05 June 2010

Private Space Companies: The First Trillionaires?

Update 6June: Brian Wang takes a closer look at private space launch vehicles
Space.com
The successful orbital launch yesterday, of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft, opens the door for the further expansion of private enterprise in space. The vast riches of outer space resources offer the best opportunity for a rejuvenated global economy, and perhaps the creation of the first human $trillionaire. Space.com takes a look at 6 likely private space companies:
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)

Company: 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...

Orbital Sciences

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...

Blue Origin

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...

Bigelow Aerospace

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.

Company: SpaceDev
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...

Virgin Galactic

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. _ SpaceExploration
Even 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

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6 Comments:

Blogger bruce said...

Although there is a part of me that insists to a human component to space, I can't help but think human cargo is a huge waste of resources.

Once communications* can be configured, there isn't anything that a remotely controlled device couldn't do much better.

* time lag currently makes on the fly remote "difficult" (at least that is what I would assume)

Saturday, 05 June, 2010  
Blogger al fin said...

True. Humans are evolved for a particular range of environmental variables, not for the vacuum and radiation of space.

On the other hand, human-level machine intelligence will be several decades yet in coming. Self-replicating intelligent robots who are also resourceful and ambitious will likewise take time to perfect.

I am suggesting that humans can adapt to living in space -- with the help of a few technological breakthroughs. But not just any humans could live and prosper in space -- regardless of the technology.

Most human cargo would be a huge waste of resources. But once intelligent, resourceful, ambitious, and determined self-replicating humans have established a foothold in space -- all bets are off.

That is the human impact -- we are unpredictable, and often surprise, sometimes favourably. ;-)

Saturday, 05 June, 2010  
Blogger bruce said...

Yes humans in space is needed I will grant you that.

I'm thinking in the short run, building platforms, mining, retrieving, until the really big money gets involved. Everything they are doing around B P's BOP could be done a lot better with better equipment in space.

Even Amazon has finite cash.

Saturday, 05 June, 2010  
Blogger al fin said...

Right.

Primitive self assembling, self replicating, self repairing construction robots can be shipped to the moon or an asteroid, to build the beginnings of a human occupied infrastructure.

If you have volatiles -- particularly water -- plus radiation shielding, humans can live in low gravity conditions if they take proper precautions.

Since it costs so much to ship essentials up from Earth, finding essentials in space that are more economical to obtain will occupy a lot of time, and a lot of the space-based economy.

Oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, water, etc. will be more valuable to spacers than gold or platinum.

Saturday, 05 June, 2010  
Blogger neil craig said...

An Abu Dhabi investement fund recently put $280 into Virgin extending their capitalisation, for 1/3rd of its shares.

I would also put Space Adventures, who have located in sinmgapore, on the equator, in place as contenders.

Sunday, 06 June, 2010  
Blogger gtg723y said...

People are nomadic, it is a good way to insure our survival against localized events. Steven Hawking thinks we should get colonies on the moon for practice before establishing a colony on Mars, which could result in many wonderful spin off technologies for faster engines, communications, materials, and energy production/ usage. As well as push people into a new era where our species is no longer dependent on one planet. Think of the things we could learn.

Sunday, 06 June, 2010  

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