Historically, governments were the primary players in the space industry, but in the early 2000s the cost of exponential space technologies began to fall far enough for a private space sector to emerge. In 2004, the private company Scaled Composites won the Ansari XPRIZE,34 which offered $10 million to the ﬁrst non- governmental group to send humans into space in a reusable spacecraft twice within two weeks. Today, thousands of private space companies and startups now exist in launch, satellites and communications, space robotics, space manufacturing, space mining, and other industries. In addition, multiple governments have either revived their space programs or are launching new space programs.
In 2018, Goldman Sachs made waves by stating that the world’s ﬁrst trillionaire will be produced by the space industry.35 American venture capital ﬁrm Space Angels reported that, at the end of 2018, investors poured more than $18 billion into the industry since 2009." As launch costs are overcome, it will become possible to send and build more infrastructure in space. This infrastructure could range from an array of new private space stations to what The Atlantic author Maria Koren referred to as Earth’s “exoskeleton,” tens of thousands of sophisticated satellites that are instantaneously communicating with the internet of robots on Earth and exchanging massive amounts of data for communication and monitoring the Earth and humanity. This infrastructure can also serve as a stepping stone—both in terms of generating further revenue for their industry as well as advancing technology—for further space exploration and settlement.As the space industry develops, exponential technologies will be linked to solving the space global grand challenge in myriad ways.
First, as we build the Earth’s exoskeleton with sophisticated satellites, robotics, and a space-based manufacturing industry, the massive amounts of data collected by the exoskeleton will increasingly interface with terrestrial industries. While much attention is given to how these satellites can link the last few billion people to the internet, this space-based data can also be used to monitor in real-time everything from the climate to the oceans, land masses, forests to biodiversity and more. Furthermore, this data will eventually be integrated with robotic infrastructure on Earth, which will likely include autonomous ships, air drones, land transport, and smart cities.
Second, the exploration of space has historically resulted in technological developments that have applications that improve life here on Earth. The high-stakes Apollo missions were known for helping to advance the use of computers for navigation and guidance. NASA has a long list of products ranging from memory foam to freeze-dried food that resulted from space exploration efforts. New types of space suits, space shelters, space farming equipment, and medical devices can also be used to beneﬁt people in isolated and resource-scare parts of the planet.
Third, growing the space industry will help defend against long-term space-based threats to Earth. While risks of asteroids hitting our planet or solar ﬂares taking out our communications infrastructure are rare, they are very serious problems when they do occur. The more we understand about space, the better prepared we will be.
Finally, we have reached a moment in history where humans, including the private space industry, are much closer to exploring other planets and celestial bodies. This will likely be a combined effort of sending humans and robots deeper into outer space as well as using new types of tools to conduct research from afar.
Right now, we have a window of opportunity to think through how we wisely explore space. What laws will govern these explorations and settlements? Who will be able to participate? What values should these pioneers take with them for future generations of humans? Although we think of the space global grand challenge as a technology endeavor, it is also very closely linked to governance and prosperity GGCs, and requires the involvement of a diverse group of people to succeed.
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