By Dr. Emma Gatti
Dylan Taylor’s prediction on the ten most probable things that will occur in the Space sector in the next decade.
On the 5th and 6th of June 2023, the Financial Times held its second Investing In Space conference. Similarly to last year, it was held in a hybrid form. The first day online, the second day live from London. Titled “Balancing Optimism with Realism”, the two-day summit hosted a selection of investors, innovators, government, and end-users for analyses of the opportunities of space (for more details on the FT Conference and its significance for the sector see Christophe Bosquillon part 1 and part 2 essays).
On the second day, Dylan Taylor, Chairman and CEO of Voyager Space, was invited to give his predictions of ten things that will likely happen in the Space sector within the next decade.
Before launching into Taylor’s top 10, it is important to contextualize the cultural background that drove his analysis. Space tourist enthusiast (he was among the four tourists that flew into space for ten minutes in 2021 on Blue Origin’s New Shepard), former global president of real estate and investment management company Colliers International, and super angel investor in the NewSpace industry, Taylor indicated as two turning points in the industry the launch of Falcon Heavy in 2008, alas the invention by SpaceX of reusable launchers, and the growth of Space tourism as method to finance future high-risk missions and to popularize Space. As founder of Space For Humanity, he is a big fan of the democratic use of Space (“You are more likely to win a Nobel Prize than go into Space”) and an advocate for making Space and Space flights more popular among the population because “public sentiment drives funding in Space”. It goes without saying that Taylor’s list is the product of an American sensibility. National leadership, Silicon Valley tolerance for risk and a generous dose of advertising are the foundation of his thinking. As Europeans, we always have to keep an eye on how much freedom we would be granted in such a US-lead picture, and we might want to keep in mind that funding generated thanks to public enthusiasm is not always invested for the sake of the same public or for societal benefits.
With all this in mind, off to Dylan Taylor’s 10 predictions for the next decade, and whether we at SpaceWatch.Global think they are plausible or not.
#1 Between now and the end of the 2020s we will see 3x more new astronauts than any other decade previously (250+)
PLAUSIBLE. Taylor does not specify whether he is referring to commercial astronauts (space tourists) or trained astronauts belonging to an agency corps (i.e., NASA or ESA), and whether is thinking of US astronauts only or international. However, if we combine these categories 250+ sounds about right. The number of NASA’s active astronauts in 2023 is 41, and in the past, the US agency has been able to reach up to 149 active astronauts.
#2 We will have demonstrated point-to-point rocket transport capability
NOT IN THIS DECADE. The theoretical applicability of rocket tech to day-to-day Earth flights will be demonstrated within the 2030s, not in the 2020s. For theoretical applicability we mean some sort of basic safety certification that can prove that suborbital spaceflights can guarantee the same level of safety as commercial flights (at the moment they don’t). Other details like viability, logistics (rockets cannot take off from locations proximal to cities), economics, energy consumption and carbon neutrality, pilots’ health and safety, etc. still need to be sorted out.
This urgency reflects the wishful thinking of the crew Taylor belongs to. Musk first presented this idea in 2017, envisioning suborbital spaceflights between spaceports offshore from major cities. In 2019, he tweeted that his suborbital flights could achieve distances of approximately 10,000 kilometres or less with a “decent payload” by 2020. By then he was backed up by investment banking company UBS, who made enthusiastic predictions about all this. Similarly, in 2019 Richard Branson from Virgin Galactic also presented his vision of space travel around the Earth.
This is another case of tech venture capitalists proposing a revolutionary idea that will most likely benefit themselves, billionaire industrialists, and no one else.
This is not a new idea that Musk or Branson created out of thin air. Engineers and government risk assessors have been pondering the idea of commercial space transportation for decades. In 2008, the International Space University of Strasbourg, France, published a report documenting its appraisal of point-to-point transportation technology. Two years later, the US Department of Transportation submitted a similar assessment. Both documents outlined the enormous technological, financial, and regulatory challenges to setting up a commercial space travel network between cities. The Department of Defense is looking into it as well, as this paper from 2022 highlights.
The Verge in 2017 reported a study by the US Air Force that found that reusable rockets were good for about 100 flights, while commercial airplanes could stay in operation for up to 10,000 flights. As such, Musk’s point-to-point rockets at the time were valued at 10 times the cost per seat ($10,000 ticket for a 30-minute flight from New York to Sidney). This won’t help Taylor’s vision of “Space for Humanity”. Instead, this is another case of tech venture capitalists proposing a revolutionary idea that will most likely benefit themselves, billionaire industrialists, and no one else.
#3 We will have successfully demonstrated orbital re-fueling
VERY PLAUSIBLE. This is a technology that the Chinese Space Agency has already demonstrated in 2016. In 2021, NASA selected the SpaceX Lunar Starship with an in-orbit refueling system for their initial lunar human landing system (HLS), and in 2022, a larger propellant-depot Starship was being planned for Lunar Starship HLS. We can definitely see it coming by the end of the decade.
