In the new millennium, the space industry is evolving again—radically—into much more competitive and much more collaborative industry. Space Florida has joined forces with a growing cadre of billionaire space entrepreneurs—Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson—who are fiercely competing not just for glory but for profits in space exploration.
Of course, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, and other giant contractors have always competed for space contracts—“the competition was fierce, but predicable and boring. We knew what the fight would look like before it occurred. Now we’re in a much more entertaining time,” with entrepreneurs who reject the industry’s historic approaches because “they think they can do it better,” said Dale Ketcham, chief of strategic alliances for Space Florida, said to the visibly fascinated and audibly amused audience listening to his keynote March 3 at the 2015 ASAP Global Alliance Summit. And, he reiterated, this new generation of space entrepreneurs believe they can make money—on space tourism, for instance.
“Hundreds of people will pay $250,000 to go to space for a few minutes—there’s that kind of discretionary wealth in the world,” he said. “They see the business opportunity; it’s not a vanity project. And these guys, when they compete, are not predictable.” While these new players may collaborate with Space Florida, with other state governments, and with other nations vying to build space ports, competition for advantage on the final frontier is fierce, even vicious. SpaceX (Musk’s company) and Blue Origin (funded by Amazon founder Bezos) have clashed over the use of former NASA launch pads at Cape Canaveral. Eventually, Bezos proposed sharing the pad. “Musk said yes, but I think we’ll see unicorns dancing in the light of rocket launch flames before we see them working together,” Ketcham said to the guffaws of several hundred alliance and partnering executives in attendance.
Ketcham then underscored just how exciting—but still exceptionally challenging—it is to be a player in today’s new space industry. For one thing, failure abounds and people will continue die in space exploration. But imagine, he said, not just space tourism, but the trillions of dollars of platinum and every essential materials that potentially can be mined from the asteroid belt. And the poor and underserved of the world even benefit. OTB—which stands for the “Other Three Billion” people on the planet without the network connectivity we take for granted—is “putting space technology to work for our fellow human beings” by seeding constellations of hundreds of satellites to deliver Internet service to remote areas of India and elsewhere. And imagine vertical ascent/descent space planes that can carry wealthy passengers or critical cargo from New York to Singapore or from Sydney, Australia, to Topeka, Kansas USA in less than one hour.
“Really, we are on the doorstep of a lot that we saw on ‘The Jetsons’ and ‘Star Trek,’ Ketcham said, referring to popular American TV programs that envision human life in space. Space is again becoming a pivotal issue in U.S. presidential campaigns, for instance, and as a state government entity Space Florida finds itself in the interesting position of advocating (with enthusiastic support of space entrepreneurs and conservative politicians) for limited government regulation of the industry.
Collaboration makes a difference on the ground too. In collaboration Florida’s state and federal legislators, the state’s tourism agency, and Bank of America, Space Florida financed a $60 million facility to house the retired Atlantis space shuttle. “Bank of America can only get their money back through ticket sales,” he said, “not from the state of Florida”—a far cry from the blank checks and guaranteed cost-plus contracts of the old space industry.
But the romance and adventure of space that captured children’s imagination in the 1960s still endures in a much more fiscally savvy, entrepreneurial, and collaborative space industry. “I’ve been very interested in space programs since 1961 because my father worked on all of them. Fast forward 50 years and we have many more space cowboys—and cowgirls—working in the private sector on the space program,” noted ASAP Chairman of Chapter Development Brian Handley, CA-AM, who invited Ketcham to speak after seeing him on CNN and who introduced Ketcham this morning to the rapt Summit crowd.
“Our plan is to become a civilization out there in space,” Ketcham said as he described how the Alliance for Space Development now is bringing together 14 different organizations including Space Florida that are committed to “making space part of our national charter—ideally our human charter.” He concluded that he doesn’t exactly know how alliances will work in practice in the frontier environment of space. But he is quite certain, he said, that “the future of space depends on collaboration.”