The Amazonization of Space Begins in Serious


The anniversary of the Apollo moon landing was one small step for space travel, but one giant leap for space billionaires.

Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson This month has shown vividly that those soaring close to the sky seem safe and are above all a lark. The planet has so many problems that it’s a relief to escape them for even 10 minutes, the length of the suborbital journeys entrepreneurs offer through their companies Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic.

But beyond the dazzling, there was a deeper message: The Amazonization of space has begun in earnest. What was once largely the domain of large government is now increasingly the domain of Big Technology. The people who sold you the internet will now sell you the moon and the stars.

Mr. Bezos, Amazon’s founder and still its largest shareholder, made it clear at a press conference after Tuesday’s flight. Blue Origin opened for business. Although tickets were not generally available, flight sales were already approaching $100 million. Mr. Bezos did not say what the price of each was, but added: “Demand is very high”

This demand existed even before the world media flocked to Van Horn, Texas for broad and laudatory reports that Mr. Bezos had done something that Mr. Branson had done in New Mexico the week before. They saw a carefully orchestrated event. world’s oldest astronaut and world’s youngest Along the journey, bounded by a $200 million charitable draw.

Even Elon Musk, CEO of rival SpaceX and sometimes skeptical of Mr. Bezos’ space dreams, felt compelled to do so. give your congratulations. So does Mr. Branson, who earned the bragging rights by making his first flight. Mr. Musk came to see Mr. Branson off.

All this space activity is the beginning of something new, but also a repeat of the 1990s. At the beginning of that decade, the Internet was, for a few people, government property devoted to research and communication. Finally, thanks to Mr. Bezos more than anyone, it became a place where everyone could buy something. Over the next 20 years, the technology grew and became Big Tech, provoking double-sided fears as Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple are now. very strong.

Now space can embark on a similar journey across the border into the big business world.

For decades, NASA just couldn’t get enough funding to do something as epic as the Apollo program. The Trump administration has decided Return to the moon by 2024. The Biden administration approved the target but not the date. If that happens, it will be with the help of companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin. Unlike the Apollo project in the 1960s, the next trip to the moon will be outsourced.

Smaller space ventures are even more open to entrepreneurs.

“It really does look like the early days of the internet, given where space is today, particularly low-earth orbit activity,” said West Griffin, Axiom’s CFO. first commercial space station

The commercialization of space began during the dot-com boom of the 1990s, but it took much longer to bear fruit. This month’s flights date back to 1996, when nonprofit organization X Prize announced a competition: $10 million to the first nonprofit to build a reusable spacecraft that can take someone to an altitude of 100 kilometers or 62.5 miles, and then it does. again in less than two weeks.

In 2004, the winning design was revealed to be SpaceShipOne, in an effort led by Burt Rutan, an aerospace engineer who had previously designed the Voyager aircraft that flew around the world without stopping or refueling. Funded by Paul Allenco-founder of Microsoft, who died in 2018.

The X Prize also intrigued Mr. Branson. In 1999, it acquired the “Virgin Galactic Airways” trademark and licensed the SpaceShipOne technology. Mr Branson hoped a larger version could begin commercial flights within three years. Instead it took 17 years.

According to Meagan Crawford, managing partner at the venture capital firm, a growing ecosystem of startups is trying to commercialize space by building everything from cheaper launch technology to smaller satellites and the infrastructure that makes up the “picks and shovels” of the space gold rush. SpaceFund, he says.

“People look around, ‘There’s this solid space industry. Where did that come from?’” said Mrs. Crawford. “Well, it’s methodically built and purposefully built, and we’ve worked hard to get us here over the last 30 years.”

Investors 7 billion dollars spilled Double the amount for funding space startups in 2020 compared to just two years ago. space analytics firm Bryce Tech.

“What we’re all trying to do now is to do what Jeff and Richard and Elon did 20 years ago, which is just to build great businesses, but we’ve been building businesses in space from the very beginning and they’ve built their business on Earth.” Astra’s CEO, Chris Kemp, said it’s a startup focused on providing smaller, cheaper and more frequent launches.

The first space race, stretching the length of the 1960s and then depleted in the 1970s, pitted an arrogant US government against a malevolent and unattractive Soviet Union. The Americans won this competition, but critics argued it was all a mistake in an age of so many domestic issues that demand attention and money.

This time? almost the same, although now it’s personal. A petition demanding that Mr. Bezos not be allowed to return to Earth It collected 180,000 virtual signatures. Massachusetts Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted out“The time has come for Jeff Bezos to take care of business here on Earth and pay his fair share of taxes.”

Mr. Musk tweeted in defense of space projects it was written in a concise style reminiscent of the poet EE Cummings:

space attackers

maybe not aware of it

emptiness represents hope

for many people

The tweet received more than a quarter million “likes” Although similar reactions: “No one is attacking space. We attack billionaires who amass vast fortunes on the back of an exploited workforce.”

Speaking to the Texas launch site on Monday, Mr. Bezos said his critics were “largely right”. In an interview with CNN.

“We should do both,” he said. “We have many problems here and now on Earth and we need to work on them. And we always need to look to the future.”

But it’s clear which point of view caught your attention. Bezos, the freshman of his high school class in 1982, spoke about the importance of creating a life for millions of people in huge free-floating space colonies. “The whole idea is to protect the earth,” the Miami Herald said, adding that his ultimate goal is to see the planet “turned into a giant national park.”

Mr. Bezos said more or less the same thing this week. It was a utopian dream with many complex moving parts – just like the idea of ​​a retailer on a smaller scale that would sell everything to anyone and deliver within hours. And to almost everyone’s surprise, he did the job.

Mr. Branson launched Virgin Orbit, another spacecraft that launches small payloads into orbit. He did not imply grand visions of spreading civilization across the solar system like Mr. Musk and Mr. Bezos.

Mr. Musk’s dreams of Mars began with his search for a little donut quixote: He wanted to send a plant to Mars and see if it could grow there. But the cost of starting even a small experiment was too high. Even the options in Russia were out of reach. Thus, Mr. Musk founded SpaceX in 2002.

Today he wants to send humans, not plants, to Mars. SpaceX is currently developing Starship, which is large enough to make the voyage, and Starlink, a satellite internet constellation that aims to generate the profits needed to fund its Mars plans.

In pursuing these goals, the company has grown into a giant in the space business. NASA relies on SpaceX rockets and capsules to send astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station, and private, government and military satellite operators are flying the reusable Falcon 9 booster rocket into orbit.

NASA recently signed a contract with SpaceX to use the Starship prototype for its lunar program. The contract was challenged by Blue Origin and another firm, Dynetics. For all the friendship on display this week, billionaires are playing to win.

Kenneth Chang contributing reporting.


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