#4 We will have re-landed on the Moon
VERY PLAUSIBLE. Dates probably won’t be the ones indicated in the first Artemis timeline, and will be shifted towards the end of the decade rather than the first part as initially indicated. But we will land on the Moon before the end of this decade and we will have a basic infrastructure (i.e. Lunar Gateway). The real prediction here would be to guess who will land first: US or China?
#4.1 We will not have landed humans on Mars
VERY VERY PLAUSIBLE. Contrary to what Musk said in 2016, we will not be launching people to Mars in 2024. But Taylor bets on a Starship rendezvous by the end of 2026.
#5 There will be a NewSpace “Big 4” mini-prime ecosystem
PLAUSIBLE. Taylor bets on four big mini-primes, similar to the model observed in investment banks, accounting firms, and aerospace primes (prime brokerage is the generic term for a bundled package of services offered by investment banks, wealth management firms, and securities dealers to hedge funds which need the ability to borrow securities and cash to be able to invest on a netted basis and achieve an absolute return. Mini-primes are intended as smaller players compared to the big consolidated primes). NewSpace will follow a similar path and he foresees at the end of 2020s four mini primes that will do everything from launching to infrastructures to hardware etc.
#6 We will no longer use the term “Space Industry”
ONE-SIDED. Taylor makes the point that if we want to expand our horizon, we should not refer to space as an “industry” but as a “market”, because its boundaries go beyond industrial manufacturing. Our guess is that the word “industry” will remain for the activities more related to the manufacturing part, like Space science is still used to refer to the research side of the domain. Our suggestion, to really be inclusive, is to use the term “domain”, that truly encompasses all the different nuances of the Space industry/market/sector.
Funding generated thanks to public enthusiasm is not always invested for the sake of the same public or for societal benefits
#7 All job skill sets will be relevant to space
IMPLAUSIBLE IF YOU WANT TO BE ACCURATE. At some point, the Space domain will need other job skills than engineers and computer scientists. Such cross-fertilization is already occurring -botanists, chemists, environmental scientists, oceanographers, musicians, artists, medical doctors, agronomists, and teachers, have already been involved with the space domain to some extent. However, it would be inaccurate to say that by the end of this decade, all jobs will be relevant in the same way. For a while (fifty years or so is our prediction) we will still need more engineers than chefs (which is why educational campaigns are so focused on STEMs and not on cooking courses).
#8 The launch industry will collapse to just 3 or 4 industry players
VERY PLAUSIBLE. Market consolidation is natural and is already occurring. At the moment there are 100+ launch companies registered in the world, but only a few (SpaceX, RocketLab, ULA) are in regular operation, while many new companies don’t yet have financing or hardware. It’s hard to think they will survive.
#9 We will have built the “mega-set”
INTRIGUING. This is, among the 10+ predictions, the one that best illustrates Taylor’s view of the Space domain as an investment field. A vision of a multi-trillion-dollar database that encompasses and surpasses Google, and uses Space as part of a mega predictive tool that merges hyperspectral imageries, AI, predictive analytics, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things. Such a “mega-set” should be able to generate an information database that can collect in real time multiple information on everything from economic trends to local conflicts, from weather forecasting to most quoted holiday locations, and shake everything into a highly accurate, AI-powered predictive tool. When we discuss “applicability” and “transferability” of Space technology to Earth application we probably speak about such encompassing vision. The devil is in the detail though: access, localization, information dominance issues, data rights, governance, and endless debugging will likely extend the timeline of this prediction by a decade or more.
#10 There will be two Space ecosystems: US/Western-led and Chinese led
LIMITED. One of the most peculiar characteristics of the Space domain and the NewSpace economy is its ability to reshuffle the global economies, with countries previously considered “emerging” becoming wealthy, and bigger players shrinking. It is a mistake to consider only the two major players. We might observe a West democratic block (US, Canada, Europe, Australia, Japan etc.) and a Chinese-Russian block, but the Indo-Pacific, South American and African markets are in the game too and eager to find their alliances. Countries like India, Saudi Arabia, UAE, South Africa, Egypt and Kenya have already shown interest in being part of both the Western and the Chinese ecosystems. If geopolitical tensions will rise between US and China, we might observe the formation of a third pole, or collaboration with both parties (see for example the UAE, that signed both the Artemis Accords and an agreement with China to carry out a join Moon Mission). Our prediction is that the US will play the ITAR card (International Traffic in Arms Regulations), as they just did with the UAE. This means blocking a country from collaborating with China when co-development of hardware with the US is in place. Again, the real prediction here would be to guess how these third parties will react to the impositions, and how they will decide to play their cards.
Dr. Emma Gatti is a planetary scientist and geologist with a PhD from the University of Cambridge and two post-docs from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Caltech. After returning to Milan in 2018, Dr. Gatti transitioned into the field of Space Economy and Space Policy as a space analyst, leveraging her extensive background in space science to drive inclusion and communication awareness in these areas. In 2022, Dr. Gatti assumed the role of Editor in Chief, writer, and radio host for SpaceWatch.Global, a leading platform dedicated to exploring the latest trends in the Space sector.