The first step to space commercialization is infrastructure
Public access to space is much closer than most might think. NASA has been working rigorously for decades to explore space, constantly pushing the boundaries of what we know. Until recently, space exploration was primarily limited to professionals within government and the aerospace industry supporting it. The new Space Force, a branch of the U.S. military whose purpose is to protect American interests in space, gives us even more opportunity to engage innovative private companies in space, increasing the need for a growing STEM-trained space workforce expanding to include much more than astronauts and aeronautical engineers.
The recent increase in public interest in space yields the question: how can we continue this momentum? We have seen dramatic increases in investments in space companies and in big splashy projects, however this is not what will sustain the space economy’s growth. What will sustain it, are the boring background projects that we depend on here on the ground. Things like power, water, sewers, and transportation, or rather the space analogs of these such as orbital facilities, lunar landing pads, beyond orbit communications and navigation networks.
This fall there is already a mission in the works for the world’s first all-civilian crew to go into space, confirming the growing belief that civilian space travel will become more routine in American lives than we can imagine. But in order for us to make civilian space travel a regular occurrence – and available to more than a handful of billionaires – there has to be an investment in public space infrastructure.
Space infrastructure is important because it will provide us with the tools necessary to continue developing a more open space access to everyone in the future. The reality is, it’s really hard to do something without the tools you need to achieve that goal. Making it easier, more routine, and less expensive will open up more opportunities for companies and individuals to compete in space.
The establishment of space infrastructure is vital to the success of space commercialization. With NASA exploring outer space and Space Force protecting American space interests, it’s private companies that must be tasked with ensuring commercial space travel is a regular occurrence for civilians in the future. To achieve this lofty goal, beyond the typical tasks that go into building aircraft to transport people into space safely and often, we need to be thinking about developing space traffic patterns, developing some kind of public internet when up in space, and eventually structures such as hotels in space or restaurants. Then of course the role of lawmakers and government in regulating this process. These are only a few of the infrastructure investments necessary to support future space travel and tourism.
U.S. investment in space infrastructure like this will create 2.6 million new jobs over the first decade alone and generate over $150 billion in new economic activity. Although creating the tools to support space infrastructure may not be as exciting as actually traveling to space, they are necessary to achieve the goal of successful, public space travel. Public space travel has already begun – it’s up to all of us to push its open access now and in the future.
Story by Tim Chrisman. Chrisman is the co-founder and executive director of Foundation for The Future, author of ”Humanity in Space” and a former Army Special Operations Officer.