporting a colorful Mohawk hairstyle in NASA's JPL control room during the successful August 6, 2012 landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars.[12] Ferdowsi not only shattered the old image of the NASA "white–socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer"[13] —in the process becoming something of a social media heartthrob—but was eventually even dubbed the Mohawk Guy by President Barack Obama.[14] In his congratulatory remarks on the success of the Curiosity mission, and with Ferdowsi's generational style clearly in mind, President Obama joked:

It does sound like NASA has come a long way from the white shirt, black dark-rimmed glasses and the pocket protectors. You guys [NASA personnel] are a bit cooler than you used to be.[15]

In a sign of further expected convergence of Old Space and NewSpace, on December 21, 2016, it was reported that Peter Thiel, a billionaire Silicon Valley entrepreneur and venture capitalist, had successfully advised U.S. President-elect Donald J. Trump to include on his NASA transition team three well-known NewSpace advocates, all of whom reportedly "favor the type of public-private partnerships [Old Space combined with NewSpace] exemplified by Elon Musk's [SpaceX]": Alan Stern, Alan Lindenmoyer (ex-NASA), and Charles Miller (ex-NASA).[16]

Speaking to the outsize dimensions of the commercial opportunity represented by NewSpace, space entrepreneur Peter Diamandis predicted in 2015 that the world's first trillionaire—which analysts expect to emerge in the next two decades—will come from the NewSpace sector and community which now include Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Sir Richard Branson, Paul Allen, Mark Zuckerberg, Yuri Milner, Larry Page, Eric Schmidt, Robert Bigelow, Naveen Jain, James Cameron, Charles Simonyi, Ross Perot Jr., Masayoshi Son, and a growing number of other global movers and shakers with legitimate trillionaire potential.[17][18][19][20][21][22] Likewise, in an August 2016 interview with Michael Chui, a San Francisco-based partner at the McKinsey Global Institute, venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson, a founding partner of Draper Fisher Jurvetson on Sand Hill Road in Silicon Valley, revealed "what he [Jurvetson] considers hot sectors," including what Jurvetson thinks "could be the biggest start-up of all: space."[23] Indeed, developing outer space has grown to become one of the signal leitmotifs of the entire contemporary Silicon Valley culture, according to Alexandra Wolfe, author of Valley of the Gods: A Silicon Valley Story.[24][25]

In 2012, Seattle Times journalist Sandi Doughton's interview of planetary scientist John S. Lewis captures arguably the five key features currently defining NewSpace: (a) the nominally spectacular size and sweeping scope of the NewSpace opportunity; (b) the attraction of NewSpace for many of the world's most visible billionaire-entrepreneurs; (c) the knee-jerk skepticism, particularly among Old Space observers, of the typically audacious plans and claims of NewSpace companies in the face of often severe (at least initially so) challenges; (d) the rough division of labor conceptually demarcating NewSpace from Old Space; and (e) the intra-sectoral synergies and virtuous cycles that enable NewSpace companies to feed off of one another's complementary innovations, daring, and energy for mutual survival and success.[20]

History[edit]

The Space Race, which began in the mid-1950s and gave birth in earnest to spaceflight, was famously a manifestation of the then larger politico-economic competition between capitalism (represented by the United States) and communism (represented by the former Soviet Union). For this reason, from the very beginning the American business establishment—particularly those bellwether private firms directly involved in the U.S. space program—has championed the private development of space and space activity. In 1961, writing as one of the deans of the American business establishment, Ralph J. Cordiner, then Chairman of General Electric (a blue-chip, charter-prime contractor to NASA and the U.S. space program), contributed a chapter titled "Competitive Private Enterprise in Space" to the anthology Peacetime Uses of Outer Space.[26][27] While recognizing at the time the realities of having to initially rely on the U.S. government's vast and convenient organization, resources, and power in order to effectively address the immediate Soviet space challenge, Cordiner nonetheless advocated private sector dominance—ultimately—of space activity, consistent with textbook American capitalist ideals.[26][27]

1980s — U.S. Commercial Space Policy and Enabling Legislation[edit]

