The Neo-Space Race is About Riches not Rockets

Over the weekend I saw video of President Trump who showed an animated fascination about how rich guys are so in to rockets.

Watching this, I couldn’t help but think that the President got a bit fixated on rockets himself. After all, its not the rockets, its the riches and influencewhich they are putting in reach of business people and investors around the world.

The age of commercialized space industry is one of those things that has been imagined just over the horizon for generations now. It been predicted for so long, it would be easy to miss its approach completely. I’d suggest that there are three interconnected space races taking place, and that each is an economic engine in the present to reward those building this capability.

The business use of space is one of those ideas that has been prevelant for so long, it would be easy to be miss is speeding approach. I’d like to focus on three real-world space races that are taking place, as each brings rewards that are creating new capabilities.

Delivering Satellites to Connect the World’s Smartphones
The neo-space race is alreadypaying off through the start of space-based worldwide Internet communications. While everyone we know may have a smart phone in hand, up to 45% of the world’s population lacks the coverage necessary to use these devices. This is about to change.  Companies like Viasat are beginning to paint the world with Internet access, which serves three primary markets.

You’ve probably noticed that Internet access in jet planes has improved remarkably in recent years. Such firms have been equipping commercial jets with gear to provide satellite based connectivity to passengers. The same approach to technology is also providing military commanders global access to data though non-terrestrial connections.  And this global access can be used to extend access to those emerging markets I mentioned that sill need connectivity.

Reusable Rockets May Make Space Travel Profitable
Imagine how the cost of air travel would change if every jet had to be disposed of after its first intercontinental flight. Reusable aircraft make everyting from overnight package delivery to crazy long distance relationships possible. Thank goodness.

Hypersonic Scramjets  present a way for orbital vehicles to reach speeds above Mach five using reusable atmospheric engines. Reuse makes space travel affordable, and it opens the door to business models.

Civilian funding and research in reuse  is being multiplied by defense investments which have pushed worldwide military to levels not seen since the Cold War. Economic and military competition are increasingly intertwined, in as global investment in defense is reaching record levels.

Air Defense at Mach 10 to Win Friends and Influence
Janes says that this year, global defense spending will reach $1.67 trillion. That’s a jump of over 3% since last year, the largest global increase in a decade. New national tensions are driving this, as is uncertainty about long standing alliances, and the possibility that new technology will provide disruptive battlefield advantages.

Consider China’s Dong-Feng 21D, its a mobile launched missile capable of Mach 10 speeds which makes conventional interceptors ineffective. Its forcing Washington to ramp-up efforts at faster intercepts, bringing Artificial Intelligence in to the systems which identify threats and adapt tactical responses.

Aerospace leaders like Boeing and Lockheed Martin are already at work on this, and innovators like Orbital ATK (now Northrup Grummen) and Aerojet Rocketdyne which makes the maneuvering technology for interceptors have benefited handsomely. (note Aerojet’s cool domain,

Higher risk and reward is why world’s most bold innovators are focused on these enterprises. Political influence, access to interstellar riches, control of a global communications network all come with these first steps in commercializing space.  There’s one more thing that unites these aerospace innovators, a shared need for advanced materials to make these vehicles.

The Future is Made of Advanced Materials
About half the mass of modern aircrafts are composites engineered for high performance use. I taught graduate at Northeastern University for several years, and saw their long term commitment to research and building carbon nanotubes.

Carbon fiber is a staple of materials innovation. That makes Toray Industries a ‘picks and shovels’ provider to this growth industry. They currently supply about 40% of the world’s carbon fiber. The century old conglomerate specializes in creating the advanced materials for nanotech, synthetic chemistry, biotech, and polymer chemistry.

So, to complete a syllogism, rich guys love rockets, which are made of advanced materials. For the rich guys to succeed, a lot of building with carbon fiber will be going on.

They could be the next new crop of technology innovators. Yeah, I know, “plastics….they’re the future”. But for space enterprise, carbon fiber may be what their future depends on.

You know how rich guys get about carbon fiber.


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