As the world looks to the stars to test technology, advance science, and build an economic engine to get to the moon and beyond, space tourism will play an important role. But, giving private citizens the view of a lifetime comes at a cost. What are the risks and the opportunities? Via Space asks early movers to share how they see the industry unfolding — as a new space race takes hold, driven not by governments, but by visionary entrepreneurs seeking to make space accessible to everyone.

Hitching a ride to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) soon will no longer be the domain of elite trained astronauts — it will be within reach of wealthy private citizens as early as this year, if NASA and a host of early space firms realize their ambitions.

With the likes of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Sir Richard Branson leading the charge for privately funded space excursions, one fact is clear: space tourism is coming — buoyed by public support, government incentives, and private sector innovation.

In a press conference on June 7, NASA announced its strategy to open up the International Space Station (ISS) for commercial business as part of its drive to accelerate a thriving commercial economy in LEO.

Included in NASA’s sweeping announcement was welcoming the first non-astronauts onto the space station for week-long stays as early as next year — at a price tag of $50 million per rider to land on station, and $35,000 per night to stay there.

NASA isn’t alone. Virgin Galactic intends to offer its first tourist flights to space from the company’s “Spaceport America” in New Mexico as early as next year. SpaceX announced last September its first private passenger to the moon: Japanese retail entrepreneur and art collector Yusaku Maezawa. The billionaire’s trip, slated for 2023, will include several invited artists and possibly SpaceX founder Elon Musk. Blue Origin “is targeting human flight this year, but it’s not a race – we’ll fly when we’re ready,” says Ariane Cornell, director of astronaut and orbital sales.

As part of its announcement on May 30, NASA released summaries of its LEO commercialization studies. A total of 12 companies examined the potential growth of a LEO economy, as part of an effort to transition LEO operations to a commercial model in which NASA would be one of many clients of commercial space facilities.

The plan calls for for-profit activities, including space tourism, in-space manufacturing, video products for entertainment, and in-space assembly and servicing, and transportation of people and cargo to and from LEO.

One study participant, Jeffrey Manber, CEO of NanoRacks, has long advocated for commercial space tourism from his days as head of Mir Corp., which leased the aging space station Mir for two years. He explains that while NanoRacks’ focus is more on supporting “professional astronauts,” or those hosted by companies and academic institutions, those individuals, too, will be space tourists when not working.

He envisions a future where “everyday people will be living, working and playing in space.”

“We will see space hotels, we will see outposts for professional astronauts, and we’ll see in the next decade about 10 private space stations — some automated, some for tourists, some for professional astronauts,” he predicts, though how quickly this occurs will depend on launch prices coming down.

While acknowledging the excitement for space tourism, Manber cautions that it shouldn’t overshadow the critical in-orbit work of scientists and commercial firms. “I don’t want our future as a space-faring nation to be dependent on tourism. We’re focused also on breakthroughs in research, new technology and in-space manufacturing.”

Clearly, NASA is looking to the “creative private sector” to drive a LEO economy. It hopes dollars from space tourism and professional astronaut missions will help fund its broader science and space exploration goals, including the push to the moon and Mars. And, not surprisingly, there’s no shortage of entrepreneurs looking to be first out of the gate to offer people with means a ride.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere (image courtesy of CES)

T-Mobile CEO Says Dish Deal Puts The three-way deal announced by T-Mobile, Sprint, and Dish on Friday was a catalyst moment that will completely change the wireless landscape, according to T-Mobile CEO John Legere.

“With its acquisition of Boost Mobile, and the mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) agreement we put in place… Dish has a real significant opportunity to be a very credible disruptive fourth wireless carrier, and that certainly is something that I’m sure AT&T and Verizon should keep an eye on,” Legere said during his company’s 2019 second-quarter earnings conference call. T-Mobile CEO Says Dish Deal Puts

The triumvirate made international headlines on Friday with the announcement of a three-way deal that simultaneously cleared the way for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to approve a long-awaited merger between T-Mobile and Sprint and turned Dish into the fourth-largest wireless carrier in the United States. Together, these moves could also accelerate the U.S. wireless industry into the age of 5G.

