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The Space Economy: Six Opportunities For Innovators

This article first appeared in Forbes.Com.

For the past few decades, only astronauts could travel to space. And yes, it was a privilege when my daughter and I met astronaut Sally Ride. Now, thanks to visionaries like Elon Musk and emerging technologies, we’re talking about multi-planetary existence — an evolution indeed. Morgan Stanley estimates that the global space industry could grow to more than $1 trillion in revenue by 2040. Meanwhile, space tourism will be a $3 billion market by 2030, according to UBS (via CNBC).

Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and the late Steve Jobs are both admired and disliked by many — depending on who you ask. Yet, each has disrupted industries, built categories and demonstrated a vison that is beyond most of us. Could we have imagined, for example, that a smartphone would replace so many tools — from calculators and cameras to heart monitors and music players?

Now, Musk predicts that SpaceX will land humans on Mars by 2026. Bezos’ Blue Origin is working on “developing infrastructure for the creation of human spaceflight capabilities,” according to the company’s website. These are visionaries who are exploring the next frontier and finding ways to travel to new places we could once only dream about.

Granted, many of us won’t be blasting off to the International Space Station or Mars in our lifetimes, but I believe we as business leaders can definitely create innovative solutions to support space travel and build colonies in space.


I have had the opportunity to work with and support a variety of successful tech pioneers and transformational leaders. I’ve learned to look ahead, identify new market opportunities and help businesses prepare for what’s next. Now, with an eye toward space innovation, here is a list of opportunities I see that businesses and innovators could capitalize on — in addition to fostering the next generation of space tech innovators.

• Tech startups: Founders often look for opportunities to create solutions to problems. More entrepreneurs can now look at how to solve the challenge of space travel by enabling people to land and return back to Earth. Agtech experts could consider designing more technologies for sustainable space farming, for example. After all, we’ll need more than potatoes and radishes if we are to flourish in space. How can we grow leafy greens for additional nutrition? NASA’s Vegetable Production System is already making progress in this area. And how about those fueling stations? Won’t rockets need fuel to travel from one colony to the next?

• Health tech and wearables: People will have to figure out how to optimize the ways we overcome a myriad of challenges in space — from how to make oxygen to designing lifesaving facilities like pharmacies and hospitals. Until then, tech companies could provide them with wearable devices to monitor and maintain their health in real time. I believe this is an opportunity for companies to look at how products like an Apple Watch or a Fitbit could be leveraged to track health in space, analyze data in real time and make life-saving decisions.

• Fashion tech: In a recent post, I referenced how Under Armour is collaborating with Virgin Atlantic to create spacesuits for the masses. As we plan for more commercial flights to space, the apparel industry has an opportunity to step up and create fashionable spacesuits for tourists. It also means they could collaborate with tech companies and designers to design safe clothing for all — from the petites to the big-and-tall people. And don’t forget footwear. People may want classy and comfortable shoes and boots to wear in space.

• Travel platforms: Today, people who aren’t astronauts generally have to be billionaires or millionaires to travel to space, as demonstrated by the three men who are paying $55 million each to spend eight days at the International Space Station. Yes, there’s no doubt that this is a historic private-public space mission. However, if space travel gains in popularity, businesses like Trip Advisor and Expedia could provide deals on space travel, ask for reviews or add fun things to do in space.

• Academia: Many universities offer an aerospace engineering curriculum, which primarily teaches students about the design and development of aeronautical and aerospace vehicles. But if we are to build a colony in space, the academic community may need to expand its curriculum and teach students about building structures (homes and offices) on Mars, for example. This might require research on how to either take materials available on Mars and convert them into building materials or how to create extremely lightweight structural materials on Earth and easily ship them to Mars. Archinaut is already working on building large structures in space.

• The media: If more companies and organizations start focusing on the space industry, I expect to see more publications create a beat called “Space” and a volley of journalists who want to cover this area. It’ll also open up opportunities for innovators to become expert commentators on the space economy. To date, I haven’t seen all news outlets hire space reporters yet, although CNN and CNBC have.

As earthlings and as innovators, we all have the ability to plan for the future and decide what types of innovations we’ll need in order to call outer space our home. Let’s not leave it all in the hands of a few billionaires to design the brave new world, as tech journalist Kara Swisher says in The New York Times (paywall).

Let’s help plan our future — a future we’ll feel proud to leave to our kids and grandkids.


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