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, but substantially broader than, an emergent, somewhat more readily visible and defined, private spaceflight industry. Specifically, the terms are used to refer to a community of relatively new aerospace companies working to independently (of "The System," i.e., Old Space) develop faster, better, and cheaper (FBC) access to space, space and spaceflight technologies, and indeed space missions themselves; and advocates of such imaginative and robust space and spaceflight concepts, architectures, systems, technologies, missions, programs, protocols, and policies. In his 2013 Washington Post article titled "Which way to space? Flights of fancy may launch the industry's future," journalist Joel Achenbach admirably attempts to get his arms around the amorphous and ever-expanding definition of the Wild West that is today's NewSpace:[2]

To hear the dreamers tell it, this is the next Silicon Valley. The Mojave Air and Space Port is the spiritual heart of the industry that people call 'New Space' [since universally stylized as NewSpace]. Old Space (and this is still the dreamers talking) is slow, bureaucratic, government-directed, completely top-down. Old Space is NASA, cautious and halting, supervising every project down to the last thousand-dollar widget. Old Space is Boeing, Lockheed [Martin], Northrop Grumman. Old Space coasts on the glory of the Apollo era and isn't entirely sure what to do next. New Space is the opposite of all that. It's wild. It's commercial, bootstrapping, imaginative, right up to the point of being (and this is no longer the dreamers talking) delusional. Many of the New Space enterprises are still in the PowerPoint stage, with business models built around spaceships that haven't yet gone to space. A bold attitude and good marketing aren't enough to put a vehicle in orbit. The skeptics among the Old Space people will say to the upstarts: Where's your rocket? How many times have you launched? Can you deliver reliably? Repeatedly? Safely? We put a man on the moon—what have you done?... [However, in the final analysis] Old Space and New Space turn out to be symbiotic. New Space companies need NASA contracts, and NASA needs New Space companies to pick up the agency's slack.[2]

Speaking to the astronomical (figuratively and literally, in this case) dimensions of the commercial opportunity represented by NewSpace, celebrated space entrepreneur Peter Diamandis boldly 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 famously 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., and a growing list of other global movers and shakers with bona fide trillionaire potential.[8][9][10][11][12] In her 2012 Seattle Times article introducing Planetary Resources, titled "Billionaires bankroll new space company for asteroid mining," journalist Sandi Doughton's interview of notable planetary scientist John S. Lewis neatly captures arguably the five key features currently defining NewSpace: (a) the spectacular size and sweeping scope of the NewSpace opportunity; (b) the seemingly irresistible allure of NewSpace for the world's boldest, and most visible and enterprising, 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, sheer daring, and raw energy for mutual survival and success.[11] Doughton reports:

[T]here's money to be made...adds John S. Lewis, a retired University of Arizona professor of space science.... 'We're talking resources with market values in the trillions,' said Lewis, author of 'Mining the Sky.' 'It's not at all surprising that it's billionaires who are stepping up to the plate. They think big and they know a big investment is required to make money."... Many space veterans are skeptical, and even Lewis admits to significant hurdles, such as finding customers for materials mined in space.... 'Unlike NASA, which makes enormously expensive, one-of-a-kind space vessels, space mining will require mass-produced technology, like probes, and cheaper launch services,' Lewis said.... Launch costs are already being driven down as private [fellow NewSpace] entrepreneurs, like PayPal founder Elon Musk and his rocket company SpaceX, enter the market. Blue Origin[], founded by Amazon's Jeff Bezos, designs and builds rockets in a factory in Kent [WA].[11]

History[edit]

The original 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 naturally championed the private development of space and space activity for the ultimate good of society. In 1961, writing as one of the deans of the American business establishment, Ralph J. Cordiner, then Chairman of General Electric (one of a handful of blue-chip, charter-prime contractors 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."[13][14] 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 sounds a clarion call for private sector dominance—ultimately—of space activity, consistent with American capitalist ideals:

There are two basic forms of human organization: the free societies, such as the United States; and the regimented societies, such as the [former] Soviet Union. In free societies, the government is the servant of the people. In regimented societies, the people are the servants of the government.... Now, the two contending systems are beginning to compete in a new area: in the exploration and economic development of space. This will be a vast and expensive undertaking, and it poses some fundamental questions for the citizens of the United States. How can we utilize our dynamic system of competitive private enterprise in space, as on earth, to make newly discovered resources useful to man? How can private enterprise and private capital make their maximum contribution?... To sum up, then, the world is extending its boundaries out from the planet into space: a tremendous enlargement of the area in which man will find resources for living. To explore and tame the new space frontier [emphasis added] will require a great technological effort.... Yet the ultimate question that faces the citizens at the threshold of the Space Age is not whether the technical achievements will be made, but how they will affect human life. Will the drive for space push mankind into a steel trap of regimentation, or will it open up new vistas of creativity and freedom?... The answer to this question...will be determined in large degree by how the United States—the world's leading industrial nation—goes about the exploration and development of space.... [I]f we use the strength of competitive private enterprise, we will not only advance faster, but will...honor[] the dignity and creativity of man.[13][14]