T-Mobile reached agreements with Dish to divest all of Sprint’s prepaid businesses, including Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile, and Sprint-branded prepaid customers, as well as Sprint’s 800-megahertz spectrum licenses after a three-year period for $5 billion. When the divestiture closes, the new T-Mobile that emerges will enter into commercial arrangements that will provide Dish wireless customers access to the new T-Mobile network for seven years. This is important for Dish, as it will take at least several years to build out its own service.

“We are going to keep Sprint’s entire 2.5 gigahertz and PCS spectrum, which is so important for fully realizing the 5G efficiencies promised by the merger,” said Legere. “Dish will also have an option to take on leases for certain cell sites and retail locations that are decommissioned by the new T-Mobile, and both parties agreed to discuss how we would get access to some or all of their 600-spectrum to use on our T-Mobile network.”

T-Mobile President and COO Mike Sievert confirmed that part of the carrier’s arrangement with Dish has new requirements placed on them to, “build out against the spectrum by the FCC and the DOJ. They’re a party to this consent decree. And I think that’s really great news for consumers that they’re going to get after building out a network using all that spectrum. That entire arrangement was and is contingent upon this announcement that was made today,” he said during the T-Mobile earnings call.

Legere added, “One of the ways I look at this is, if you look at the full utilization of the 2.5 gigahertz that we’re acquiring from Sprint, as well as the unused spectrum of Dish, this is a great day for American networks. It’d be about 150 megahertz at least of spectrum that will now be put to use that, before these sets of agreements, were not going to be put to use. And certainly, Dish’s commitments, which have penalties associated with them, are a big part of it.”

Analysts have mixed views on Dish’s ability to build a competitive wireless service.

New Street Research Analyst Jonathan Chaplin argued that Dish’s network-building costs could be lower than competitors because, unlike competitors, it is only building one network. “This single network will be built from the beginning with 5G, the new wireless standard just beginning to roll out,” said Chaplin. “This means Dish’s network will be virtual and can save money on the costs of maintaining physical wireless towers. Ultimately, Dish’s cost per unit of data would be 75 percent lower than Verizon’s and 55 percent lower than AT&T and T-Mobile’s.”

Sprint and T-Mobile are owned by SoftBank and Deutsche Telekom, which have been hoping that a merger that will provide much-needed new growth opportunities for the wireless industry, which Vox Recode’s Peter Kafka said most consumers view as just, “a commodity. With some exceptions, the big carriers all deliver the same basic service, which means they have to compete on price, or by throwing in freebies like Netflix subscriptions, which T-Mobile has done,” wrote Kafka.

Moffett Nathanson analyst Craig Moffett said that he has evaluated Dish entirely on its spectrum assets and the potential for another company to buy those assets, considering that its broadcast business is continuously shrinking and losing subscribers. “The idea that Dish will be able or willing to build its own effective wireless business will require many billions of dollars to get off the ground and even more to maintain,” Moffett said in a report released following the announcement.

He referred to Verizon’s $15 billion in annual maintenance expenses for its own network. “The idea that Dish might spend $10 billion, which is their own estimate from previous conference calls, and then somehow be finished is not credible. We’ve warned for at least five years that if and when Dish’s spectrum holdings ever come to be viewed as an operating asset rather than an asset held for sale, well… look out below,” Moffett said.

Moffett got into a testy exchange with Legere during the earnings conference call when he asked the T-Mobile CEO to explain the involvement of the DOJ in approving (and possibly leaking) the deal.

“Obviously, for the entire time that we’ve been working with the DOJ, the staff has been totally involved in every piece of what we’ve done. And ultimately, how they get to a decision in the DOJ is very clear. Ultimately, the staff gives tremendous amounts of input, and then the antitrust head of the DOJ makes a decision based upon all those attributes,” said Legere. “I would also say that this has to be the most leaked-about deal ever in the history of mankind. And, since I was sitting in the DOJ so many of the days where the leaks came right out of the DOJ, I would tell you, if you are a baseball hitter and you were hitting the average of how right these rumors were, you would clearly be down with team TiVo and not playing in the major leagues. People were clutching at straws, and it was clear that most of the time, the rumors were coming out of the DOJ. They weren’t. They were coming out of other parties that were trying to influence the process and cause unrest.”

