NewSpace, or new space, is a movement and philosophy encompassing a globally emerging private spaceflight industry. Specifically, the term is used to refer to a global sector of new aerospace companies and ventures working independently of governments and traditional major contractors to develop faster, better, and cheaper access to space and spaceflight technologies, driven by commercial, as distinct from political or other, motivations to broader, more socioeconomically-oriented, ends.
Investment bank Morgan Stanley expects 2019 to show "key milestones and catalysts [in the new space sector]" and advises its customers to "pay attention to space companies".
The term NewSpace has clearly meant somewhat different things to various people over the years of the 2000s when the term picked up usage.
Satsearch conducted research to better understand how the term NewSpace is used across the space industry and in popular understanding globally during 2018-19. They reported that the common consensus is that "NewSpace is an approach that focuses on lowering the barriers to entry to space industry, by providing cheaper access to space [and] more high-quality and affordable data from space that can be put to use here on Earth, for the benefit of scientists and the general public. ... [One] of the major characteristics of the NewSpace era [is the] the fundamental shift from an industry which was heavily dependent on government agencies (and taxpayers' money) to a more agile and an independent private sector that relies on innovation, working with much smaller budgets than the early space industry.
list of characteristics which would help determine whether a particular endeavor is considered as a NewSpace approach. They mainly include the following:
- Focus on cost reductions
- An assurance that the low costs will pay off
- Ensuring incremental development
- Foray into commercial markets with high-consumer rates
- Primary emphasis on optimizing operations
- At the heart of it all, innovation
The Space Race, which began in the mid-1950s and gave birth in earnest to spaceflight, was famously a manifestation of the then larger politico-economic competition between capitalism (represented by the United States) and communism (represented by the Soviet Union). For this reason, from the very beginning, the American business establishment--particularly those bellwether private firms directly involved in the U.S. space program--has championed the private development of space and space activity. In 1961, writing as one of the deans of the American business establishment, Ralph J. Cordiner, then chairman of General Electric (a blue-chip, charter-prime contractor to NASA and the U.S. space program), contributed a chapter titled "Competitive Private Enterprise in Space" to the anthology Peacetime Uses of Outer Space. While recognizing at the time the realities of having to initially rely on the U.S. government's vast and convenient organization, resources, and power in order to effectively address the immediate Soviet space challenge, Cordiner nonetheless advocated private sector dominance--ultimately--of space activity, consistent with textbook American capitalist ideals.
Syncom, Hughes Aircraft Company's commercial communications satellite system, was originally conceived as a direct competitive response by American private industry to the Soviets' successful deployment of Sputnik in 1957, the Cold War event that triggered the Space Race. While Syncom was eventually successfully deployed in 1963, Dr. Harold Rosen, the Hughes engineer responsible for developing, championing, and spearheading Syncom (also brother of Ben Rosen, a pioneering Silicon Valley venture capitalist and entrepreneur, and Wall Street technology analyst), cited a general lack of confidence in the U.S. government's early launch capabilities. He later explained the Syncom project's lengthy gestation period:
This was not the most auspicious time [late 1950s] to propose a commercial space program...The most vivid impression most people then had of space-related activities was of rockets blowing up at Cape Canaveral.
Notwithstanding the free-enterprise sentiments and preferences of American industry, space remained a firmly government-controlled and -directed endeavor well after the capstone Apollo moon landing in 1969. The term "alt.space" was first used in the early 1980s to describe companies that were at last beginning to take up Cordiner's mantle and make serious efforts to reach outer space without needing or relying on the cooperation of NASA or other governmental agencies (or, by extension, even their major contractors); efforts which were catalyzed by an historic shift in U.S. policy favoring private space activity, culminating in the landmark Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984. Beyond the terminology--"alt.space", "private space", "NewSpace," or "new space"--since the 1980s, the philosophy of various organizations (such as the Space Frontier Foundation in the United States) has been one of "extolling the virtues of Solar System settlement and operating independent of bureaucratic government programs".
