Private Space Companies: The First Trillionaires?
The era of private spaceflight is breaking new ground with the first test launch of the new Falcon 9 rocket by the company Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), which hopes to use the booster to fly its Dragon spaceship on space station trips. And with NASA's space shuttles retiring this year, SpaceX is not alone in the bid to launch cargo and astronauts into space.
NASA has tapped SpaceX and another company – Virginia's Orbital Sciences – to build unmanned cargo ships to stock up the International Space Station after its final two shuttle missions fly later this year. SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket is poised to make its first test flight this week.
After that, the agency plans to modify the Lockheed Martin-designed Orion capsule as a space station lifeboat. Aerospace juggernaut Boeing is also hoping to compete for commercial crew capabilities.
But while giants like Lockheed Martin and Boeing duke it out, some smaller – but equally ambitious – companies have joined SpaceX in the race to build the next spacecraft to put Americans in space. Here's a look at six companies vying for the future of human spaceflight:
Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX)
Spaceship Name: Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket|
Founder(s): Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal
Backing: $100 million of Musk's personal fortune, $20 million more from outside investors
Location: Hawthorne, California
Launched the Business: 2002
Plans to Launch into Space: Debut launch tests in 2010, first operational flights in 2011...
Company: Orbital Sciences
Spaceship Name: Cygnus and Taurus 2 rocket
Founder(s): David W. Thompson, Bruce W. Ferguson, Scott L. Webster
Backing: Publicly traded company, $1.1 billion in revenue
Location: Dulles, Virginia
Launched the Business: 1982
Plans to Launch into Space: 2011...
Company: Blue Origin
Spaceship Name: New Shepard
Founder(s): Jeff Bezos
Backing: His personal fortune as founder of Amazon.com
Location: Kent, Washington
Launched the Business: 2004
Plans to Launch into Space: Mid-2012...
Company: Bigelow Aerospace
Spaceship Name: Sundancer and BA-330
Founder(s): Robert Bigelow
Backing: $180 million of his personal fortune as owner of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain.
Location: North Las Vegas, Nevada
Launched the Business: 1999
Plans to Launch into Space: 2015...
SpaceDev/Sierra Nevada Corp.
Spaceship Name: Dream Chaser
Founder: Jim Benson (deceased), now led by Fatih Ozmen
Backing: Sierra Nevada Corp., of Sparks, Nev.
Location: Poway, Calif.
Launched the Business: 1997
Plans to Launch into Space: Under Development...
Company: Virgin Galactic
Spaceship Name: SpaceShipTwo
Founder(s): British Billionaire Sir Richard Branson
Backing: His personal fortune as founder of Virgin Group
Location: London, England, and Spaceport, New Mexico
Launched the Business: 2004
Plans to Launch into Space: end of 2011 or early 2012...
... _Much more at Space.com
Note that most of the 6 highlighted new space companies are founded by billionaires in their own right, independent of space activities. But here's the thing: once independent human enterprises establish a foothold in space, they will start to get ideas. Some of these ideas will include an awareness of the vast resource wealth that is sitting in space, waiting to be made good use of.
The market value for a single moderate sized asteroid is considerably more than the entire accumulated US national debt. _ SpaceExplorationEven a modest sized asteroid's mineral (and volatiles) wealth could easily create the first human $trillionaire.
Yes, there is the law of supply and demand which will impact mineral prices. But if you are so small-minded as to believe that $trillion asteroids do not exist, then you truly know nothing about real world economics.
The 1980s and 1990s boom and balloon in economic activity and technological development led to the creation of several billionaires. Many of these billionaires have turned to new ventures which have the potential to be totally disruptive to the status quo economic infrastructure. Space access and development is merely one of these activities.
As space (and other new-venture) entrepreneurs hit paydirt and achieve personal and company wealth in the hundreds of $billions range and higher, they will inevitably funnel this excess wealth into newer and even more disruptive new ventures. That is the creative destruction of capitalism, and anyone who ignores that (currently relatively latent) force has made an obsolete fool of himself. Most university academics in the social, political, and economic sciences fall into that category.
People who believe in zero growth economics assume that vast new mineral wealth from space would quickly saturate the terrestrial market for those minerals. But they neglect the sprouting up of entirely new extra-terrestrial markets that have the potential to dwarf the value of anything happening at the bottom of the gravity well.
How can that be? More on this later.
More: Take a look at Brian Wang's comparison of costs to orbit between SpaceX, the Delta IV, and Ariane 5