Looking to 2050: Ten Challenges For The Human Race

Peter Schwartz is recognized internationally as a futurist and strategist.  He honed his skills at Royal Dutch/Shell Group in London, where he led a widely respected scenario planning effort.   He has written a number of interesting books about the future, including The Art of the Long View. 

This past May he gave the commencement address at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.  During the address, he outlined ten longer term challenges for the human race as we look forward to the next 40-50 years.  He encouraged the graduates to come up with innovative solutions to these challenges. 

The top challenges Schwartz outlined are:

  1. Creating long-term solutions to meet our energy demands sustainably.
  2. Launching a bio-industrial revolution with sustainable manufacturing.
  3. Understanding and enhancing the human brain to avert age-related impairments.
  4. Improving agriculture to reduce costs and increase its energy and water efficiency.
  5. Building sustainable cities through better urban planning and "smart architecture”.
  6. Stimulating job growth and economic development.
  7. Fusing the technological with the spiritual and aesthetic dimensions of human culture.
  8. Advancing technological instruments to drive scientific discovery forward.
  9. Harnessing biological tools to advance human evolution.
  10. Discovering new ways to lower the costs and environmental impact of space flight and development.  

The list above is an interesting list.  I am not sure that these are the top ten most important challenges, but each of the above ten are certainly important. 

Some comments…

  • Energy tops his list and it is hard to argue that it should not be there.  I can’t see the demand for energy going down anytime soon and we need to figure out how to transition to clean energy. 
  • Improving agriculture processes in developing nations will have have a significant impact on the economy and quality of life.
  • Building smarter and sustainable cities is a very large challenge as the number of megacities grow and grow.
  • Number 9 on his list, “Harnessing biological tools to advance human evolution” sounds both scary and beneficial at the same time.
  • Regarding number 10, with announced plans to go back to the moon and to Mars, we will need innovative ways to travel through space and live at the destinations we travel to.

It is worth pointing out that many on the list kind of fall under the push for a smarter planet.

If you want to read a transcript of Peter Schwartz’s commencement address, check out http://news.rpi.edu/update.do?artcenterkey=2585

Can you think of any other challenges Schwartz’s list?  The only one that comes to my mind right now is the never ending desire to live in a world free from war and conflict, but I don’t suppose for one minute that that will be solved in the next 40-50 years.

AIAA: Top Ten Emerging Aerospace Technologies

imageLast month, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) released a list of top emerging aerospace technologies.  The AIAA hopes to make this an annual list. 

Here is the list of ten

  1. 'Greener' aviation technologies – including emission reduction and noise reduction technologies as used in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)'s Continuous Low Emissions, Energy and Noise (CLEEN) program, and the European Environmentally Friendly Engine (EFE) program and Clean Sky Joint Technology Initiative.   For more see this AIAA press release.
  2. Alternative fuels – including biofuels, as promoted by the FAA's Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI), and the recent FAA grant to the X Prize Foundation to spur development of renewable aviation fuels and technologies.  For more see this AIAA press release.
  3. High speed flight technologies – such as supersonic and hypersonic aerodynamics, sonic boom reduction technology, and thermal management aids.   For more reading, check out Supersonic travel may return
  4. Efficient propulsion technologies – including open rotors and geared turbofans, such as those used in the European DREAM (valiDation Radical Engine Architecture systems) program.
  5. Active flow technologies – such as plasma actuators.
  6. Advanced materials – such as nanotechnology and composites.
  7. Active structures – such as shape memory alloys, morphing, and flapping.
  8. Health management – such as monitoring, prognostics, and self-healing.
  9. Remote sensing technologies – including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and satellites such as those used in NASA's Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) program.
  10. Advanced space propulsion technologies – including plasma-based propulsion such as the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket, and solar sail technologies.