The community served by Via Satellite has a history of innovation, with decades of proven performance in delivering capabilities from space. Businesses and individual consumers now leverage space solutions that are so integrated into our way of life that we have grown dependent on them. 12 Low-Cost Steps to Strengthen Your

New threats are arising to the use of space. China, Russia, and others now have stated military doctrine and advanced capabilities that can disrupt space services.

This is the topic of a new report by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), titled “Challenges to Security in Space,” which provides some key insights into the counter-space capabilities of nations. DIA released this report with a goal to, “support a deeper public understanding of key space and counterspace issues and inform open dialogue and partner engagement on these challenges.”

“The advantage the U.S. holds in space — and its perceived dependence on it — will drive actors to improve their abilities to access and operate in and through space,” the report states. “These improvements can pose a threat to space-based services across the military commercial and civil space sectors.” In the report, Russia and China are named as leading threats, with half of the report focused on covering the capabilities and threats posed by each country. But, the report also underscores Iran and North Korea’s space-based offensive capabilities. 12 Low-Cost Steps to Strengthen Your

The report was written in a clear and understandable way, including, succinct articulations of key space technologies and counterspace concepts. This makes it readable for a wide audience and should be helpful in getting more ideas into the mix on how to harden space systems and the businesses that depend on them from potential attack.

What Should the Business Decision-Maker Should Do About This?

The DIA report provides useful insights that are rarely discussed in open venues. This is a positive step in helping inform the business community. However, the report does not provide actionable recommendations for industry. It is not the charter of DIA to provide space threat hardening guidance to the satellite industry or risk mitigation guidance to businesses that depend on space. But clearly, there is a need for action in these domains.

As a veteran of both the space and cybersecurity communities, I recommend that the industry take the following steps to protect themselves from and preparing for potential attacks:

1. Establish a focal point in your organization to track threats and to track best practices for resilience of systems.

2. Join with peer organizations in collaborating on best practices for threat mitigation and for exchanging information on the nature of the threat. A good model for how this works in the cybersecurity community is the Information Sharing and Analysis Center concept, which is an industry-lead approach that also exchanges information with the government.

3. Provide training to your engineering and development workforce so they know the nature of the threat and can assist in thinking through optimal countermeasures to increase resilience of systems.

4. Seek external design reviews for the full system, including ground stations, to ensure appropriate risk mitigation measures can be put in place.

5. Establish and practice incident response plans and train the executive team in incident response to space threats (via tabletop exercises).

6. Assess your firm’s dependence on space. This includes understanding the use of space to communicate, as well as any inputs to the firm’s decision-making process that come from data collected from assets in space.

7. After assessing dependence on space assets, assess space-related risks. We recommend doing so through scenario-based evaluations involving the materialization of risks.

8. Decide who in the executive team is responsible for understanding and mitigating risks due to war in space.

9. Ensure that your leadership team is involved in developing response and recovery plans tailored to dependence on space and the risks to business. Document response and recovery plans as part of an overall disaster recovery process.

10. Develop incident response processes aligned with the business. This may include leveraging an internal Security Operations Center as a hub of information during an incident.

11. Practice incident response including periodic executive-level tabletop exercises that run through scenarios of space-based incidents.

12. Periodically evaluate space incident response plans and dependence on space by using independent evaluation, verification, and validation services.

The steps above are all relatively low cost and can help businesses in the space community and those dependent on our services to mitigate risks.

The Lunar Economy: From Vision to Reality The United States has a rich heritage in space, and recently, NASA selected 11 companies to conduct studies and produce prototypes of human landers for its Artemis lunar exploration program. The aim will be to put American astronauts — the first woman and the next man on the Moon’s south pole by 2024 — and establish sustainable missions by 2028. We talk to some of the companies involved in this exciting initiative, and where it could lead next.

