NewSpace, or new space, is a movement and philosophy[1][2] encompassing a globally emerging private spaceflight industry.[3] Specifically, the term is used to refer to a global sector of new aerospace companies and ventures working independently of governments and traditional major contractors[4] to develop faster,[5] better, and cheaper access to space and spaceflight technologies, driven by commercial, as distinct from political or other, motivations to broader, more socioeconomically-oriented, ends.

Investment bank Morgan Stanley expects 2019 to show "key milestones and catalysts [in the new space sector]" and advises its customers to "pay attention to space companies".[6]

Meaning of "NewSpace"

The term NewSpace has clearly meant somewhat different things to various people over the years of the 2000s when the term picked up usage.

Satsearch conducted research to better understand how the term NewSpace is used across the space industry and in popular understanding globally during 2018–19. They reported that the common consensus is that "NewSpace is an approach that focuses on lowering the barriers to entry to space industry, by providing cheaper access to space [and] more high-quality and affordable data from space that can be put to use here on Earth, for the benefit of scientists and the general public. ... [One] of the major characteristics of the NewSpace era [is the] the fundamental shift from an industry which was heavily dependent on government agencies (and taxpayers’ money) to a more agile and an independent private sector that relies on innovation, working with much smaller budgets than the early space industry.[7]

HobbySpace, awarded the 2007 ‘Best Presentation of Space’ by the Space Frontier Foundation, came up with the following:[7]

list of characteristics which would help determine whether a particular endeavor is considered as a NewSpace approach. They mainly include the following:

  1. Focus on cost reductions
  2. An assurance that the low costs will pay off
  3. Ensuring incremental development
  4. Foray into commercial markets with high-consumer rates
  5. Primary emphasis on optimizing operations
  6. At the heart of it all, innovation


The Space Race, which began in the mid-1950s and gave birth in earnest to spaceflight, was famously a manifestation of the then larger politico-economic competition between capitalism (represented by the United States) and communism (represented by the Soviet Union). For this reason, from the very beginning, the American business establishment—particularly those bellwether private firms directly involved in the U.S. space program—has championed the private development of space and space activity. In 1961, writing as one of the deans of the American business establishment, Ralph J. Cordiner, then chairman of General Electric (a blue-chip, charter-prime contractor to NASA and the U.S. space program), contributed a chapter titled "Competitive Private Enterprise in Space" to the anthology Peacetime Uses of Outer Space.[8][9] While recognizing at the time the realities of having to initially rely on the U.S. government's vast and convenient organization, resources, and power in order to effectively address the immediate Soviet space challenge, Cordiner nonetheless advocated private sector dominance—ultimately—of space activity, consistent with textbook American capitalist ideals.[8][9]

Syncom, Hughes Aircraft Company's commercial communications satellite system, was originally conceived as a direct competitive response by American private industry to the Soviets' successful deployment of Sputnik in 1957, the Cold War event that triggered the Space Race.[10] While Syncom was eventually successfully deployed in 1963, Dr. Harold Rosen, the Hughes engineer responsible for developing, championing, and spearheading Syncom (also brother of Ben Rosen, a pioneering Silicon Valley venture capitalist and entrepreneur, and Wall Street technology analyst), cited a general lack of confidence in the U.S. government's early launch capabilities. He later explained the Syncom project's lengthy gestation period:

This was not the most auspicious time [late 1950s] to propose a commercial space program...The most vivid impression most people then had of space-related activities was of rockets blowing up at Cape Canaveral.[10]

1980s: U.S. commercial space policy and enabling legislation

Notwithstanding the free-enterprise sentiments and preferences of American industry, space remained a firmly government-controlled and -directed endeavor well after the capstone Apollo moon landing in 1969.[11] The term "" was first used in the early 1980s to describe companies that were at last beginning to take up Cordiner's mantle and make serious efforts to reach outer space without needing or relying on the cooperation of NASA or other governmental agencies (or, by extension, even their major contractors); efforts which were catalyzed by an historic shift in U.S. policy favoring private space activity, culminating in the landmark Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984.[12][13][14] Beyond the terminology—"", "private space", "NewSpace," or "new space"—since the 1980s, the philosophy of various organizations (such as the Space Frontier Foundation in the United States) has been one of "extolling the virtues of Solar System settlement and operating independent of bureaucratic government programs".[2]

