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The Coming Commercialization

Space is, I would argue, the only domain that has not been fully commercialized. The land has obviously been industrialized to a significant extent, housing nearly all infrastructure and consumers. The sea has also been industrialized and commercialized, with drilling platforms, fisheries, and trade lanes. The air has been commercialized, as air freight forms a significant element of national economic capability.

Cyber, which is not yet recognized as its own domain, started out as an information sharing human-created domain. It was rapidly commercialized and today hosts several massive international companies that are household names. YouTube, Google, Amazon, eBay, the list goes on.

Space, however has not been commercialized in the same way. There has been some commercialization in the Earth orbits in the last few decades, with three major categories of satellite being imagery, communication, and PNT (position, navigation and timing). Outside Earth’s orbit, there has been practically nothing. I suspect this is for three reasons.

  1. Space is not sure - there is still debate about the possible ways to profit from such a space venture. The UN Outer Space Treaty and the Moon Treaty, which essentially serve as de facto space law for the international community, specifies that any resources would be gathered “for the good of all mankind.” No company is going to risk capital on a venture that does not have a good chance of a return on investment (ROI).

  2. Space is costly - complicating the above point is the fact that, to get a pound from Earth into orbit, is a very costly and time-consuming process. Rockets cost in the hundred million dollar range, which is prohibitive for most commercial interests, especially if there is no guarantee of immediate benefits.

  3. Space is military - what is meant by this is that, in particular because of point 2, space has been dominated by military and national authorities for over half a century. While economic benefit was not possible in the 1960s, there were definite military benefits to being able to conduct satellite reconnaissance of hostile military facilities, etc... Even GPS, which virtually everyone uses on a daily basis - in your phone, in ATMs, in the power plants that provide A/C to your house, a military program. Its data is shared for free by the US military, but it was not originally meant for commercial purposes.

So where does that leave us? Space is expensive, risky (from an ROI perspective) and currently dominated by the military. But, space is also vast and wealthy.

There have been several nations around the world that are either discussing or have passed laws to determine the procedure for space mining, the US included. There is an economic competition on - for space resources, and the strategic conflict is driving some of this. The Moon is set to see more flights in the next decade than it has for several previous ones. And, what is new, is that there are many commercial/private flights among them. Below is a graphic from the ESA showing the Moon Missions, divided by ”Institutional” (Gov/Mil) and “Commercial.” While there, at first, appear to be far more institutional flights than commercial - notice the third down from the top on the commercial side, labeled “CLPS Missions.” “Two a year until 2028.” What that means, is that there will be roughly fourteen CLPS missions to the moon 2021-2028. EACH of those have the chance to bring client systems to the Moon as well. Commercial hardware, on the the Moon for the first time.

With this explosion in commercialization, not just into Earth’s orbit with Amazon and SpaceX both pledging to put up satellite constellations of internet satellites - providing internet all over the world for the first time - including to isolated locations (either by terrain or tyrannical governments), but to the Moon itself, we need new terms.

Earlier in this article, I said that Space has not been fully commercialized - and that is indicated by the immature terms used when describing it. Up until now, all things in space have been grouped under “Spacepower” - but that is not specific enough. My recommendation is to specify that “Spacepower” is defined as “military force that can exert influence in and from the domain and create effects in other domains for strategic benefit.” The new term, “Astronautics” is defined as “those elements that are primarily commercial and industrial; it includes all aspects that allow for projection into, production, sustainment, training, profit, and expansion in the domain for the purpose of strategic benefit.”

All other domains recognize this division. The terrestrial domain has the army and industry. The naval domain has seapower and maritime. The aerial domain has airpower and aviation. Space must also recognize this division. Commercialization is coming, and we need terms to discuss it as it is, and not just how it was in the past.

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