So you want to be a space entrepreneur…

November 15, 2011

What’s cooler than being an Internet entrepreneur? Making a living as a space entrepreneur.

A handful of space-age capitalists convened at the Techonomy conference in Tucson, Arizona this week to discuss the opportunities and challenges of the burgeoning field of intergalactic commerce.

Among the promising business opportunities waiting in the heavens: new and plentiful sources of energy, resource extraction, zero-gravity manufacturing, real estate and tourism.

“Going after an asteroid that’s the size of this room, that literally is a 30-meter long asteroid that has $15 billion worth of platinum rare metals, that’s going to happen someday,” said one of the panelists.

Within five years, predicted another, tourists will be able to take a voyage all the way around the moon.

The space entrepreneurs, from companies including Virgin Galactic, Arkyd Astronautics and Planetary Power, grumbled about many of the same types of day-to-day problems that bedevil their terrestrial counterparts, from access to funding to the pace of technological innovation. Regulations in space are murky and another potential trouble spot.

“There’s things like if I was going to go to a defunct satellite and claim it’s mine. Well I can’t, because whoever put it up there in the first place… But then there’s, ‘Who’s to say that I can’t go the moon and start my own country’? Who has the jurisdiction over that?” asked another panelist. “It’s kind of what you can get away with.”.

And, of course, there are industry-unique problems, most notably the growing prevalence of space junk – the debris and detritus left over from past space missions which float around in space, threatening to collide with other newly-launched spaceships.

Overall, the mood in the room was bullish. In the next year or two, said some, the world will see several space commerce companies garner multi-billion dollar valuations.

Before you run off to find your riches in geosynchronous orbit and beyond however, be advised that space commerce is not a game for everyone. Among the entrepreneurs represented on the panel were a former NASA engineer, a former NASA chief of staff and a former Navy fighter pilot.

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