Humans are an ambitious species, some of us are a little more ambitious than others.
How do you draw the line between irrational and ambitious? When is it “ok” to be irrational?
This irrational mindset is one that helps push humanity forward… If we were completely rational 24/7 there’s a good chance we wouldn’t have made so many technological, medical, and overall cultural advances. This week’s wandering took me into the Space Industry, a place full of very ambitious and sometimes irrational people.
This irrational mindset is contagious at least for me… I’m genuinely inspired by the people pushing the industry forward, even when facing an endless list of hurdles (technical, social, monetary, etc.). A major part of what drives these people is that they’re genuinely tackling hard problems that could benefit humanity in a HUGE way. This feeling of working on something larger than yourself is something we all seek.
Let’s talk about Space… Space is both metaphorically and literally massive, so we’re going to take a 10,000-foot view of the industry and where it’s going.
Where are we in “Space” today?
Space is hard, like really f******* hard! The amount of money a company needs to start out is much higher compared to other industries and the risk of failure seems higher as well.
These barriers are large, but as I mentioned earlier… This industry attracts a different kind of person, someone with a goal bigger than themselves, so these are just a small tolerance most industry gurus accept.
Let’s breakdown the Space Industry into three buckets: Exploration, Orbit, & Launch/Downstream
Exploration (tomorrow) – Aiming for the moon, Mars, and beyond!
- Natural Resources – On earth, we’re limited to the number of resources this little blue rock provides and the devices we use every day have some really rare minerals in them… Asteroid mining is a potential way for us to get access to a large supply of the rarest materials needed to build in-space and on Earth.
- Interplanetary Travel – This is simple… Traveling to and from different planets around our Solar System and hopefully beyond, starting with our friendly neighbor, the moon.
- Tourism – Sending wealthy people into space for an adventurous vacation will be a thing much sooner than you think and depending on how cheap/reliable launches are… This could be a great source of revenue/funding for more long-term projects (e.g. colonizing Mars).
Orbit (today) – Things (satellites or space stations) “orbiting” around Earth-observing, sending signals, or something else in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and Geostationary Orbit (GEO)
- R&D – The majority of the astronaut’s time in the Space Station is spent doing scientific experiments in space, manufacturing items in orbit, or working to better understand humanity’s effect on space
- Satellites – satellite constellations provide communications, remote sensing, and observations of Earth, among other things
- Small satellites, nano-satellites, & Space-based internet (Amazon – Project Kuiper, SpaceX – Starlink, and OneWeb) are where most money and attention is going today since there’s such an obvious return on investment.
Launch and Downstream (today) – Most of the excitement around space is coming from SpaceX, which is leading the way in rocket design and launch. But there are other space tech companies offering satellite coordination services and data analysis with feet firmly planted on the ground — or, “downstream” (some cool space industry lingo for you)
- Communications & Tracking – Surprisingly, there’s a lot of junk in space and being able to track, maneuver, and communicate while orbiting around the Earth is a service that’s needed.
- Data Analytics – We’ve heard that data is the new gold and the newer satellites are spuing out tons of this digital gold… With all this data there are machine learning companies popping up everywhere trying to make sense of it all.
- Spacecraft Design & Launch – When you think of Elon, Jeff, and Richard, this is where the majority of their companies are focused… The design, engineering, and manufacturing of rockets
A good way to think about these three buckets is getting off the planet (e.g. launch), staying close/observing the planet (e.g. orbit), and going far off into the cosmos (e.g. exploring).
I could spend years researching and speaking about each bucket or sub-bucket within the above overview, but for now, we’re going to focus on two… Launch and Orbit (specifically Satellites).
Building for the Future
When looking into the Space industry there’s a lot of optimism around its growth and how we’re entering into a new Space era similar to when the Americans and Russians were racing to the moon… This re-energized industry seems to be more driven by capitalism and tech advancements, which is great because that’s way more sustainable compared to nations flashing their egos.
For instance, 2019 was the largest year for investment into the private space industry, with the number of investors (769) and the amount spent reaching $5.8B. There are many reasons for the increase in activity, but the two most obvious are the monetary value of Space ($1.1 Trillion by 2040) and SpaceX prooving the reusability of rockets.
This industry excitement is amazing, but it’s important that we figure out a way to sustain that excitement and avoid the flame burning out. Luckily, Dr. Elon has some tricks up his sleeve to prevent that from happening… Before I explain that here’s a quick side rant…
Many people think SpaceX is the sole purpose the private space industry is having a revival, but that’s far from the truth… Without the backing and support from NASA, SpaceX most likely would’ve never made it where they’re at today, so we have a lot to thank NASA for… Minature rant complete. 🙂
SpaceX has an interesting business model and way of funding its long-term mission of reaching Mars. The overall idea is to provide reliable low-cost launches and space-based internet, with this combination SpaceX is clearing the way for future private space companies to thrive in the Space Economy.
The importance of having cheap, reliable, and reusable access to Space is obvious, but Space-based internet might not be… Starlink is a project SpaceX announced back in 2015 and the goal is to provide internet from space to everyone on the planet. Ambitious, I know! Haha. Starlink will not only be accessible almost anywhere on the planet, but it’ll be faster and more reliable than other internet providers. This kind of access and speed will have a massive domino effect on many companies, countries, and disconnected people… A concept I’ll dive deeper into in future wanderings. 🙂
A path forward
To end this wandering I want to leave you with a thought…
Right now it seems that most of the amazing technical talent on the planet flees to Silicon Valley to help the internet giants grow… But as you probably know, there’s a slow cultural change happening and more people are seeking mission-driven work. The more inspiring launches, achievements, and investments that flow into the Space industry, the more that wave of talent will shift. — Why?
Because as I mentioned before… Progressing something larger than yourself and solving really “hard” problems is a feeling we all seek… And Space… Space dishes out that feeling every day!
In 5 – 8 years, my hope is that Space engineering is interconnected with the “sexiness” that comes with Machine Learning or Decentralized Engineers.
Space Geek Resources
Far into the future – Isaac Arthur has an amazing YouTube channel with really well-thought-through ideas of how Space colonization, exploration, and many other ideas could unfold… The animation is breathtaking too, so definitely take a moment to watch one.
All things SpaceX – If you’re at all a fan of SpaceX and want to know what they’re doing every second of every day I recommend subscribing to the spaceXcentric YouTube Channel… This guy is all over SpaceX!
The business of Space – Curious Elephant has a long list of amazing videos, not only talking about the technological advancements being made in the private space industry but also the potential economic impact this could have on us, humans.
Inner Engineering – Both Everyday Astronaut and Real Engineering dive deep into the weeds of how the different rockets are being created, as well as future missions… These are good ones if you’re interested in knowing the nuts and bolts.