You can access a pdf of the AIAA announcement here AIAA Names Top Ten Emerging Aerospace Technologies of 2009:  Download PDF

We Are Entering A New Era of Space Exploration

The moon is going to get crowded over the next few decades.  According to announced plans the major space players (U.S., Russia, and ESA) are all planning lunar missions.   However, what is really new is the increasing space exploration interests of Asia countries (Japan, China, and India) and the potential of private firms entering the space race to establish lunar bases.

Asia Activity.  At present, there are three spacecraft orbiting the Moon…and all of them are Asian: Japan’s Kaguya, China's Chang’e-1, and India’s Chandrayaan 1

  • Japan's Kaguya (in orbit since October 2007) has since finished much of its main work, which included studying the moon's gravitational field and extensive image mapping..  Presently, Kayuga is on its extended mission. 
  • China’s Chang’e -1, (in orbit since November 2007) seems to have completed mapping the lunar surface.  Chang’e 2 will be launched in 2011.  Eventually, Chang'e-3 is will bring back samples of the Moon to Earth.
  • India’s Chandrayaan-1 (in orbit since November 8, this year) is carrying eleven payloads; five pieces of equipment from ISRO and six from abroad, including that of NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).  This is India's first unmanned spacecraft to orbit the moon.  The mission is scheduled to last two years, prepare a three-dimensional atlas of the moon and prospect the lunar surface for natural resources, including uranium, according to the Indian Space Research Organization.  The moon mission, in addition to demonstrating technological capacity, can potentially yield commercial gains for India's space program.  More on the mission here:  http://www.isro.org/Chandrayaan/htmls/home.htm   

Private Activity.   The Google Lunar X PRIZE is a $30 million international competition to safely land a robot on the surface of the Moon, travel 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send images and data back to the Earth.  Teams must be at least 90% privately funded and must be registered to compete by December 31, 2010.  The first team to land on the Moon and complete the mission objectives will be awarded $20 million; the full first prize is available until December 31, 2012.

Why all the interest in the moon?   One big reason is that the moon can be a critical resource for the Earth, being composed of some of the most important elements: 42% oxygen, 13% iron, 21% silicon plus others.  Another reason is that the moon can serve as an excellent base to launch future missions to other planets, including Mars.  

Eventually, this will all lead to some emerging business opportunities for private firms, including space travel for consumers.

For more on the moon….

The Phoenix Has Landed…with 7 Important Scientific Instruments

Nasa's Phoenix landed over a week ago on Mars.   You can read up on the landing at http://uanews.org/node/19859

The mission has a number of objectives, including 1) Studying the history of water on Mars by examining water-ice below the martian surface and 2) Determining if the  martian arctic soil could support life.  By digging into the soil and water-ice just below the surface and analyzing the chemistry of the soil and ice with robust instruments, scientists will better understand the history of the martian arctic.   You can read up more on the mission at: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/phoenix/main/index.html

I was curious about what type of scientific instruments were aboard the lander so I did some research.   Here is a list of the key instruments on board.The Phoenix lander will explore Mars's north polar region, where water ice may occasionally melt and provide the conditions conducive to life (Illustration: NASA/JPL/UA/Lockheed Martin)