The seeds of today's NewSpace were brought to fruition by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the releasing of that former rival-superpower's iconic, state-owned, and otherwise mature and proven space assets, technologies, capabilities, and services onto the world's private markets with the assistance of a handful of largely American private firms; notably these core-four: International Launch Services (f/k/a Lockheed-Khrunichev-Energia Int'l;Lockheed Martin JV; Proton; est. 1993); Commercial Space Management Co. (CSMC; Energia, Zenit, RD-170; est. 1993);Sea Launch (Boeing JV; Zenit; est. 1995); and MirCorp (Mir, Soyuz, Progress; est. 1999). Until that moment in world industrial history, no private business enterprise or entrepreneur could rightly conceive of, for example, leasing--or possibly owning and operating--an orbiting space station, such as Mir, or even just ordering a space launch in the ordinary course of business.
(Until then, even for a telecommunications giant, like AT&T, placing a commercial communications satellite in orbit, for example, was a fairly monumental undertaking. Contrast that with today, when a $100 million space launch vehicle can now be specified, built, priced, ordered, and eventually even launched online through, for example, United Launch Alliance's RocketBuilder website.)
Once that industry-wide mental block was removed--once the ease (relatively speaking) and normalization of planning and conducting space activities began to dawn on private industry--the animal spirits of aerospace capitalism were roused, entrepreneurial vision and imagination started to abound, and NewSpace began to take shape in earnest. This set off today's competitive, industry-wide, virtuous cycle of "faster, better, cheaper" (a project and systems management philosophy pioneered in the space field by NASA); and otherwise paved the way to today's generally far more vibrant and conducive space-business environment--whether or not involving Russian space resources, at this point--where entrepreneurs, investors, regulators, lawmakers, supranational organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the media, and other key ecosystem participants are now able to deal with privately conducted, for-profit space activity more rationally, practically, and cost-efficiently than ever before. (Wernher von Braun summed up the historical institutional-bureaucratic cautiousness toward space activity in general by famously quipping, "We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming.")
In his 2016 Wall Street Journal review of Julian Guthrie's book How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight, Gregg Easterbrook highlighted the seminal importance of these often overlooked post-Soviet private space efforts in enabling and shaping today's NewSpace.How to Make a Spaceship centers largely around the efforts of space entrepreneur, Peter Diamandis, and his Ansari X Prize won in 2004 by the SpaceShipOne team led by American aerospace engineer Burt Rutan, and funded by Microsoft co-founder and billionaire Paul Allen (SpaceShipTwo was then funded by British billionaire and industrialist Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic). To set the stage, Guthrie retraces the private space industry's development path; however, according to Easterbrook:
Mr. Diamandis wasn't the sole entrepreneur to pursue private space flight [early on]. Ms. Guthrie covers other, peculiar attempts.... Neglected in Ms. Guthrie's account is Sea Launch [archetypal post-Soviet Boeing JV with Russians and others], the first private project to send heavy objects into orbit, including, in 2001, the big satellites Rock and Roll, the initial broadcast towers of XM Radio. Every bit as eccentric as the efforts that How to Make a Spaceship describes, Sea Launch fired large [Russian Zenit] rockets from a ship at the equator--equatorial water is the ideal position for space access--compiling a record of 32 successes, three failures and one satellite functioning but in the wrong orbit.
In 2001, the FAA/AST confirmed that NewSpace pioneer Sea Launch was indeed "[t]he first privately financed, working launch system and infrastructure...".
Near the end of the 1990s, favored by strong public policy, and spurred on by the foundational success of these post-Soviet U.S.-Russian private space ventures, there was a dramatic increase in companies engaging in this process, leading to common usage of the phrase "new space companies." "NewSpace" (most prominently), "entrepreneurial space," and "commercial space" are now the most commonly used terms, though "alt.space" was still seen occasionally as late as 2011.
Things changed further in the early 2000s as Elon Musk formed SpaceX with significantly more private capital while he articulated a strong and consistent vision of the "colonization of space, beginning with Mars."
However, one company in a worldwide milieu of government-driven spaceflight activities simply did not cement a movement. This began to change with the increasingly public revelations and pronouncements of Blue Origin after 2014. Even though the company was formed about the same time as SpaceX, it had maintained a very low profile in its first decade-and-a-half of existence. By 2016, both of these private companies, with billion-US-dollar-plus backing by committed investors, were successfully vertically landing and reusing space launch vehicles. Both companies are building large reusable orbital launch systems that will utilize currently-under-development rocket engines that are each at least four years along in development, and are already in use or under development test on ground test stands, all with a focus on radically lowering the price of carrying people and cargo to space.
