Will This Be the Decade of NewSpace?

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U.S. President Barack Obama’s proposed 2011 budget for NASA has set the stage for a NewSpace industry renaissance, but the outcome is by no means assured. The budget faces congressional resistance and ill-informed negative press commentary, and NASA may not be able to support entrepreneurial human spaceflight as anticipated. So what is a young industry to do? As one of my college buddies used to say during card-playing marathons, “Go big or stay home.”

This is a pivot point in history, the perfect moment for taking a stand and making a bold declaration that this will be the “Decade of NewSpace.” As transformational leadership consultant Tracy Goss writes in The Last Word on Power, “Taking a stand is a declaration of possibility that allows something to move forward from existing as a possibility only because you said so to existing as a reality where it is so in the world.” But do not make such a declaration lightly, for it will be meaningless without publicly stated achievable goals, and without the business professionalism and strategic planning required to accomplish these goals. Put in a context we can all appreciate, this is the NewSpace industry’s opportunity to make a commitment that is as daring as President John F. Kennedy’s lunar landing declaration of 1961.

Some may feel that such a bold move is premature since the NewSpace elements of NASA’s budget may be weakened by Congress. However, NewSpace will grow even if this happens, and the declaration must describe how this will be accomplished. This is no time for timidity, and getting out in front of the issues is how you frame the conversation to your advantage and engage, educate and enroll your detractors.

So how should we proceed? Here are some suggestions:

  • Use a “Decade of NewSpace” declaration to reframe the conversation about manned space activity. It is no longer enough to only talk about exploration, national pride and scientific accomplishments. This is about extending commercial aviation to a higher altitude, expanding the human economy to the Moon (for starters) and settling and developing the solar system. Declare short-term goals that both fire the imagination and address our more bread-and-butter problems (economic growth, energy, resources, etc.), and describe how these are a foundation for the decades after this one.
  • Establish a public outreach strategy that aggressively and professionally targets respected journalists and publications whose views are locked in the past. Examples include Time magazine’s announcement that the Ares 1 was the best invention of 2009, and columnist Charles Krauthammer’s recent derision of Obama’s new direction for NASA: “It would be swell for private companies to take over launching astronauts. But they cannot do it. It’s too expensive.”
  • Engage state-based economic development organizations and help them understand the job-creation potential for their existing aviation, aerospace and technology manufacturing industries, and how support for entrepreneurs can create new space-related industries. If all politics is local, then state-based commercial spaceport development should make it abundantly clear that NewSpace is local.

There is too much of an “us vs. them” mentality within the NewSpace industry, too strong a belief that companies have no choice but to battle over a finite pie. This must change, and it would help to define the various sectors of the NewSpace industry, their interrelatedness and their connection to the broader economy. For example, when I work with state and local politicians and economic development leaders, I describe six sectors: atmospheric flight; suborbital transportation; orbital transportation; commercial destinations; service and support; and commercial spaceports. Perhaps it would be useful to create something like NAICS (North American Industry Classification Systems) codes for NewSpace.

Traditional large aerospace firms such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman will become crucial providers of skills, experience and resources that are needed by NewSpace companies, and at the same time they will benefit from working with NewSpace entrepreneurs. Cultural differences and lack of trust must be addressed.

A “Decade of NewSpace” declaration would generate multiple benefits: It would attract the public and bring much-needed change to the traditional and outdated space exploration conversation. It would provide the NewSpace industry with a strategic road map for all stakeholders. And it would inform other industries and help them understand how they may participate in and benefit from an expanding Earth-space economy.

If we do this right, “NewSpace” no longer will have any meaning by the end of the decade. Large traditional aerospace firms will buy small entrepreneurial space firms, so how will we define a NewSpace company? Neither the industry nor the accomplishments will be new anymore. And most important, space business will be more widely understood as being tightly integrated with and fundamental to Earth’s economy and our daily lives.

 

Jeff Krukin is a NewSpace economic development consultant and may be contacted at www.JeffKrukin.com