  1. Mars Descent Imager.  The job of this instrument is already done.  During Phoenix’s descent,  it took a series of wide-angle, color images of the landing site and surrounding area all the way down to the surface.
  2. Surface Stereoscopic Imager.  This instrument is a high tech stereo camera that will provide high-resolution, stereoscopic, panoramic images of the surrounding landscape.  It will help identify potential geological content, provide range maps in support of digging operations, and make atmospheric dust and cloud measurements.
  3. Robotic Arm.   Once a digging site is picked, the Robotic Arm will dig and collect soil and water-ice samples.
  4. Robotic Arm Camera.  This camera is attached to the Robotic Arm just above the scoop.  It will take close-up, full-color images of (1) the ground/rocks/landscape, (2) potential soil and water-ice samples, (3) samples that have been collected in the scoop and (4) the floor and side-walls of the trenches that have been dug in order to examine fine-scale texturing and layering. 
  5. Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer.  This unique instrument will serve both as a high-temperature oven and a mass spectrometer instrument that scientists will use to analyze ice and soil samples.  Once the Robotic Arm delivers samples to this instrument, the oven temperature will increase.  The gases that are boiled out of the sample will be piped to a mass spectrometer for chemical analysis.
  6. Microscopy, Electrochemistry, and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA).  This is a combination of several scientific instruments all wrapped into one.  By mixing small amounts of soil in water, MECA can determine important chemical properties like acidity, saltiness, and composition.  MECA has a built-in microscope that can examine the soil grains to help determine their origin and mineralogy.  It also has special probes that when stuck into the soil determine the water and ice content.
  7. Meteorological Station.  This instrument records the daily weather using temperature and pressure sensors, as well as a light detection and ranging instrument.  This information will help scientists determine how water is cycled between the solid and gas phases on the martian artic plains.

You can read up more on the instruments at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/phoenix/spacecraft/index.html

30 Companies To Watch In The Space Industry

In the last two posts, I have blogged on the emerging space industry, which is in the early stages of being commercialized.  While governmental organizations will still take the lead on space exploration, I believe private companies are now taking the lead in the commercialization of space. 

Based on the research I have done these past two days, I have assembled a list of 30 companies below that I feel are the ones to watch.  These are the companies that I feel will be leaders in the research, development, and implementation of space related commerce that will happen over the next 2-3 decades..  The list is presented in alphabetical order and links to the company websites provided. 