Notwithstanding the broader 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.[15] 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 (and seriously creative) 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 definitively favoring private space activity, culminating in the landmark Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984.[16][17][18] 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] Ironically, the seeds of today's NewSpace were rapidly brought to fruition by the extraordinary collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991 and the equally unprecedented—more like then unimaginable—releasing of that former rival-superpower's iconic and otherwise mature/proven space assets, technologies, capabilities, and services onto the world's private markets with the immediate assistance of a handful of largely American private firms (established and startups; though true pioneers one and all); notably these core-four: International Launch Services (f/k/a Lockheed-Khrunichev-Energia Int'l;[19][20] Lockheed Martin JV; Proton; est. 1993); Commercial Space Management Co. (CSMC; Energia, Zenit, RD-170; est. 1993);[21][22] Sea Launch (Boeing JV; Zenit; est. 1995);[23] and MirCorp (Mir, Soyuz, Progress; est. 1999).[24][25][26][27] Until that moment in world industrial history, no private business enterprise or entrepreneur could remotely conceive of, for example, leasing—possibly even owning and operating—an honest-to-goodness, fully functional, orbiting space station, such as the Mir, let alone basically just picking up the phone and placing an order for a bespoke space launch, of all things, without batting an eye. (Until then, even for a telecommunications giant, like AT&T, placing a commercial communications satellite on orbit,[28] for example, was a major ordeal.) Once that titanium, industrial-sized, mental block was cracked in two—once the sheer ease (relatively speaking) of making things happen in space set in—the animal spirits of aerospace capitalism were unleashed, entrepreneurial vision and imagination were freed to roam, and nature took its course. All of which set off the currently ongoing, industry-wide, virtuous cycle of faster, better, cheaper (next-gen FBC; FBC was originally pioneered in the space field by NASA, warts and all[29][30]); and otherwise paved the way to today's far more vibrant and conducive overall industry 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 players can now deal with privately-conducted, for-profit space activity more rationally, realistically, practically, and cost-efficiently instead of as the near-mystical forbidden fruit it once was.[15] (Wernher von Braun, the NASA engineering genius behind the Apollo moon landing, summed up the historically stultifying institutional-bureaucratic cautiousness toward space activity in general by famously quipping, "We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming.")[31] In his 2016 Wall Street Journal review of former San Francisco Chronicle journalist Julian Guthrie's book "How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight" (preface by Sir Richard Branson; afterword by Stephen Hawking), Gregg Easterbrook (contributing editor at The Atlantic) highlights the seminal importance of these often overlooked post-Soviet private space efforts in enabling and shaping today's NewSpace.[23][10] "How to Make a Spaceship" centers largely around the celebrated space entrepreneur, Peter Diamandis, and his Ansari X Prize won in 2004 by the SpaceShipOne team led by legendary American aerospace engineer Burt Rutan, and funded by Microsoft co-founder and billionaire Paul Allen (SpaceShipTwo was then famously 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 all the way to 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.[23]

Near the end of the 1990s, a dramatic increase in companies engaging in this process led to the 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][32] though "alt.space" was still seen occasionally as late as 2011.[33]

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." As journalist Eric Berger described, this vision was in a sharp contrast with

that of the traditional [US] aerospace contractors—Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and others—which generally wait for NASA [or the US Air Force] to say what it wants, and then the contractors fight for those federal dollars. They will deliver a quality product, certainly, but at a high cost and generally without a sense of urgency. For new space, the vision must exist independent of government programs, beyond the NASA model of exploring with a few professional astronauts. Costs must fall, and space must become accessible for many, not a few.[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.[33]

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".[34] 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.[35] 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."[35]
  • 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."[35]
  • Aim to increase human presence in outer space.[35] 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.[36] The Space Frontier Foundation holds an annual 'NewSpace' conference to discuss NewSpace-related issues and publishes a 'NewSpace News' periodical.[37]

Mojave, California has been described as "the Silicon Valley of NewSpace".[38] Mojave is home to Masten Space Systems, Scaled Composites, XCOR Aerospace, and the Mojave Spaceport, the world's first private space launch facility.[38]

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.[39]

Industry Verticals[edit]

While several industry verticals[clarification needed][40] 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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