Notwithstanding the free-enterprise sentiments and preferences of American industry, space remained a firmly government-controlled and -directed endeavor well after the capstone Apollo moon landing in 1969.[28] The term "alt.space" was first used in the early 1980s to describe companies that were at last beginning to take up Cordiner's mantle and make serious efforts to reach outer space without needing or relying on the cooperation of NASA or other governmental agencies (or, by extension, even their major contractors); efforts which were catalyzed by an historic shift in U.S. policy favoring private space activity, culminating in the landmark Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984.[29][30][31] Beyond the terminology—"alt.space", "private space", "NewSpace," or "new space"—since the 1980s, the philosophy of various organizations (such as the Space Frontier Foundation in the United States) has been one of "extolling the virtues of Solar System settlement and operating independent of bureaucratic government programs."[7]

1990s — Post-Soviet U.S.-Russian Private Space Ventures[edit]

Ironically, the seeds of today's NewSpace were brought to fruition by the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991 and the releasing of that former rival-superpower's iconic, state-owned, and otherwise mature and proven space assets, technologies, capabilities, and services onto the world's private markets with the assistance of a handful of largely American private firms; notably these core-four: International Launch Services (f/k/a Lockheed-Khrunichev-Energia Int'l;[32][33] Lockheed Martin JV; Proton; est. 1993);[34] Commercial Space Management Co. (CSMC; Energia, Zenit, RD-170; est. 1993);[35][36] Sea Launch (Boeing JV; Zenit; est. 1995);[34][37] and MirCorp (Mir, Soyuz, Progress; est. 1999).[38][39][40][41] Until that moment in world industrial history, no private business enterprise or entrepreneur could rightly conceive of, for example, leasing—or possibly owning and operating—an orbiting space station, such as Mir, or even just ordering a space launch in the ordinary course of business. (Until then, even for a telecommunications giant, like AT&T, placing a commercial communications satellite on orbit,[42] for example, was a fairly monumental undertaking. Contrast that with today, when a $100 million space launch vehicle can now be specified, built, priced, ordered, and eventually even launched online through, for example, United Launch Alliance's RocketBuilder website.)[43][44] Once that industry-wide mental block was removed—once the ease (relatively speaking) and normalization of planning and conducting space activities dawned on private industry—the animal spirits of aerospace capitalism were roused, entrepreneurial vision and imagination started to abound, and NewSpace began to take shape in earnest. Which set off today's competitive, industry-wide, virtuous cycle of "faster, better, cheaper" (a project and systems management[45] philosophy pioneered in the space field by NASA[46][47]); and otherwise paved the way to today's generally far more vibrant and conducive space-business environment—whether or not involving Russian space resources, at this point—where entrepreneurs, investors, regulators, lawmakers, supranational organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the media, and other key ecosystem participants are now able to deal with privately-conducted, for-profit space activity more rationally, practically, and cost-efficiently than ever before.[28] (Wernher von Braun summed up the historical institutional-bureaucratic cautiousness toward space activity in general by famously quipping, "We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming.")[48]

In his 2016 Wall Street Journal review of Julian Guthrie's book How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight, Gregg Easterbrook highlighted the seminal importance of these often overlooked post-Soviet private space efforts in enabling and shaping today's NewSpace.[19][37] "How to Make a Spaceship" centers largely around the efforts of space entrepreneur, Peter Diamandis, and his Ansari X Prize won in 2004 by the SpaceShipOne team led by American aerospace engineer Burt Rutan, and funded by Microsoft co-founder and billionaire Paul Allen (SpaceShipTwo was then funded by British billionaire and industrialist Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic). To set the stage, Guthrie retraces the private space industry's development path; however, according to Easterbrook:

Mr. Diamandis wasn't the sole entrepreneur to pursue private space flight [early on]. Ms. Guthrie covers other, peculiar attempts.... Neglected in Ms. Guthrie's account is Sea Launch [archetypal post-Soviet Boeing JV with Russians and others], the first private project to send heavy objects into orbit, including, in 2001, the big satellites Rock and Roll, the initial broadcast towers of XM Radio. Every bit as eccentric as the efforts that How to Make a Spaceship describes, Sea Launch fired large [Russian Zenit] rockets from a ship at the equator—equatorial water is the ideal position for space access—compiling a record of 32 successes, three failures and one satellite functioning but in the wrong orbit.[37]

In 2001, the FAA/AST confirmed that NewSpace pioneer Sea Launch was indeed "[t]he first privately financed, working launch system and infrastructure...."[34]

Near the end of the 1990s, favored by strong public policy and spurred on by the foundational success of these post-Soviet U.S.-Russian private space ventures, there was a dramatic increase in companies engaging in this process, leading to common usage of the phrase "new space companies."[2][5] "NewSpace" (most prominently), "entrepreneurial space," and "commercial space" are now the most commonly used terms,[4][5][6][49] though "alt.space" was still seen occasionally as late as 2011.[50]