  1. Andrews Space.  The company mission statement says "Andrews will be a catalyst in the development, exploration, and commercialization of emerging space markets by providing innovative, entrepreneurial aerospace solutions to our commercial, civil, and military customers."  Andrews’ technical competencies include product/system development, space system design, rapid prototyping, propulsion system design, systems engineering, and business analysis.  Andrews Space has already has received an Air Force contract to flesh out its Hybrid Launch Vehicle concept.  http://www.andrews-space.com/ 
  2. Armadillo Aerospace: Armadillo Aerospace is an aerospace startup company based in Mesquite, Texas.  Its initial goal is to build a manned suborbital Ansari X-Prize-class spacecraft in order to grab some of the suborbital tourism market.   It’s plan is to use computer-controlled liquid-oxygen rockets to launch people 300,000 above the Earth. http://www.armadilloaerospace.com 
  3. Bigelow Aerospace: This start-up company is pioneering work on expandable space station modules that have a flexible outer shell.  The shell is contractible for launch.  Once in orbit, the module is inflated, allowing greater work, play, and living area for astronauts.  http://www.bigelowaerospace.com 
  4. Blue Origin: Blue Origin is a privately-funded company, founded in 2000 and owned by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos .  Blue Origin has begun construction on a spaceport in West Texas and is at work on a reusable space launch vehicle.  http://www.blueorigin.com/ 
  5. Boeing:  Boeing’s  Space Exploration division, headquartered in Houston, is a leading global supplier of reusable and human space systems and services.  Boeing has designed, developed, built, and operated human and robotic space vehicles as well as supporting hardware.  Projects included Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Space Shuttle and International Space Station (ISS).   Check out their website at http://www.boeing.com/defense-space/space_exploration/index.html 
  6. CubeSat. The CubeSat program strives to provide practical, reliable, and cost-effective launch opportunities for small satellites and their payloads.  Check out the community website at http://www.cubesat.info/    CubeSat projects are popping up at universities everywhere.  Cubesat kits are provided by http://www.cubesatkit.com/ 
  7. Energia Space: Russian-based Energia has been successfully carrying out the most daring rocket and space projects requiring revolutionary engineering solutions for many years.  As a large organization, they are involved in almost all areas of space technology, transportation, and exploration.  Energia   http://www.energia.ru/english/index.html 
  8. European Space Agency: The European Space Agency (ESA) is an inter-governmental organization  with 17 member states. Headquartered in Paris ESA has a staff of about 1,900.  The agency has a full line-up of projects and is involved in almost all aspects of space exploration, transportation, and business.  http://www.esa.int 
  9. Interorbital Systems: Interorbital Systesm is a small company that makes spacecraft components:  Interorbital is attempting to launch the first spacecraft that can carry six passengers into orbit for seven days. The $30 million Neptune Spaceliner, which could take flight in 2008, is funded by sales of rocket designs and guidance systems. Additional funds will come from selling payload space on the company’s Sea Star microsatellite launcher, due to blast off in 2007.  http://www.interorbital.com/ 
  10. Japanese Space Agency:   On October 1, 2003 three independent organizations (ISAS, NAL and NASDA) were merged into one independent administrative institution: the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).  The agency, like the European Space Agency (ESA), is focused on many important projects for furture space transportation, but on a smaller scale than NASA or ESA.  Check out their vision for 2025 at the following URL  http://www.jaxa.jp/2025/index_e.html 
  11. Kayser-Threde:  Founded in 1967, Kayser-Threde is a leading systems house providing high-technology solutions for the industrial, aerospace and scientific sectors.   These include applications and solutions in manned and unmanned space missions, data measurement and management, telematics, optics and process control.  http://www.kayser-threde.com/ 
  12. LiftPort:  LiftPort, Inc. was established in 2003 with the goal of building a space elevator.  The company’s mission is simple: to build a complete space transportation infrastructure based around the space elevator concept.  This is an ambitious goal and one the company hopes to acheive before 2020.  Check out the company website at http://www.liftport.com 
  13. Lockheed Martin.  Lockheed Martin’s Space Systems Company is a recognized leader in the design, production and integration of launch vehicles and systems, spacecraft for telecommunications, remote sensing and space science.  Lockheed’s Orion Crew Vehicle will provide a state-of-the-art human space flight system capable of safely transferring astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS), the Moon, Mars and other destinations beyond low earth orbit (LEO).   Read more on the Orion Crew Vehicle at http://www.lockheedmartin.com/products/Orion/index.html
  14. NASA.  NASA needs little explanation…and there is not doubt it needs to be on this list!  Go to their website at http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/nasa_gen/index.html 
  15. Orbital Sciences: Orbital Sciences develops launch systems.  Orbital is a publicly traded company with revenues of around $700 million and a main office in Virginia.  Its Mojave facility is focused on the deployment of its Pegasus rocket system, which is designed to be drop-launched from an aircraft flying at 40,000 feet. That makes it possible to place satellites in low orbit for $31 million, a fraction of the cost of vertical launches. Pegasus has already flown 36 times.  http://www.orbital.com/ 
  16. Rocketplane Kistler. This company has developed the Kistler K-1 reusable launch vehicle. The K-1 is a fully reusable aerospace vehicle, designed to deliver payloads to orbit and provide a low-cost alternative to single-use launch vehicles. The company intends the K-1 to become the reliable, low-cost provider of launch services for commercial, civil, and military payloads destined for Low Earth Orbit (LEO), Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) and Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO), as well as for cargo resupply and recovery flights to and from the International Space Station (ISS).   Read more at http://www.kistleraerospace.com/ 
