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Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock is a freelance writer specialising in Energy and Finance. She has a Master’s in International Development from the University of Birmingham, UK.

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What Does Billionaires Dominating Space Travel Mean for the World?

  • Billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and Elon Musk are making significant investments in space travel.
  • Private space companies are developing technologies that could revolutionize space exploration and satellite communications.
  • Concerns are rising about the geopolitical implications of billionaires holding immense power in space.
space

For decades, when people discussed space travel they thought of NASA. After all, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration accomplished the first moon landing in 1969 and has achieved many more feats since. However, over the last few years, several billionaires have been investing in space travel in a bid to offer passenger flights to space and enhance satellite technology. But where can these billionaires’ ventures take us and what does it mean for just a few players to be holding so much power?

In 2021, two world-renowned billionaires - Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson, each took a flight into space on their own spacecraft, as their private-sector companies finally achieved the technological advances required to offer space passenger flight. Elon Musk’s SpaceX company achieved flight shortly after. Branson and Bezos spent several years developing spacecraft under their respective space companies, to create aircraft capable of transporting passengers on short, supersonic trips. 

Musk’s company SpaceX, founded in 2002, has launched over 4,500 Starlink satellites over the past five years, which contribute more than 50 percent of all active space satellites in orbit. These satellites are capable of delivering internet access around the world, enhancing global communications, and providing Musk with a great deal of power. SpaceX has over 1.5 million users around the globe. It has requested to be allowed to send a total of 42,000 satellites into space. 

Meanwhile, Bezos sent up his first two satellites at the end of last year, after failing to launch two satellites the previous year. Despite setbacks, Bezos hopes to launch 3,236 satellites by 2029. While this would be an impressive feat, Blue Origin has been hugely overshadowed by SpaceX’s recent success. 

There are growing concerns about what having so much power in one man’s hands may mean for geopolitical and other issues. In September 2022, Musk refused to activate SpaceX services to support a surprise drone attack on Russian ships by Ukraine. Musk said that he did this to avoid the potential retaliation by Russia. However, this has led to questions about what it means for a billionaire – not a country leader – to have so much power. 

Moriba Jah, an associate professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics at the University of Texas at Austin, explained, “Elon couldn’t just have 53% of all the satellites out there that are working if it weren’t because the US government allowed him to do that. So, I don’t blame Elon for this. I’m just saying the US government-backed him and is encouraging this sort of orbital occupation – and this is going to piss other countries off.” Jah added. “Occupation is not a good thing. Occupation is a sort of behaviour of colonizers, and just because something is legal doesn’t mean that it’s right.”

Musk, Bezos and Branson are not the only billionaires looking to claim a stake in the space game. IBX’s Kam Ghaffarian has grand ideas for the future of space travel. He hopes to explore alternative homes for Earth’s inhabitants in the stars. At the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs Ghaffarian stated, “There’s this common denominator of combining altruism, to do something purposeful and good, and combine it with capitalism to make a positive impact.” He added, “The vision for IBX is protecting our home, our planet, and then finding new homes and stars and everything involved to do that. So, on the space side, if we say that the ultimate destiny for humanity is interstellar travel, and going to the stars, then we need to take a lot of intermediary steps to do that.”

Ghaffarian is the co-founder of Intuitive Machines, which recently became the first company to land a commercial lander - its Odysseus spacecraft – on the moon. He is also the co-founder and chairman of Axiom Space, a company that sends private astronauts on commercial missions to the International Space Station (ISS). It is the first company to be given permission to connect with the ISS and is doing so to develop its own space station. Ghaffarian is also the executive chairman at Quantum Space and the founder of X-Energy.

Rather than competing on all fronts, Ghaffarian, Musk and Bezos plan to work together to achieve the first low earth orbit (LEO) to be able to go to the moon and Mars, and eventually beyond. Ghaffarian believes the space economy could soon be world trillions of dollars, spurred by technological advances, such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing. 

As several billionaire-funded space companies emerge, so do a vast array of questions. Will private space companies take the lead in space exploration? What does it mean for just a few billionaires to hold so much geopolitical power? How can these companies support international efforts to advance space travel? To ensure the safety of the world, governments must regulate private space missions and establish transparency and security standards. However, where the private advances in space travel will lead, we do not yet know. 

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By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com 

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