2000s — Silicon Valley-style Entrepreneurial Space Initiatives[edit]

Things changed further in the early 2000s as Elon Musk formed SpaceX with significantly more private capital while he articulated a strong and consistent vision of the "colonization of space, beginning with Mars."[7]

However, one company in a worldwide milieu of government-driven spaceflight activities simply did not cement a movement.[7] This began to change with the increasingly public revelations and pronouncements of Blue Origin after 2014. Even though Blue was formed about the same time as SpaceX, it had maintained a very low profile in its first decade and a half of existence. By 2016, both of these two private companies, with billion-US-dollar-plus backing by committed investors, were successfully vertically-landing (and in Blue's case, reusing) space launch vehicles; both companies are building large reusable orbital launch systems that will utilize currently-under-development rocket engines that are each at least four years along in development, and are already in use or under development test on ground test stands, all with a focus on radically lowering the price of carrying people and cargo to space.[7]

Definition[edit]

NewSpace is a term that has had some variation in meaning since "supplanting the geekier 'alt.space' moniker" after about 2006.[50]

NewSpace is defined by HobbySpace.com as covering "approaches to space development that differ significantly from that taken by NASA and the mainstream aerospace industry".[51] Definitions of what exactly is and is not NewSpace vary but typically include several of the following criteria:

  • Development of launch systems principally with private funding, with only secondary or no involvement with government spaceflight programs and contractors. Private companies that conduct aeronautical efforts, such as Boeing, are generally not considered part of NewSpace due to their heavy reliance on NASA development funding as part of their business model. NewSpace companies need not universally avoid NASA, often participating in projects such as Commercial Orbital Transportation Services, but tend to focus primarily on consumers in the private sector.[citation needed]
  • Low cost approaches or budgeting plans. Due to the highly expensive nature of spaceflight and lack of government funding, many NewSpace companies consequently take a low-cost approach to constructing launch vehicles and other necessary components.[52] NewSpace companies commonly participate in, or are created to participate in, projects such as the Ansari X Prize and the Google Lunar X Prize.
  • Primary drive towards innovation. "A NewSpace company might use innovative new technologies that will lead to low cost, robust space systems. Or a company might simply combine currently available, "cheap-off-the-shelf" (COTS) technologies in an innovative manner that provides a new and highly capable system at lower costs."[52]
  • Incremental development that is profitable even at initial low-levels of space system complexity and capability. Many NewSpace development projects follow the "model of other technologies such as computer chips and LCD displays. Start with systems of limited capability but with markets that can provide a profit and thus pay for the development necessary to make the next step up in capability. Over time this can have a tremendous pay off as hardware improvements are compounded and markets expand."[52]
  • Aim to increase human presence in outer space.[52] Many NewSpace companies, such as Bigelow Aerospace and XCOR Aerospace, have publicly stated goals to send civilian humans into outer space on a mass scale and/or at low end-user costs.

Current usage[edit]

NewSpace has come to be used to describe a set of companies that are developing a lower-cost paradigm for the economic use of space including companies making plans for the utilization of in-space resources.[53] The Space Frontier Foundation holds an annual 'NewSpace' conference to discuss NewSpace-related issues and publishes a 'NewSpace News' periodical.[54]

Mojave, California has been described as "the Silicon Valley of NewSpace".[55] Mojave is home to Masten Space Systems, Scaled Composites, XCOR Aerospace, and the Mojave Spaceport, the world's first private space launch facility.[55]

Following the successful third flight of the Dragon spacecraft in May 2012 by private company SpaceX, some financial industry analysts are now handicapping NewSpace companies and the projected performance of infrastructure vs. application companies in the evolving industry.[56]

Industry Verticals[edit]

While several industry verticals[clarification needed][57] are being explored by private companies, only a few currently have an offering, and even less have started commercial services.

Among the verticals are:[citation needed]

A number of projects involving nanosatellites have been crowdfunded on platforms such as Kickstarter.[citation needed]

Regulation[edit]

Much of the alt.space activity in the United States is now involved in government licensing activities and regulation development for proposed spaceflights, managed by the Federal Aviation Administration

NewSpace Organizations[edit]

The following are companies and organizations generally regarded as both alt.space and successfully active (or previously successfully active).[citation needed]

Active Companies[edit]

In hiatus or defunct[edit]

Organizations[edit]

Events[edit]

Defunct[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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