  17. Scaled Composites:  Scaled Composites develops suborbital spacecraft.  Famed aerospace engineer Burt Rutan is developing SpaceShipTwo, a seven-passenger suborbital flier  and he’s planning a world-class manufacturing facility in Mojave to churn out the ships.  The first five ships–which are rumored to be as plush as Gulfstream jets–will be flown exclusively by Branson’s Virgin Galactic out of Mojave in 2008, although he does eventually expect to sell his ships to other operators. Branson says each ticket for a few minutes of weightlessness will initially cost about $200,000 and that more than 100 passengers have already signed up.  http://www.scaled.com/ 
  18. Space Adventures.  Founded in 1998, Space Adventures Ltd. is all about pace tourism.  The company offers it’s customers Orbital Flights, Suborbital Flights, Spaceflight Training, and Space-related Flight Adventures.  Want to go on a flight?  Read more at  http://www.spaceadventures.com/ 
  19. SpaceDev: SpaceDev produces micro and nano satellites, hybrid rocket-based orbital Maneuvering and orbital Transfer Vehicles (MoTVs) as well as safe sub-orbital and orbital hybrid rocket-based propulsion systems.  SpaceDev has begun designing a reusable, piloted, sub-orbital space ship of their own that could be scaled up to safely and economically transport passengers to and from low earth orbit, including the International Space Station. The name of the vehicle is the “SpaceDev Dream Chaser".   Check out their website at http://www.spacedev.com 
  20. Space Exploration Technologies. Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) is a private company.  It develops launch vehicles and provides launch services.  Their mission is to revolutionize the commercial space industry.  The company was founded by Elon Musk, whose previous businesses (PayPal and Zip2 Corp.) gave him the wherewithal to get into the space-for-hire market.  SpaceX is developing the Falcon launch vehicle family, which is being designed to provide breakthrough advances in reliability, cost, flight environment and time to launch.  http://www.spacex.com/ 
  21. Space Island Group: The Space Island Group mission is to develop a stand-alone, commercial space infrastructure supporting the broadest possible range of manned business activities in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) for the 21st century and beyond.   SIG will build large, commercial space stations to be leased to a wide range of tenants as factories, hotels and entertainment complexes.  SIG also has plans to will also build large, commercial space stations to house their solar satellite assembly and maintenance crews. Some stations, resembling the one depicted in the 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey”, will be leased to a wide range of tenants as factories, hotels and entertainment complexes.  SIG’s target is to supply half the world’s electricity generation and distribution, currently a $2 trillion annual market.  http://www.spaceislandgroup.com/home.html 
  22. Spacehab:  Spacehab provides commercial and government space services with three primary business units.  Spacehab has built research modules for the space shuttle and is also offering its Apex line of spacecraft.   Apex is designed to execute a wide range of missions, including delivering experiments or supplies to the International Space Station, providing a platform for on-orbit research, or supporting orbital operations,  Read more at  http://www.spacehab.com/ 
  23. Space Services: Space Services is a 30 year old company that has developed a reliable and consistent launch program for cremated remains.  They offer a number of different space flights, including earth orbit, lunar flight, and deep space.   The company is not just about memorial flights, as they have done work for the government on next generation micro satellite and propulsion technologies (e.g. including solar sails).  Read more at  http://www.spaceservicesinc.com/ 
  24. Surrey Satellite Technology. SSTL, was founded over 20 years ago and was the first professional organization to offer low-cost small satellites.  The company’s stated mission is to lead the small satellite industry Today, SSTL employs over 200 staff and is considered the most experienced small satellite supplier in the world.   http://www.sstl.co.uk/ 
  25. The Planetary Society:  The Planetary Society was founded in 1980 by futurists Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray, and Louis Friedman.  The stated focus is to inspire humans to explore space.  Dedicated to exploring the solar system and seeking life beyond Earth, The Planetary Society is non-governmental and nonprofit and is funded by the support of its members.  Not just an education body, the Planetary Societary develops cutting-edge space technology and promotes private ventures in space.  Read more at http://www.planetary.org 
  26. Trans Lunar Research: Trans Lunar Research is working on moon habitation related projects with a small group of volunteers.  This nonprofit foundation, run out of Interorbital’s office, has an ambitious goal: to establish a civilian station on the surface of the Moon that will become a base for lunar mining, energy extraction, and exploration. Funded by private donations,  Trans Lunar plans to issue grants to support the development of propulsion systems, habitation technology, and oxygen extraction equipment.  http://www.translunar.org/ 
  27. t/Space: Transformational Space Corporation is developing a piloted spacecraft to take people and cargo to and from space for NASA, other government agencies, and private customers.  t/Space is currently working on designs for an air-launched four-person capsule termed the Crew Transfer Vehicle, or CXV.    http://www.transformspace.com/ 
  28. Universal Space Lines: This company was formed in 1996.  The company vision is enabling low-cost access to space and therefore it has focused on the development of reusable launch vehicles as the only viable, long-term solution for reducing the cost of access to space.   http://www.spacelines.com 
  29. Virgin Galactic: Virgin Galactic, part of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, plans to offer sub-orbital spaceflights and later orbital spaceflights to the paying public.   Virgin Galactic plans to fly 500 passengers a year at about US$200,000 each, to an altitude of over 100 km, with a total weightless time of 7 minutes.  The website provides more information at http://www.virgingalactic.com/ 
  30. Xcor Aerospace:  Xcor Aerospace is a small company that makes rocket engines.  Xcor’s EZRocket is a reusable engine powered by liquid oxygen and rubbing alcohol that has already been flight-tested. Applications range from propelling airplanes in the Rocket Racing League (which gets under way in September) to powering the Xerus, a suborbital spaceliner being developed with funding from private investors and the government.  http://www.xcor.com/

