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?