Reinventing Commerce for the Next Frontier by Dragon Chan W'22

In around 3,000 B.C., the world’s first ships were fastened in Egypt from wooden planks and reeds. They revolutionized the Egyptian culture by unlocking a new frontier of discovery and innovation. Since then, ships have played a pivotal role in the rise and fall of civilizations worldwide, their use driven by a desire for exploration and commerce.

Today, we stand at a pivotal moment in human history as we witness the emergence of a new frontier of commerce: space. In recent years, private & public confidence in space travel has risen. Costs have dropped significantly following intense initial research funding from governments and the scaling of aerospace manufacturing. These factors have led to an increased desire to commercialize space travel and numerous firms and industries have popped up in the name of space tourism.

Ultimately, the next step beyond commercializing space travel is commercializing space itself-- the race for resources. The foundations of commercialized space travel will pave the way for firms to explore future resource extraction in space. The implications of which are at odds with the current state of regulatory affairs. The steps to the future of space can be split into 3 main stages: exploration, travel, and resource collection & commerce.

Stage 1: Exploration

Since the beginning of time, humans have always looked up to the stars, longing for more. The rise of the space race pushed the limits of humanity to the next level and unlocked a new realm of possibility. In time, we have expanded our reach into exploring the unknown with wave after wave of satellites, probes, and manned missions. Each wave has brought a new wealth of data that has furthered our ambitions and given rise to a new wave of data collection. Over time, an industry of space exploration has emerged, led by SpaceX, Blue Origin, and United Launch Alliance.

Stage 2: Travel

Building on the knowledge capital of the space exploration industry, firms are now beginning to explore ways to mass produce rocket components and develop an industry for space tourism. Firms like Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and SpaceX have begun to promote trips into space for the everyday one percenter. Perhaps, one day, orbital and moon destinations may become a possibility. As this industry grows, as with the aviation industry, we can expect greater advancements in efficiency and cost reductions for transportation overall as well as the emergence of on-demand space cargo capacity.

Stage 3: Resource Collection & Commerce

Cost efficiencies achieved in transportation overall will ultimately allow for space resource collection and trade firms such as asteroid mining and commodity exchanges to emerge. This brings up the issue of who owns the resources in space as well as the future regulatory implications of space commerce. Already, the United States is taking steps to develop insights for future regulation of space with the creation of the Office of Space Commerce and the signing of Space Policy Directive 3 by the White House, which would transfer responsibility of tracking space debris and environments from the Department of Defense to the Department of Commerce. Recognizing the future needs of space commerce, the Department of Commerce has already begun evaluating the prospect of future commercial space activity, even considering elevating the Office of Space Commerce to a full-fledged Bureau of Space Commerce.

At this time, we are in between stages 1 and 2, but given the exponential growth in innovation and advancement in the field of space exploration, it is very likely that we may see the emergence of stage 3, resource collection & commerce, within our lifetimes. To facilitate this new domain of commerce, we can expect an increase in regulatory oversight regarding private space activities, an emergence of new insurance mechanisms to aggregate risks, and a new variety of jobs to support the development, protection, and innovation of the industry. The commercialization of space represents a new horizon of unknown risks and rewards that we can barely begin to imagine; but what is certain is that great opportunities are there if we explore further.

Foust, Jeff. “Commerce Department Seeks to Increase American Space Industry's Global Competitiveness.” SpaceNews.com, 9 Apr. 2019, spacenews.com/commerce-department-seeks-to-increase-american-space-industrys-global-competitiveness/.

Foust, Jeff. “Foust Forward | Commercial Space Reform Still a Work in Progress.” SpaceNews.com, 6 Apr. 2019, spacenews.com/foust-forward-commercial-space-reform-still-a-work-in-progress/.

Hao, Liu, and Fabio Tronchetti. “The American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act of 2017: The Latest Step in Regulating the Space Resources Utilization Industry or Something More?” Space Policy, vol. 47, 2019, pp. 1–6., doi:10.1016/j.spacepol.2018.02.004.

Mayfield, Mandy. “U.S. Government Looks to Mitigate Space Congestion.” U.S. Government Looks to Mitigate Space Congestion, www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2019/4/8/us-government-looks-to-mitigate-space-congestion.

Office of Space Commerce. “Mission.” Office of Space Commerce, 2019, www.space.commerce.gov/about/mission/.

Prosser, Marc. “5 Space Companies Zeroing in on First Launch of Tourists Into Orbit and Beyond.” Singularity Hub, 9 May 2018, singularityhub.com/2018/05/10/5-space-companies-zeroing-in-on-first-launch-of-tourists-into-orbit-and-beyond/.

Space Foundation. “Space Commerce Partners.” Space Foundation, Space Foundation, www.spacefoundation.org/what-we-do/space-commerce-partners.