Baby steps is key, and we're all in it together
My group (Space Finance Group) is working on both management services and funding for so-called "New Space" development companies. While some companies like those mentioned get most of the press, there are literally hundreds of companies involved, most of which will likely never make the news. Every rocket, every habitation module, every vehicle, is made of thousands of parts that are made by suppliers - from space-rated electronic components to window sealing compounds.
In the relatively short time I've transitioned from an outsider watching this industry to an active participant, I've been astonished at just how large an industry it already is. Some indicators are the number of associations and magazines focussed on it, as well as the number of conferences and conventions.
As I see it, there are three basic types of New Space plans, maybe four:
- Tightly focussed, near-term operational businesses may already be profitable, or may be in the next year or two (but also with long term continuity plans) - this would be Space-X, Virgin Galactic, etc. I would add to this group, the many suppliers that already produce parts and services for both 'Old Space' and 'New Space' clients. This is the 'bread and butter' sector.
- Higher risk, longer term projects with more or less technical risk and potential payouts (hopefully large) in the 10+year time frame. Examples would be Liftport, Deep Space Industries and Golden Spike. Most of these are struggling to get enough funding to go to the next step but there are some interesting ideas for getting some short-term operational revenues to justify initial funding.
- 'Beyond Blue Sky' projects that require much more technical knowledge and/or much more available financial resources than we have availaable now. IMHO all of the Mars projects are presently in this paradigm. For any long-term microgravity habitation, our continuing experience on the International Space Station is a critical element in learning how to live in space. Another example in my mind is Space Solar Power, which has reasonable theory behind it but serious technical and financial risks, and perhaps most importantly political and public relations complications. It is hard to get funding for something that opponents can, and will use fear mongering to inflame the uninformed populace about.
- Last is the large number of individuals who are designing space stations and new propulsion systems at home. Some of these folks will be found at every conference. A very few of these will pan out, and perhaps one out of 1000 will become the basis of the next generation of space systems, or the next after that. I think of these as modern Don Quixotes. It is almost impossible to tell which will succeed, and expensive to analyze their theories. Keep in mind that in the late 1970s, Martine Rothblatt was arguably one of these. She fought the system, overturned an international monopoly on communications satellites, and created Sirius Radio.