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The New Space Race: From Government to Private Sector

"In 2016, the global space economy totalled $329bn with three-quarters of that coming from commercial activity – not governments." (BBC) (Image credit: NOAA Photo Library/Flickr)

The exploration of space has long been dominated by government-led endeavors, but that era is coming to an end as a new 'space race' takes shape - and it's between companies, not countries.

A host of firms are promising cheaper access to space, with innovations such as renewable rockets and horizontal launch systems.

As satellites and space technology have proliferated and become cheaper to build, more private sector companies have entered into the fray:

Investment is pouring into the space sector. In 2016, the global space economy totalled $329bn with three-quarters of that coming from commercial activity – not governments.

The founders of these firms hope to bring space travel and exploration down from the lofty position they have always held and into mainstream life for everyday people and businesses. By bringing down costs, they are able to widen accessibility:

“We have completely taken the supply constraints off and brought the costs of the pictures we’re taking down – in many orders of magnitude,” says Will Marshall [co-founder, Planet Labs]. “It’s not just the governments and the big companies that can buy our data. Anyone [can] access our data – whether they’re a small or medium sized business, an NGO, or researcher at a university.”

Some of the newfound space firms pioneering the way include:

  • Elon Musk’s SpaceX
  • Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin
  • Richard Branson’s Virgin Group
  • Rocket Lab
  • Planet Labs

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