We’re on the brink of something huge. With the space industry exploding in the US and around the globe, maybe it’s about time we started thinking about the ways to join in.
The truth is, sooner or later, the space industry will come to your country, maybe even your town. And when that happens, are you going to make the best of it?
But don’t jump on the bandwagon just yet. Here’s a quick overview of what you can expect in the upcoming years. It might help you make a well-informed (rather than rash) decision.
But wait, what is the space industry?
First, let’s clear some terms here. As you probably suspect, the space industry isn’t just about ‘boldly going where no one has gone before’ or shooting Tesla Roadsters to Mars.
No, it starts much closer to home. About 100km from where you’re standing right now.
Ever heard of the Karman line? That’s what experts call the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. For all legal and regulatory purposes, it’s 100 km above the sea level.
Unsurprisingly, people tend to believe the space industry ‘happens’ above the Karman line. Probably that’s why it seems so unreachable to many of us.
But at the end of the day, those satellites won’t build themselves. Neither will the rockets that take them into space. But wait, somebody has to make components for all of those too? And what about the launch and landing sites? Then you have transportation…
All of these (and many others) engage in activities that make up the space economy.
But then you also have upstream and downstream space economy and things get a bit confusing again. Well…
The upstream economy involves everything going from Earth to space. That includes designing, manufacturing, servicing, launching, operating, and innovations related to everything that enables space exploration.
The easiest way to understand the downstream economy is to picture the flow of data and materials coming from space down to Earth. All satellite communication, GPS, broadcasting services, pictures, or any data you use in your everyday life.
Not just a government thing anymore
You know the story. Some years ago, a certain South African entrepreneur asked how much for a rocket. About $65 million, they said. The price seemed ‘astronomical’, to say the least.
Instead of quitting right there, he did some research. He discovered the components for a spaceship only make up for about two percent of the final price. He decided to build the rocket himself.
What’s more, it would cost only a fraction of what other aerospace manufacturers charged.
The entrepreneur? Elon Musk. The company? SpaceX. And the rest is history.
SpaceX is not the first and definitely not the only private aerospace industry project in history. But it is the one that marked a new era for space commercialization. And it’s also the only one your parents ever heard about.
For five years, SpaceX worked on Falcon 9, a rocket that would deliver cargo to ISS. Costs? Something under 400M USD. Based on a NASA study, the in-house cost of a similar rocket would be 1.4B USD.
NASA and other national or international agencies spend billions of dollars on similar activities every year. But still, more than 75% of space activity in 2016 was private.
Eighteen successful launches by a private company marked 2017 as a historical moment in the commercialization of space. (SpaceX broke its own record in 2018 with 20 successful launches.)
Along came billionaires and startups
In 2017, 16 of the world’s richest people either already had a space company of their own or invested in one.
Apart from the three best-known ones, Elon Musk (SpaceX), Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic), and Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin), the list also includes Bill Gates (Kymeta), Mark Zuckerberg (SETI), Larry Page (Planetary Resources), Paul Allen (Stratolaunch), Yuri Milner (Planet), and others.
Besides, hundreds of space startups, if not thousands, have been founded over the past years. What’s more, the amount of money investors are pouring into them could easily make anybody’s head spin.
Just to give you an idea of what numbers are. Since 2000, more than $16 billion has been invested in space startups, two thirds of that in the past five years.
In November 2019, Director of the Office of Space Commerce at the Department of Commerce, Kevin O’Connell, said that during his time there, he met about 50 people ready to invest more than “$2T of private money in the space sector.“
That’s 2,000,000,000,000 dollars.
Can you see how big this is getting?
The future is already here
Several things enabled Space 2.0, as experts call the new era of space exploration. This new era is defined by cost reduction, new approaches and possibilities, and small private companies.
First, the five-ton satellites of the past were miniaturized to a pico-/nanoscale. Their weight? Anywhere from 0.1 kg to 10 kg. Sure, you could still find a few really big ones but who would pay for them when there are satellites you could easily fit in your pocket.
Second, the age of internet, innovation and general evolution of technology. It’s almost impossible to avoid all the buzzwords tech people use nowadays. But behind each of these buzzwords there’s always a very real technology like AI, IoT, cloud computing or blockchain.
Last but not least, the teams needed for research became smaller thanks to the philosophy of “everything that I can do myself, I will do” which led to foundations of small, private companies penetrating the market. And Space 3.0 with its man-on-Mars KPI’s is just around the corner.
Why should you care?
You don’t have to, really. But this is going to be huge, whether you care or not. Like, trillion-dollar huge. Does that really trigger no fear of missing out?
Let me put it this way. Did you ever wish you invested in an internet business like Amazon or Google back in the 1990s? Well, here’s your chance. This time it’s in space.
Still a non-believer? Let‘s talk numbers then.
In 2017, the space economy was valued at about 350B dollars. In 2016, it was 329B dollars, which grew from 323B in 2015. This only loosely foreshadows what’s coming next.
Doesn‘t matter which predictions you look at, it all goes (almost) “to infinity and beyond.“
Bank of America Merrill Lynch report on the future of space (great reading– for more geeky tips check out the bonus part at the bottom) estimates the space economy will grow almost tenfold in the next decades. By 2045, it should reach $2.7 trillion.
