Who is leading the private space race?

The space station sector has exciting potential as more private companies enter the conversation.

PETER WARD: When we think about the International Space Station we think of it rightly as the most expensive public project ever built in the entire history of humanity, but it's not just public anymore. There are a lot of private companies involved in it and in the future we could see a lot more private companies either on the International Space Station operating it or competing with it. The great thing about SpaceX and Blue Origin and other private companies making launch prices less costly means there's been a group of entrepreneurs that have come in behind them and they've been enabled in their mission. The transparency of the launch costs means that you can build a business plan now before you even go anywhere. And then you can get funding and then you can go. So there's a lot of smaller companies that are coming in behind SpaceX and Blue Origin which maybe you don't hear so much of, but doing fantastic things.

For example, NanoRacks is a company which is on the International Space Station right now. It has a really cool history of the company. Their CEO, a guy called Jeffrey Manber, he was actually in the negotiations between America and the Soviet Union over the International Space Station when it was first built. He was actually on the Russian side though because he saw Russia was going to get private space economy before America at that time. So, a really interesting character. He essentially what he does is he provides a service to anyone that wants it where they can launch a satellite or they can conduct experiments or use the International Space Station for research and they go through him rather than through NASA. So he owns a section of the International Space Station he essentially rents out and then any academic organization or country or anyone can go to NanoRacks and say we want to use this bit of space to do this research or we want to launch a satellite straight from the International Space Station. So that's a really cool company.

And there are several others in the space station. The space station sector is really fascinating because you have the International Space Station which is no one knows when it's going to happen but at some point it's going to be decommissioned or handed over to a private entity. So there are various companies that are either competing to become that private company that will take over the International Space Station or to launch their own International Space Station. And Jeffrey Manber at NanoRacks is one of those guys who wants to have a private space station. He wants to take the disused parts of rockets which go up and put them together and create a space station that way. There's Bigelow who has his inflatable modules who wants to make a space station that way possibly. And there's a few others. Axiom is a really serious organization. It's run by people who used to be in charge of the International Space Station for NASA so it's got some great expertise, it's got some great leaders.

I would say that the head of the race to – if a company were to take over the International Space Station it would probably be Axiom at this point. They're super serious. They know what they're doing and either they will take over the access or they'll launch their own. I think the one thing that they are doing is they've taken a kind of a – they're not going the inflatable route. They're going the way of building the entire space station on the ground and then sending it up which is quite expensive and not the most efficient. A lot of people would do it differently these days. There's more I guess innovative ways of doing it such as the inflatable modules and taking spent rocket parts and building it that way. But yes, they're the guys who know what they're doing. And then you have Orion Span which is a curious company. When I spoke to other people from the space station sector they didn't have the nicest things to say about Orion Span. I think they enjoy that there are more companies in the space. They enjoy the competition but what they don't want is people that aren't serious about it and don't have a serious business plan.

Orion Span says they're going to build a space station and they're going to take people to the space station on vacations. They're going to charge them I think it's $12 million. That is not possible to do and make a profit. It's completely impossible. Just to get people up there is going to cost millions. So that's not – when I spoke to people at the other companies they say it's great that have other companies involved but we don't want people who aren't serious and who don't have a serious business plan that are going to attract the headlines and also are going to attract money as well. Orion Span has gotten some alternative ways to get funding. They've gone the crowdfunding route. They've also got a cryptocurrency issue I think. I think you can donate to them in cryptocurrency. And it all comes across as this little not so serious to the guys who are already say on the ISS or who have worked on the ISS. Those guys don't see them as a serious competitor and I think what they are worried about is that it will be damaging overall to the mission. They will lose credibility because other companies are not as serious as they could be.

  • The International Space Station is the most expensive public project ever built in the history of humanity.
  • Companies like NanoRacks, SpaceX, and Blue Origin have already entered the conversation of what the future will look like for the ISS.
  • Now, it's important to entertain only the serious contenders in the space race.

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