1990s: Post-Soviet U.S.-Russian private space ventures

The seeds of today's NewSpace were brought to fruition by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the releasing of that former rival-superpower's iconic, state-owned, and otherwise mature and proven space assets, technologies, capabilities, and services onto the world's private markets with the assistance of a handful of largely American private firms; notably these core-four: International Launch Services (f/k/a Lockheed-Khrunichev-Energia Int'l;[15][16] Lockheed Martin JV; Proton; est. 1993);[17] Commercial Space Management Co. (CSMC; Energia, Zenit, RD-170; est. 1993);[18] Sea Launch (Boeing JV; Zenit; est. 1995);[17][19] and MirCorp (Mir, Soyuz, Progress; est. 1999).[20][21][22][23] Until that moment in world industrial history, no private business enterprise or entrepreneur could rightly conceive of, for example, leasing—or possibly owning and operating—an orbiting space station, such as Mir, or even just ordering a space launch in the ordinary course of business.

(Until then, even for a telecommunications giant, like AT&T, placing a commercial communications satellite in orbit,[24] for example, was a fairly monumental undertaking. Contrast that with today, when a $100 million space launch vehicle can now be specified, built, priced, ordered, and eventually even launched online through, for example, United Launch Alliance's RocketBuilder website.)[25][26]

Once that industry-wide mental block was removed—once the ease (relatively speaking) and normalization of planning and conducting space activities began to dawn on private industry—the animal spirits of aerospace capitalism were roused, entrepreneurial vision and imagination started to abound, and NewSpace began to take shape in earnest. This set off today's competitive, industry-wide, virtuous cycle of "faster, better, cheaper" (a project and systems management[27] philosophy pioneered in the space field by NASA[28][29]); and otherwise paved the way to today's generally far more vibrant and conducive space-business environment—whether or not involving Russian space resources, at this point—where entrepreneurs, investors, regulators, lawmakers, supranational organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the media, and other key ecosystem participants are now able to deal with privately conducted, for-profit space activity more rationally, practically, and cost-efficiently than ever before.[11] (Wernher von Braun summed up the historical institutional-bureaucratic cautiousness toward space activity in general by famously quipping, "We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming.")[30]

In his 2016 Wall Street Journal review of Julian Guthrie's book How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight, Gregg Easterbrook highlighted the seminal importance of these often overlooked post-Soviet private space efforts in enabling and shaping today's NewSpace.[31][19] How to Make a Spaceship centers largely around the efforts of space entrepreneur, Peter Diamandis, and his Ansari X Prize won in 2004 by the SpaceShipOne team led by American aerospace engineer Burt Rutan, and funded by Microsoft co-founder and billionaire Paul Allen (SpaceShipTwo was then funded by British billionaire and industrialist Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic). To set the stage, Guthrie retraces the private space industry's development path; however, according to Easterbrook:

Mr. Diamandis wasn't the sole entrepreneur to pursue private space flight [early on]. Ms. Guthrie covers other, peculiar attempts.... Neglected in Ms. Guthrie's account is Sea Launch [archetypal post-Soviet Boeing JV with Russians and others], the first private project to send heavy objects into orbit, including, in 2001, the big satellites Rock and Roll, the initial broadcast towers of XM Radio. Every bit as eccentric as the efforts that How to Make a Spaceship describes, Sea Launch fired large [Russian Zenit] rockets from a ship at the equator—equatorial water is the ideal position for space access—compiling a record of 32 successes, three failures and one satellite functioning but in the wrong orbit.[19]

