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.