These last three posts I have blogged about space business.  I’ve brought it to our attention because I truly believe that "the train has left the station"….meaning that the commercialization of space is happening right now.   .

Top Ten Space Business Opportunities

"We will build new ships to carry man forward into the universe, to gain a new foothold on the moon, and to prepare for new journeys to worlds beyond our own."   – U.S. President George Bush,  via a speech

My last post Space….The Final (Business) Frontier??, was about how sometimes I think about the future of space exploration and how that might impact the future of business.  Today I thought I’d have a brief review of the types of space projects that will, in turn, present business opportunities. 

I’ve come up with list of Top Ten Space Related Business Opportunities.   The list below is presented in the order I believe these business opportunities will mature. 

1.  Low Cost Microsatellites:  A new generation of tiny satellites are poised to revolutionize space-based communications. These are small, light and low-cost satellites that can be built and launched for less than $75,000.  A website devoted to this emerging industry is at http://www.SmallSatellites.org.   Efforts include CubeSat projects and companies like SpaceDev and Surrey Satellite Technology. 

2.  Rocket Rides: There’s no doubt about it.  The space tourism industry is already emerging with people paying $20 Million in order to go to the Space Station.  For thrill seekers, going on a spaceship ride would be the ultimate ride.  Adventures on spacecraft like SpaceShipTwo, starting at $200,000 a flight are in the not too distant future.  Check out the wikipedia page for more information at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_tourism.  Companies planning spaceship ride services include: Armadillo Aerospace, Blue Origin, Space Adventures, and Virgin Galactic. 

3.  Moon-Missions and Mining Colonies:  Expectations are that we will have moon colonies established by 2025.  The moon may have about a million tons of helium-3 — a potential energy source that could be worth $7 billion a ton.   Both NASA and Russia’s Energia Space plan missions to the moon starting by 2015 to establish mining operations.  NASA plans to make the Moon it’s launchpad to Mars.   Trans Lunar Research is also working on moon missions. 

4.  Solar Energy Generating Satellites:  This idea has large solar panels positioned in orbit that would beam energy down to large microwave receivers on Earth.  These receivers would then generate and distribute the resulting power.  Might seem far fetched, but in theory, this idea could provide enough solar energy to meet all the planet’s electricity needs.    Read up more on the idea at this ieee website.   News reports claim that the Pentagon is working on solar powered engines for satellites.  A number of organizations are working on this idea, including the European Space Agency, the Japanese Space Agency, and Space Island Group. 