Beginning on November 23, 2015, Blue Origin successfully demonstrated the repeated reuse of a rocket for the first time ever, by completing five suborbital, vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) flights of the same New Shepard rocket; a feat for which Blue Origin was awarded the prestigious 2016 Robert J. Collier Trophy.
On March 30, 2017, SpaceX successfully relaunched a previously flown orbital-class rocket (Falcon 9) for the first time in history, an achievement many compare in significance to that of the Wright brothers' first flight. Celebrated astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson described the underlying economic importance of SpaceX's otherwise technical milestone:
Any demonstration of rocket reusability is a good thing. [...] When we fly on a Boeing 747 across great distances, we don't throw it away and roll out a new one. Reusability is arguably the most fundamental feature of affordable expensive things.
Echoing deGrasse Tyson's post-flight sentiments, former NASA official (and current engineering dean at the University of Colorado Boulder) Bobby Braun "compared the [Falcon 9] rocket to the first successful commercial airliner, the Boeing 707, which ushered in the jet age".
While NewSpace is currently[when?] a primarily horizontal market phenomenon or force which cuts across or "converges" many traditional, existing space-industry "verticals" (i.e., vertical markets)--including spacecraft, launch vehicles and services, scientific research, etc.--the ultimate promise of NewSpace is that it can become a true general purpose technology (or meta-technology), uniquely enabling the creation of new, emerging, and even once-unimaginable verticals, including:
In the United States, NewSpace firms and activities are primarily regulated by the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (generally referred to as FAA/AST). However, given the intersection of potentially many and varied agency-interests at stake in any NewSpace venture (e.g., FAA, FCC, NOAA, DOD, NASA, FDA, DOE, DOC, etc.), and the sheer infancy of NewSpace as an industry, it appears a comprehensive and userfriendly U.S. regulatory scheme has yet to be developed and put into place to the general satisfaction of NewSpace players:
Right now there are significant gaps in the U.S. government's regulatory authority and licensing process for newly emerging commercial space ventures [i.e., NewSpace firms and projects]. Processes exist for some ventures, but not for others. [...] In many cases, it's not clear what agency, if any, a commercial firm should go through to get approval. [...] The lack of clear rules, authorities, and process is needlessly driving up risk for these firms. Worse yet, it may lead some of them to move to countries where there is greater regulatory clarity or less oversight.
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Newt Gingrich, an influential adviser to Trump when it comes to space issues, is among those pushing for a more entrepreneurial space program. In an email to The Washington Post, Gingrich...blasted NASA for becoming an agency that avoids risk, and said the space program should leverage the enthusiasm and money of the many billionaires interested in commercializing space. [...] 'The key is to liberate space from government monopoly and maximize the inventive entrepreneurial spirit of the Wright brothers, Edison, Ford and other classic Americans,' Gingrich wrote. 'Done properly we can be on the moon in President Trump's first term and orbiting Mars by the end of his second term.'
After the Soviet Union launched its Sputnik satellite in 1957, American scientists were under the gun to top that stunning feat. Harold Rosen, an electrical engineer at Hughes Aircraft Co., proposed small, spinning satellites that could relay telephone calls and TV signals around the world.
Lockheed-Russian Venture Gets First Customer: Lockheed-Khrunichev-Energia International [was] formed this year to provide space-launch services using Russian-built Proton rockets.... [...] The venture between Lockheed and Khrunichev, one of Russia's leading aerospace operations, is among the most significant linkups between U.S. and Russian defense firms.