Peter McGrath, Boeing’s Director of Global Sales and Marketing for the Space Exploration business, admits that exploration will benefit humanity in a host of ways. “There is the technology development required to make such a goal achievable that is then moved through the economy in different ways. Then there is direct research in space that is used on Earth, such as medicines,” he says. “More companies are seeing potential economic benefit to space exploration, too. Add to that the inspiration of these efforts and you get an effect such as Apollo had on the leaders of today’s human spaceflight efforts. The work we do today inspires students to become engineers and do more remarkable things.”

There could be numerous benefits to humanity once these missions begin in earnest. Frank Slazer, vice president of strategy and business development for space at Aerojet Rocketdyne, believes the importance of a regular series of missions to the moon isn’t limited to the space industry — although, it would greatly strengthen the space industrial base and workforce. Slazer grew up during the Apollo program and admits it had a huge effect on him, as well as tens of thousands in his generation. He adds, “We were inspired to go into STEM careers, and even though only a small fraction of my generation went into the space industry, others went into fields such as IT, medicine, and aviation. This Apollo generation is the one that gave us affordable PCs and the internet, smartphones, and amazing advances in medicine, science, and materials technology. A regular cadence of highly visible human exploration missions will energize this new generation to pursue STEM careers and may help supercharge our economy.” The Lunar Economy: From Vision to Reality

Technical Challenges

However, there are ambitious timelines at play. There are also considerable technical challenges, as companies look to go beyond just landing on the Moon, and look to create future ecosystems for living and working in a lunar economy. Robert Curbeam, VP of business development, space systems at Northrop Grumman believes the ability to return humans to the lunar surface in five years is “very reasonable” given the right technical concept and capabilities — using best practices and standards, while effectively managing risk. “Propulsion is always a major technical challenge in spaceflight, and we see that as an area targeted for using high-heritage systems and active risk-reduction, he says. “NASA is focused on speed to land the next man and first woman on the Moon by 2024.”

He adds that development of next-generation human landing systems will provide a game-changing capability for access to the lunar surface. “The ability to land both humans and large masses on the lunar surface opens up endless possibilities for scientific exploration, and opens up markets through the industrial utilization of the Moon. When Northrop Grumman’s lunar module touched down at the Sea of Tranquillity, carrying two NASA astronauts on July 20, 1969, both the space industry and the world were changed. Suddenly things that felt impossible had been achieved and fuelled our desire to continue innovating and exploring,” he says.

Andy Crocker, director of space strategy and lunar program manager at Dynetics, believes that taking a balanced approach to risk is key. For lunar missions, we must be willing to live with appropriate levels of risk and understand that absolute minimum risk may not be appropriate. In the last 50 years, Crocker says NASA has improved both its understanding and management of the risks of human space flight, and that it has driven new technologies to lower said risks. “Without a doubt, a focus on safety and controlling risk is good. The current schedule for Artemis absolutely requires timely decisions,” he says.

He continues, “The enterprise of human exploration requires accepting risks and willingness to sacrifice. Astronauts are explorers; like explorers have for millennia, they choose sacrifice. They understand they are part of something bigger than themselves, and they accept the risks. As mission planners and system designers, we sometimes need to remind ourselves of the saying, ‘Perfect is the enemy of good enough.’ Trying to be perfect will sabotage success. Likewise, trying to eliminate every risk is a misguided — and impossible — goal. One could say, ‘Zero risk is the enemy of good enough.” The Lunar Economy: From Vision to Reality

Slazer admits that the space industry is now building on decades of experience to take the next giant leap. He points to the fact that Aerojet Rocketdyne is using innovative technologies, such as Solar Electric Propulsion, 3D printing, and other advanced manufacturing techniques to deliver reliable and affordable deep space propulsion systems. However, it will take more than just great technology to succeed. He adds, “While we have the technology and the capabilities to succeed in going to the Moon in 2024, it will require increased funding for NASA and a sustained bipartisan commitment to space exploration. One of the biggest differences between now and Apollo was that then, the Congress and the White House sustained their support over five Congressional election cycles and three Presidents – including a change in the President’s party. We need that kind of consistent support to succeed.”