5.  Orbital Factories and Labs: The prospect of zero-gravity manufacturing facilities would open up new possibilities for the chip fabrication and biotech industries.  These orbiting manufacturing facilities will all need sophisticated automated robotic and IT based systems.   Kayser-Threde and Space Island Group are two companies working on this idea.  For more information on this idea, go to Space Island’s manufacturing website

6.  Solar Sails For SpaceShips:   Solar sails, in theory, generate thrust by catching photons emitted by the sun.  This could be a very cheap and reliable way to propel spaceships. Unlike a rocket, a solar sail would accelerate slowly but constantly.  For example, on the first day of its voyage, it might  travel at 100 mph and, in theory, after 12 days the speedometer might  hit speeds of 2,300 mph.  Check out http://solarsails.jpl.nasa.gov/ for more information on this technology.  Companies working on this include:  European Space Agency, Kayser-Threde, L’Garde, the Planetary Society, Space Services. 

7.  Exploring Mars:   So far, Mars explorations have been all about rocket flybys, orbitors, landers, and rovers.  Near future missions will begin to include drones, balloons, subsurface diggers, and vehicles capable of returning samples.  The U.S. government is mounting an effort to land humans on Mars, some say by 2030.  Longer range plans include the idea of setting up a colony.   All these missions will require IT related hardware, software and services.  There are a number of companies working on this scenario, including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and NASA.   It has been estimated this could result in $400 billion in NASA contracts by 2030.   Check out U.S. based plans at http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/ 

8.  Space Elevators:  This is an interesting idea that seems funny when you first hear about it, but it could really work.  It involves running along a cable that extends 62,000 miles above Earth, a giant elevator car could replace many rocket-powered flights, slashing the costs associated with ferrying passengers and cargo into orbit.   Sounds far fetched?  Check out http://www.spaceelevator.com/.  Companies working on this include LiftPort and Sedco. 

9.  Orbiting Hotels:  Further out into the future, there will be companies getting into the space hotel business.  Can you imagine going to a space hotel for a family vacation, instead of taking that annual beach or skiing vacation??  Two companies with plans here, include Bigelow Aerospace, Space Island Group.  For a discussion of hotel building in space, check out this spacefuture.com website.   

10.  Asteroid Mining:  There is a treasure trove of minerals, including cobalt, gold, iron, magnesium, nickel, platinum, and silver located on the 3,000-plus near-Earth asteroids.  In addition there is ice on asteroid.  As hydrogen and oxygen are rocket fuels, one can envision orbiting fuel depots for space ships, supplied by miners working on near-Earth asteroids.  For more information, read the Asteroid Mining Wikipedia page.  SpaceDev is one company working on this idea. 

So, there you have it, my top ten list.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this list.   What types of opportunities do you see for future businesses in space?

Space…The Final Frontier

"Space, the final frontier.  These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise.  Her five year mission to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilization, to boldly go where no man has gone before." – Opening Narrative on the Star Trek Series.

Every once in a while I like to look out 10-50 years…and sometimes 100-200 years.  It’s fun to think what life will be like for our great, great grandchildren.  What will their leisure time be like for them?   Sports?  Entertainment? Electronics?  What business will be like? 

When I think out that far, I really wonder what the main drivers of mature economies will be.  As a human race, we’ve moved from an agrarian society to industrial and now to information/service based economies.  What will be the next wave?  Most likely it will involve nanotechnology, medical science, and, perhaps, space travel.  Yes, space travel. 

Whenever I brainstorm about 100-200 years out, I always start to think about what impact space travel and exploration will play in future business.  I grew up during the early days of Star Trek, the series.  I was fascinated by the series and it really got me thinking about the future. 

Since the dawn of space exploration began about 50 years ago, it has been the sole effort of governments and the resulting governmental bureaucracy.  But that’s changing, as we are starting to see a new breed of entrepreneurs and big businesses alike looking to exploit the many commercial opportunities in outer space.  Their plans range from the mundane to the fantastic.  Whether or not any of these projects come to fruition may be debatable, but one thing is for sure:  Plenty of money will be spent trying to get them off the ground. 

For the next post, I will blog about some of the potential space related business opportunities that may materialize in the next 10-50 years.