“Investing In Space” by Morgan Stanley puts forward a slightly more pessimistic number of at least $1.1 trillion by 2040.
Still, compared to the previous six decades of the industry’s existence (NASA was founded in 1958), that represents an astonishingly high growth in such a short time.
It‘s not just the numbers
Let’s consider factors other than numbers now. Call them ‘qualitative’, if you like.
Everyone‘s beginning to take the space industry seriously. It‘s inevitable for the future of mankind.
The mere fact that the US president ordered the Pentagon to form the sixth branch of the military, so-called Space Forces, could tell you something about where we’re headed.
Space exploration could also present a solution to some of the world’s existential roblems like overpopulation, environmental degradation, or even potential cataclysmic collisions with comets or asteroids.
That‘s why Elon Musk talks about going to Mars in 2025, Japan wants to extract resources from the Ryugu asteroid, and National Space Society pushes for orbital settlements in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).
You get the picture. It‘s really not a question of if, but when.
Some experts believe the job market isn’t ready for a trillion dollar space industry. America’s space industry seems to have a hiring problem even today.
Right now, the American space industry employs around 200k people. And if that seems like a lot, you should know the number is dwindling every year.
You could think it’s mostly engineers and technical personnel such as Space Instrument Systems Engineer, Space Software Engineer, Aerospace Engineer, or Mechanical Engineer. But it doesn’t end there.
The space economy will also need skilled accountants and lawyers. For instance, the Outer Space Treaty desperately needs an update at this point, being more than 50 years old.
As new markets are emerging and businesses need to cash returns on their investments, business developers and analysts will also play a crucial role in the upcoming years.
The same applies to data specialists, as the amount of data transferred to Earth today is nothing compared to what’s coming next.
Sustainable rocket launches? You’ll need chemists for that. Measuring the impact of space on the human body? All kinds of medical professionals wanted.
The list goes on. But then you have professions that don’t even exist yet.
According to Wired, you can make a living as LEO pilot calming down nervous first-time passengers.
Are you a psychologist? First travellers to Mars will find your support indispensable.
A linguist? You’ve seen how that played out in Arrival, so be ready.
The plot of Gravity doesn’t strike far from the mark either. Somebody has to take care of more than 670,000 pieces of space debris larger than 1 cm in Earth orbit. The first pioneers, such as Japanese Astroscale, are already testing the waters.
Not sure what job to pick?
Only time will tell which jobs are going to be in high demand, though. But if you want to make a safe bet, focus on the most relevant industries.
Which industries will become space industry leaders according to the World Economic forum?
The energy industry is already the biggest industry on Earth. Over $8.4 trillion valuation and a 4.1% growth rate say it plainly: living on a planet or anywhere else, we’re always going to need more energy to power our engines and tools.
Asteroid mining is likely to trigger something like the next gold rush. At least that’s what experts from Luxembourg‘s Space Resources Initiative believe. Still, keep in mind it was the companies producing shovels and jeans that profited most from the California Dream era.
Companies like SpaceX or Virgin Galactic deal first and foremost in transportation. But even if you feel like you don’t have what it takes to score a job at SpaceX (or if you’re not American), getting any job in the aerospace or automotive industries might be a good place to start. The synergies between the two are deep and undeniable.
Best advice? Stay curious
If humans don’t fall victim to their worst tendencies anytime soon (such as bombing each other into oblivion or eradicating rainforests), there’s a pretty good chance we’ll get to see the marvels of the new space era.
The aim of this short article was to give you a brief introduction to the vastness of the space economy and give you tips on where to focus your attention.
But at the end of the day, the best thing you can do is to remain open to change, stay excited about what comes next and prepare for the new opportunities, jobs including.
Never stop learning new things. Embrace change as the only certainty and be ready to fly to the Moon. Maybe literally.
Bonus: Geeky resources for those who like to read
The aforementioned report by Bank of America Merrill Lynch is an excellent start for anyone interested in in-depth reading about space economy. It will give you an overview of the current state of the space industry, its evolution, as well as future estimations, risks and challenges.
When WEF gets involved, it means nations are starting to pay attention to space and private-public cooperation is well underway. Regularly updated news and thematic articles on all things related to space.
Peter Diamandis‘ XPRIZE encourages teams to come up with solutions to the world’s most pressing issues. There are several space-related prizes for the hottest problems in the industry. Both past and open.
The most engaging and coolest YouTube channel on everything related to space. Will the universe expand forever? Is there life on Mars? Can asteroid mining save the Earth?
Have you ever heard of Neil deGrasse Tyson? What about Elon Musk? Chris Hadfield? Joe Rogan is one of the most successful and most listened-to podcasters ever. And, as it happens, space exploration is one of his favorite topics. Spoiler alert: not a single one of the episodes has under two hours.
Are you a bit of a daredevil with some cash in your pocket? You can become an angel investor in the space industry.
Something big is about to happen and you want to be ready. On his podcast, space reporter Brendan Byrne interviews scientists, engineers, visionaries and leaders of the industry.