From Sci-Fi Dreams to Boardroom Schemes

Seizing Space's Untapped Potential Now

Amidst the terrestrial noise, a crucial message from space, reverberates for senior leaders, corporate strategists, and board members. The planetary frontier unfolds a tangible canvas of boundless possibilities. Seize the urgent opportunity presented by the rare earth revolution and pharmacological pioneering. Embrace its profound impact on your organization's growth trajectory. Gain control over these elements to propel your business to unparalleled heights, ensuring not just progress, but an unstoppable momentum forward.

If the space economy is to become a $1 trillion industry by 2040, as one Citigroup report suggested, not all of its enterprises will be so grandiose.

Citi’s estimates for the industry match forecasts published in recent years by Morgan Stanley, Bank of America and others. The global space economy’s value reached $424 billion in 2020, according to research from Space Foundation, having expanded 70% since 2010.

🛰️ “Revenue from manufacturing, launch services and ground equipment will make up the majority of the revenue growth in the satellite sector,” Citi said. “However, the fastest growth rate is expected to come from new space applications and industries, with revenue forecast to rise from zero to $101 billion.

Private investment in space companies, especially from venture capital, has steadily broken annual records over the past decade. Last year, space infrastructure companies received $14.5 billion of private investment, according to Space Capital’s quarterly report, which tracks about 1,700 companies.

Despite the optimistic outlook, much remains speculative in the industries, such as space-based solar power, moon/asteroid mining, space logistics/cargo, space tourism, intercity rocket travel, and microgravity R&D and construction.

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U.S. Space Command leaders say a future where satellites can be refueled and upgraded in orbit for sustained maneuverability could come as soon as 2030.

Thousands of satellites are active in orbit today. All that traffic in orbit means that satellites speeding at more than 17,000 mph can have close calls with one another, forcing operators to expend precious fuel to maneuver away and keep their expensive spacecraft safe.

U.S. Space Force has launched a program, called Orbital Prime, under the that will give companies seed money to develop the technology needed to clean up space. In the first round of the program, companies can win awards of $250,000, with as much as $1.5 million in a second round of funding. The program will culminate with a test demonstration in orbit.

Driving these trends, The Space Safety Coalition, an ad hoc group of companies and organizations with a vested interest in space safety, released an updated document last month, outlining what it sees as the best practices for operators in orbit. 31 companies and organizations, including Planet Labs, Intelsat and Iridium, have endorsed the document, but there’s always that one standout, correct? SpaceX, which operates the largest constellation of satellites in orbit, hasn't signed on to the best practices document.

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As of July 2023, there are 4,519 Starlink satellites in orbit, of which 4,487 are operational.

SpaceX's is key because if their Starship program succeeds, it could revolutionize the space industry by dramatically lowering the cost of launching people and payloads to orbit and beyond. Not as much as projections of the Space Elevator, but I digress.

If Starship works and SpaceX builds up a fleet that can launch often and be reused, it could potentially enable new businesses and even new markets. The vehicle's huge carrying capacity to orbit could also allow constellations of satellites to be built far more quickly, saving time and money. Starship could also open up new scientific opportunities such as new or better drugs.

The core of this idea, manufacturing pharmaceuticals in microgravity, builds on experiments carried out on the International Space Station (ISS), which is operated by astronauts but hosts experiments from a range of private companies and research institutions. Big pharma firms, including Merck and Bristol Myers Squibb, have sent experiments there, working with the ISS National Laboratory. And some of this work may lead to changes in the drugs that people on Earth take today.

A co-founder of California-based startup Varda Space Industries says his company’s first space mission, a miniature lab that has grown crystals of the drug ritonavir in orbit but its first-of-its-kind re-entry and landing in Utah is still working with the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation for a reentry license for the spacecraft. That office, best known for licensing commercial launches, is also responsible for overseeing reentries by commercial spacecraft. Learn more about this and these companies in my premium edition.

Varda’s spacecraft launched June 12 as part of a rideshare mission on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, then completed several weeks of checkouts before starting its 27-hour drug-manufacturing experiment. When ground controllers gave the go-ahead, the mini-lab began growing crystals of ritonavir, a drug commonly used to treat HIV.

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AstroForge, a CA-based startup, is developing technology to mine asteroids for platinum group metals. The company plans to use an uncrewed spacecraft to extract and refine the metals directly on the asteroid before returning to Earth with a sellable metal. But why platinum? Platinum group metals have unique physical and chemical properties that make them critical to everything from catalytic converters to electronics. According to Matt Gialich, CEO and co-founder, the US has a dwindling supply of platinum group ore reserves, and Russia and China control a significant supply of global stocks.

But there’s hope in the heavens. A single one-kilometer-diameter M-type (primarily composed of metallic iron and nickel) asteroid could contain more platinum than has been mined in the history of humanity. So far, AstroForge launched a refinery demo this spring and plans to launch a prospecting mission in October where they will physically go to an asteroid to map and monitor the surface. Ready to explore the cosmic wonders in-depth?

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Be well.