The Amazonification of space: Those who sold you the internet will now sell you the moon and stars

Memories of Kỷ Apollo Moon The landing marks a small step for space travel but a giant leap for space billionaires.

Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson vividly demonstrated this month that soaring up to the close of the sky seems safe and, above all, a nightingale. The planet has so many problems that it’s a relief to get rid of them even for 10 minutes, about the length of the suborbital trips that entrepreneurs through their respective companies offer, Blue origin and Virgin Galactic.

But beyond the daze is a deeper message: The unification of space has begun in earnest. What was previously largely the domain of big government is now increasingly becoming the domain of Big Tech. The people who sold you on the internet will now sell you the moon and the stars.

Bezos, the founder of Amazon and still its largest shareholder, made it clear in Tuesday’s post-flight press conference that Blue Origin is open for operations. Although there were generally no tickets, sales for the flights reached nearly $100 million. Bezos didn’t say how much each would cost but added, “Demand is very high.”

That need existed even before the world’s media flocked to Van Horn, Texas, to widely report and adulterate Bezos doing what Branson did in New Mexico last week. They witnessed a carefully choreographed event, with the world’s oldest astronaut and the world’s youngest person joining the trip, capped by a $200 million charitable donation.

Even Elon Musk, the CEO of rival SpaceX and sometimes a skeptic of Bezos’ space dreams, felt compelled to offer congratulations. So does Branson, who has bragging rights by making his flight first. Musk came to see Branson off.

All of this space activity was the start of something new but also a re-enactment of the 1990s. At the beginning of that decade, the internet was a government property devoted to research and communications by the government. a few people. Finally, more than anyone, thank Bezos, it’s a place where people buy things. Over the next 20 years, technology grew and became Big Tech, fueling bipartisan concerns that Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple are now too powerful.

Outer space can now begin a similar journey from frontier to big business.

For decades, NASA didn’t have the funds to do anything as monumental as the Apollo program. NS trumpet The administration has made a decision to return to the moon by 2024. The Biden administration has confirmed the goal but did not confirm the date. If that happens, it will have the backing of companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin. In contrast to the Apollo project of the 1960s, the next trip to the moon will be outsourced.

Smaller space business ventures are even more open to entrepreneurs.

“If you look at the position of space today, especially with respect to operations in Earth orbit,” said West Griffin, chief financial officer of Axiom, a startup that built the first ad. lower, it really resembles the early days of the Internet. space station.

The commercialization of the space began during the dot-com boom of the 1990s but took longer to come to fruition. The flights this month hark back to 1996, when the nonprofit organization X Prize announced a contest: $10 million to the first nongovernmental organization to build a reusable spacecraft that could take someone to an altitude of 100 kilometers, or 62.5 miles, and then do it again in less than two weeks.

The winning design in 2004 turned out to be SpaceShipOne in an effort led by Burt Rutan, an aerospace engineer who previously designed the Voyager plane to fly around the world without stopping or refueling. It was sponsored by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who passed away in 2018.

The X Prize also attracted Branson’s interest. He trademarked “Virgin Galactic Airways” in 1999 and licensed the SpaceShipOne technology. Branson hopes that a larger version could begin commercial flights within three years. It took 17 years to replace.

According to Meagan Crawford, a managing partner at the venture capital firm, a growing startup ecosystem is trying to commercialize space by building everything from cheaper launch technology to small satellites. than. SpaceFund, put it.

“People are looking around: ‘There’s this strong space industry. Where did that thing come from?’ Crawford said. “Well, it’s well-built and purpose-built, and it’s worked so hard over the past 30 years to get us here.”

According to space analytics firm Bryce Tech, investors poured $7 billion into funding space startups in 2020, twice as much as just two years earlier.

“All we’re trying to do now is do what Jeff and Richard and Elon did 20 years ago, which is building great businesses, except we’re building businesses. in space from the start and they’ve built their business on earth Chris Kemp, chief executive officer of Astra, a startup focused on delivering smaller, cheaper, and frequent products than said.

The first space race, which lasted through the 1960s and then dried up in the 1970s, pitted an aggressive US government against an evil and seductive Soviet Union. The Americans won that competition, though critics say it was all a mistake in an era when so many domestic problems needed attention and money.

This time? Pretty much the same, although now it’s individual. A petition asking Bezos not to be allowed to return to earth has attracted 180,000 virtual signatures. Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, tweeted: “It’s time for Jeff Bezos to take care of his business right here on Earth and pay his fair share of taxes.”

Musk tweeted defending space projects written in a laconic style reminiscent of poet EE Cummings:

space attackers

may not realize that

space represents hope

for a lot of people

The tweet has garnered more than a quarter of a million “likes”, although there are also responses like this: “No one is attacking space. We are attacking billionaires who amass wealth. enormous wealth on the backs of an exploited workforce.”

In an interview with CNN on Monday from the website’s launch in Texas, Bezos said that his critics are “mostly right.”

“We have to do both,” he said. “We have a lot of problems here and now on Earth, and we need to solve those problems. And we always need to look to the future.”

But it was clear which angle caught his attention. As the valedictorian of his high school class in 1982, Bezos talks about the importance of creating a life in giant free-floating space colonies for millions of people. “The whole idea is to preserve the earth,” the Miami Herald quoted him as saying at the time, adding that his ultimate goal is to see the planet “turn into a giant national park.” giant”.

Bezos said the same thing this week. It’s a utopian dream with lots of complicated moving parts – like, on a smaller scale, the concept of a retailer that would sell everything to everyone and deliver within hours. And to the surprise of nearly everyone, he made it a success.

Branson has begun another spaceflight, the Virgin Orbit, which is launching small payloads into orbit. He’s not alluding to extravagant visions like Musk and Bezos about spreading civilization into the solar system.

Musk’s Mars dream begins with a strange little mission: He wants to send a plant to Mars and see if it can grow there. But the cost of performing even a small test is very high. Even options in Russia are out of reach. So Musk founded SpaceX in 2002.

Today, he wants to send people, not plants, to Mars. SpaceX is currently developing Starship, big enough to make the journey and Starlink, a constellation of satellite internet, aims to generate the profits needed to fund Mars plans.

In pursuing those goals, the company has become a giant in the space business. NASA relies on SpaceX rockets and capsules to carry astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station, and private satellite operators, governments, and the military will deliver Falcon 9 boosters that can reuse to orbit.

NASA recently awarded a contract to SpaceX to use their Starship prototype for the lunar program. The contract was challenged by Blue Origin and another company, Dynetics. For all the camaraderie on display this week, billionaires play to win. | The Amazonification of space: Those who sold you the internet will now sell you the moon and stars


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