Space Tech & the Space Race 2020+

Space Tech & the Space Race 2020+

The 2020s are the start of a new space decade.

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Space is the new frontier, again
This week, we’re looking to outer space as we anticipate that new achievements in space exploration will be one of the defining stories of the 2020s. However, unlike in the geopolitical Cold War space race previously, we’ll see space exploration take place between private corporations. We’ll explore current investments, futurist concepts like a space hotel, and consider questions like who owns what, and who can do what, in outer space.

In a nod to last week’s edition on food tech and plant-based diets, we’re also looking at Sweetgreen’s expansion plans. And in the broader business + innovation realm, we’re reading about strategies for effectively telling a business’ story, and considering the integral role that businesses can play in responding to the climate crisis.

We hope you’ve been enjoying this newsletter and would love any feedback (erica@nycmedialab.org). Thank you again for reading!

Best,
Erica Matsumoto
NYC Media Lab

This upcoming decade will welcome new players radically changing why and who explores and experiences outer space. To wit, consider the sheer breadth of the current space tech landscape:

Source: Two Sigma Ventures

There are companies innovating in:

  • Launch technology, including technology for large launches, the moon, and 3D-printed rockets

TO THE MOON, MARS AND BACK

This decade, humans and robots alike will travel to Mars, and maybe even other moons and asteroids. SpaceX’s successful inflight abort test last week and NASA’s selection of Axiom Space’s Axion Module to send private tourists to the International Space Station prove that commercial human space flight is well on its way to becoming a reality.

Should this lead to a commercial space launch industry, it’s highly probable that competition between SpaceX, Boeing and others will drive down the cost of space travel and eventually make it accessible to ordinary citizens.

These are just a few of the companies investing major dollars into commercial space flight:

  • Virgin Galactic: already has an extensive waiting list of people for its future flights, but has been plagued by multiple delays and the in-flight loss of its VSS Enterprise spaceplane in 2014

Check out a concept video for Orion Span’s hotel, which the company hopes to have fully operational by 2022:

On a related tangent, check out the highest-res image of the sun ever taken (without, you know, staring at it):

If you’re interested in learning more about space technology, you might consider Space Tech Conference 2020 in Long Beach, California. Tickets are free and available here.

COMMERCIALIZATION FOR RESOURCES

Space travel isn’t the only space use case that companies are eyeing. Many companies are interested in mining and resource extraction in space, particularly for rare earth metals that are critical to high-tech applications and, true to their name, relatively rare on Earth. A Japanese company, iSpace, plans to do a lap around the moon and put a rover down in the next few years (likely in the 2020–2024 timeframe).

Given how important cobalt (a key component in electric vehicle batteries) and lithium (also integral to batteries) in particular are to electric vehicles and other important green products, the need to maintain a steady supply of these materials may justify space mining. In a report published by the University of Sussex, researchers wrote, “As the extraction through terrestrial mining becomes more challenging, the on-land reserves of some terrestrial minerals dwindle or the social resistance in some countries escalates, even oceanic or even space-base mineral reserves will become a plausible source.”

THE NEW COLONIALISM?

Some question the moral and ethical implications of space exploration. These critics argue that spaceflight may qualify as a new form of colonialism, as it necessarily relies on “imperial claims over natural resources” and “almost invariably involves activities that directly subjugate marginalized peoples.” They also point out that space is critical for the technology — such as satellites and remote sensing — used for surveilling and enacting violence upon communities in the developing world; in this way, space exploration is yet another dimension of power projection over marginalized groups.

We think these are important considerations. To ensure that these innovations remain beneficial for all people, and are not disproportionately harmful to more vulnerable populations and communities, we will need to develop appropriate legal, technological and societal protections and frameworks.

LEGAL QUESTIONS

Scott Anderson, attorney and Global Head of Energy & Natural Resources with Hogan Lovells in Denver, Colorado, says the conceptual framework used in mining on Earth can be used for space mining as well. However, this is complicated by the fact that most of space — unlike most terrestrial territory on Earth — isn’t explicitly claimed by any one nation.

In fact, one treaty, the Moon Treaty, borrows language from the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (which says that the deep sea, which is outside any country’s territory and owned by no one) to also claim that space is part of the “common heritage of mankind.” According to Anderson, this would imply that those extracting resources in outer space would need to pay some sort of royalty to be redistributed among all countries of the world. However, none of the space countries have signed the Moon Treaty — so it’s hard to say whether it’ll have any effect on how business is conducted in space.
BILLBOARDS ARE SO 2010 Advertising is one of the kookier potential uses of space. Interest in using space for advertising has a long history. As early as 1993, a Roswell, Georgia-based company called Space Marketing, Inc. proposed creating a gigantic inflatable billboard in space that could be seen from Earth for about two weeks. Eleven companies contacted Space Marketing to express interest in the $30 million billboard, and for a while it look like a mile-wide set of Olympic rings promoting the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia would be the first-ever space advertisement. However, the project eventually fell apart due to insufficient funds.

However, the dream of space advertising hasn’t died. Russian startup StartRocket is planning “space billboards,” which would let companies put glowing logos and signs in the night sky via low-orbit satellites. The company has a mockup video of how this would work, and it’s pretty wild:

Below the Fold In a Burger World, Can Sweetgreen Scale Up? Sweetgreen — purveyor of delicious, pricey salads at over 100 locations in nine U.S. cities — is working hard to keep growing its brand. CEO Jonathan Neman says the goal is 1,000 stores as its next step, but it’s unclear how exactly to scale a high-end salad concept to Middle America. 18 min read How to tell a compelling story in a business setting Although corporate narratives (usually) don’t have the benefit of catchy characters or dramatic plots, it’s nonetheless possible to tell compelling business stories. The right delivery, selection of details and framing can make all the difference and help your listeners engaged and invested in your company. 3 min read Leading a New Era of Climate Action

Climate change is a global emergency. In recognition of this fact, companies must take part in leading a response to this crisis. Compared to governments, which are often hamstrung by politics and constrained budgets, businesses have enormous potential to profitably cut emissions faster and enact other policies that benefit the planet.

Source: HBR 32 min read This Week in Business History

January 31, 1958: The U.S. Army Ballistic Agency launches its first U.S. satellite
Called Explorer-1, the satellite is launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida using a Jupiter-C rocket. It will go on to discover the Van Allen Belts, which were a significant discovery of the International Geophysical Year.

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