If you talked to people who were born in the late 1960’s, they would probably tell you they never thought the typewriter would be extinct, the fax machine would be obsolete and that a telephone would become a portable, all-in-one office. They’ve been through it all and have seen technology turn stuff of Hollywood fantasy into reality.
Which is why investing in space isn’t such a far out idea.
It was on July 20, 1969 when Apollo 11 successfully landed on the moon and Neil Armstrong uttered the famous quote, “That’s one small step for man and one giant step for mankind.”
Fast-forward 31 years later and private corporations are looking at space as one huge investment opportunity for commercial and industrial ventures.
Space is Not the Exclusive Domain of Government Agencies
According to aerospace consulting firm, Tauri Group, from the year 2000 to 2016, space exploration start-ups have attracted more than $13.3 Billion worth of investments.
Participation of private business in space exploration ventures should be of no surprise because they’ve been in the industry for a long period of time. The Saturn-V rocket was launched by NASA in 1969 to support space exploration programs but it was built by Boeing, a private corporation.
For decades, private companies have been involved in space exploration in some capacity whether it is to build, launch and operate satellites or as suppliers of equipment to various government or military space programs.
Other than Boeing, other private companies that have invested in space programs include Lockheed, Northrup Grumman and Alliant Techsystems. Smaller private companies such as Orbital Sciences and Astrotech have likewise become contractors of NASA.
The New Generation of Space Investors
The new generation of space investors are looking beyond satellites and unmanned vehicles as money- making opportunities. These ambitious companies want to make fiction into reality by building ships that can take people to outer space.
SpaceX which was founded by Elon Musk received a $1.6 Billion contract from NASA in 2008 to build its own rocket and cargo vehicles that can deliver payload to the International Space Station.
Elon Musk disclosed the company was already working with NASA on building a spacecraft that can transport humans as well as a mission to Mars before the end of 2020.
Sir Richard Branson launched Virgin Galactic as a space tourism company. He dreams of taking passengers on suborbital and orbital space flights and facilitating satellite launches.
Virgin Galactic hopes to become the first commercial space line where private citizens pay a sum of money; the upfront fee is $250,000 per passenger, for the opportunity to go to space.
Branson has formed a company called The Spaceship Company with Scaled Composites, a subsidiary of Northrop. The Spaceship Company is tasked to build the first spacecraft to be used by Virgin Galactic.
Australia is not a neophyte investor for outer space projects. In 1967, Australia became the 3rd nation to build and launch its own satellite. After 50 years, the country has decided to put up its first national space agency.
Technology Adviser Matthew James believed Australia’s space program failed to take flight because governments only committed small funds toward high technology industries as these were regarded as high risk.
With a formal space program in place, Australia can now develop partnerships with NASA and other agencies from other countries. It will open a new industry for private entities to participate in and provide services that could lower the cost of building infrastructure and equipment needed to support the space program.
At the 2017 International Astronautical Congress, the following investments in Australia’s space industry were announced:
- $10 Million program to help spy planes detect war ships and refugee boats.
- $9.96 Million space research partnership with UNSW Canberra.
- Inovor Technologies granted $450,000 to sell its nano-satellites.
- Companies from Italy are planning to invest in Australia’s space program.
In Asia, countries that have space programs include China, India, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, North and South Korea, Indonesia, Republic of China (Taiwan) and Vietnam.
China and India are investing aggressively in outer space programs in order to advance their economic development and diplomatic influence. For its part, China has extended its expertise and experience to help countries such as Pakistan and Sri Lanka launch their own satellites.
What Opportunities Exist in the Space Exploration Industry?
Chad Anderson, Managing Director of Space Angels Network said the company has invested in 34 start ups involved in space exploration since 2007. Space Angels Network is a company based in New York that invests in early stage privately owned space exploration companies.
From 20 members in 2012, Space Angels Network has grown into a membership base of 220 investors.
Space Angels Network recently invested in a company from Washington called Planetary Resources which plans to mine asteroids for minerals. It also allocated funds to Planet; a company from San Francisco that intends to launch small satellites to take images of Earth.
According to Anderson, the typical investment from a Space Angel Network member ranges from $500,000 to $1 Million.
What other opportunities are available for investments in space exploration?
- Advances in Healthcare. Outer space would be perfect to further research in osteoporosis because astronauts lose bone mass due to zero gravity conditions. They could test experimental drugs and treatments on astronauts working in the space station.
- Find Sources of Raw Materials. Asteroids are known to be rich sources of valuable minerals. The Moon is a great source for Helium-3 a very rare isotope used for nuclear-fusion research. You can also find europium and tantalum on the Moon. There are elements that are needed in electronics and the production of solar panels.
- Seek New Frontiers to Support Human Life. According to a 2012 study by the United Nations Programme for the Environment, the Earth can only sustain a population of 8 to 16 billion humans. Presently, we are at 5 Billion. It has been estimated that every year 80 Million humans are born. So we still have around 100 years to look for a new planet to inhabit. That is if North Korea doesn’t press the “Launch” button!
70% of earth is covered by ocean but the reality is, we’ve only explored 5% of it. Outer space is much wider in scope and magnitude. The opportunities that lie beyond the “Final Frontier” can only be limited by our imagination. It is a great time to invest in space exploration while the industry is still in its early stages of growth and development.