A private U.S. firm has entered into a sole distributorship agreement with a consortium of Russian scientific, industrial, and space firms to market their services, including use of the Energia and Zenit boosters. [...] The U.S. company, Commercial Space Management Co., Inc. (CSMC), was formed earlier this year.... [...] According to Nicholas Kim, CSMC's chairman and a Wall Street financier with D.H. Blair, the agreement has been struck between the management company and ENERM Inc., a joint-stock company that is a consortium of aerospace groups within the Commonwealth of Independent States [CIS], the former Soviet Union. The agreement is exclusive outside the [CIS].... [...] Included in the consortium are NPO Energia, rocket engine manufacturer NPO Energomash, the Baikonur Cosmodrome and KB Yuzhnoye, a Ukrainian producer of ballistic missiles. [...] 'In ENERM, we believe we have the crown jewels of the former Soviet empire...the very best space technology production and operation companies concerned,' Kim told Space News in a May 14 phone interview. [...] A main focus of the cooperative arrangement is to provide Energia, Energia-M, and Zenit launches for commercial satellite companies, Kim said. [...] The extent of Western demand for Energia-class boosters and Zenit remains to be seen. 'I would be prepared to be happily surprised,' said one Wall Street aerospace analyst. [...] According to Kim, the CSMC group plans to take advantage of Lockheed's recent push to market Russian Proton boosters. [...] 'They took the big risk of blazing the trail. Part of our strategy has been timed to their effort of opening the door,' Kim said. [...] Kim said CSMC is also postured to encourage greater use of Russian space expertise in the restructured U.S. space station program....
The end of the Cold War has opened up unprecedented opportunities for the U.S. to benefit from the vast resources of the former Soviet space program. Unfortunately, due to a lack of clear and consistent policies, the U.S. space community and NASA in particular has been slow to exploit these opportunities. In this paper an improved strategy for NASA's pursuit of Russian cooperation is developed that specifies the recommended areas in which to cooperate and the suggested means for implementation. [...] The strategy was developed using lessons learned from past and on-going joint aerospace projects with Russian as well as other international partners. [...] The analysis identifies newly emerging objectives for international space ventures in support of foreign policy and industrial competitiveness goals. NASA's present approach to cooperating with Russia is built upon short-term government-led projects that neglect these broader objectives. Recommendations for making space policy structures at NASA and at the national level more responsive to U.S. long-term strategic interests are presented to overcome this shortcoming. To effectively meet the needs of U.S. and Russian partners alike, it is recommended that NASA make greater use of private companies with their efficient commercial practices as the interface to Russian industrial enterprises.
To hear the dreamers tell it, this is the next Silicon Valley. The Mojave Air and Space Port is the spiritual heart of the industry that people call 'New Space.' [...] Old Space (and this is still the dreamers talking) is slow, bureaucratic, government-directed, completely top-down. Old Space is NASA, cautious and halting, supervising every project down to the last thousand-dollar widget. Old Space is Boeing, Lockheed, Northrop Grumman. Old Space coasts on the glory of the Apollo era and isn't entirely sure what to do next. [...] New Space is the opposite of all that. It's wild. It's commercial, bootstrapping, imaginative, right up to the point of being (and this is no longer the dreamers talking) delusional. [...] Many of the New Space enterprises are still in the PowerPoint stage, with business models built around spaceships that haven't yet gone to space. A bold attitude and good marketing aren't enough to put a vehicle into orbit. The skeptics among the Old Space people will say to the upstarts: Where's your rocket? How many times have you launched? Can you deliver reliably? Repeatedly? Safely? We put a man on the moon -- what have you done? [...] Old Space and New Space turn out to be symbiotic. New Space companies need NASA contracts, and NASA needs New Space companies to pick up the agency's slack.
Since the term came into vogue about five years ago, supplanting the geekier "alt.space" moniker, it's been most commonly associated with entrepreneurial ventures developing suborbital and orbital vehicles. ... While an exact, widely-accepted definition of NewSpace still eludes the space community, it's increasingly clear that constraining the scope of NewSpace to vehicle developers is too limiting. ... SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, XCOR Aerospace, ... New companies are emerging that seek to develop technologies that can either enable or be enabled by low-cost access to space and thus can arguably be considered part of NewSpace. [Examples include] Altius Space Machines ... Masten Space Systems ... Innovative Space Propulsion Systems ... Celestial Circuits [and] Final Frontier Design. ... NewSpace ... is a way of doing business and NewSpace is an industry doing business in a new way. ... NewSpace is an industry that's doing business for a purpose ... a NewSpace company is a company that is built, formed, operated by, funded by, or has as part of its business plan the opening of the space frontier, and making a profit while doing so ... It is the industrial engine that will power the movement towards a more fundamental goal of space settlement."
NewSpace converges every vertical of the space industry together with transformational new partners across sectors. [...] [This] cross-disciplinary collaboration [is] critical to creating a sustainable space economy, which in turn fuels innovation in areas from healthcare to construction.