In 2001, the FAA/AST confirmed that NewSpace pioneer Sea Launch was indeed "[t]he first privately financed, working launch system and infrastructure...".[17]

Near the end of the 1990s, favored by strong public policy, and spurred on by the foundational success of these post-Soviet U.S.-Russian private space ventures, there was a dramatic increase in companies engaging in this process, leading to common usage of the phrase "new space companies."[32][33] "NewSpace" (most prominently), "entrepreneurial space," and "commercial space" are now the most commonly used terms,[18][34][33][35][36] though "" was still seen occasionally as late as 2011.[37]

2000s: Silicon Valley-style entrepreneurial space initiatives

Things changed further in the early 2000s as Elon Musk formed SpaceX with significantly more private capital while he articulated a strong and consistent vision of the "colonization of space, beginning with Mars."[2]

However, one company in a worldwide milieu of government-driven spaceflight activities simply did not cement a movement.[2] This began to change with the increasingly public revelations and pronouncements of Blue Origin after 2014. Even though the company was formed about the same time as SpaceX, it had maintained a very low profile in its first decade-and-a-half of existence. By 2016, both of these private companies, with billion-US-dollar-plus backing by committed investors, were successfully vertically landing and reusing space launch vehicles. Both companies are building large reusable orbital launch systems that will utilize currently-under-development rocket engines that are each at least four years along in development, and are already in use or under development test on ground test stands, all with a focus on radically lowering the price of carrying people and cargo to space.[2][38]

Beginning on November 23, 2015,[39] Blue Origin successfully demonstrated the repeated reuse of a rocket for the first time ever, by completing five suborbital, vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) flights of the same New Shepard rocket; a feat for which Blue Origin was awarded the prestigious 2016 Robert J. Collier Trophy.[40]

On March 30, 2017, SpaceX successfully relaunched a previously flown orbital-class rocket (Falcon 9) for the first time in history, an achievement many compare in significance to that of the Wright brothers' first flight.[41] Celebrated astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson described the underlying economic importance of SpaceX's otherwise technical milestone:

Any demonstration of rocket reusability is a good thing. [...] When we fly on a Boeing 747 across great distances, we don't throw it away and roll out a new one. Reusability is arguably the most fundamental feature of affordable expensive things.[42]

Echoing deGrasse Tyson's post-flight sentiments, former NASA official (and current engineering dean at the University of Colorado Boulder) Bobby Braun "compared the [Falcon 9] rocket to the first successful commercial airliner, the Boeing 707, which ushered in the jet age".[43]

Industry verticals

While NewSpace is currently a primarily horizontal market phenomenon or force which cuts across or "converges"[44] many traditional, existing space-industry "verticals" (i.e., vertical markets)—including spacecraft, launch vehicles and services, scientific research, etc.—the ultimate promise of NewSpace is that it can become a true general purpose technology (or meta-technology), uniquely enabling the creation of new, emerging, and even once-unimaginable verticals,[45] including:

Governmental environment

Regulatory schemes

In the United States, NewSpace firms and activities are primarily regulated by the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (generally referred to as FAA/AST). However, given the intersection of potentially many and varied agency-interests at stake in any NewSpace venture (e.g., FAA, FCC, NOAA, DOD, NASA, FDA, DOE, DOC, etc.), and the sheer infancy of NewSpace as an industry, it appears a comprehensive and userfriendly U.S. regulatory scheme has yet to be developed and put into place to the general satisfaction of NewSpace players:[57]

Right now there are significant gaps in the U.S. government's regulatory authority and licensing process for newly emerging commercial space ventures [i.e., NewSpace firms and projects]. Processes exist for some ventures, but not for others. [...] In many cases, it's not clear what agency, if any, a commercial firm should go through to get approval. [...] The lack of clear rules, authorities, and process is needlessly driving up risk for these firms. Worse yet, it may lead some of them to move to countries where there is greater regulatory clarity or less oversight.[57]

Laws and regulations

International treaties

Business ecosystem

Active companies

The following companies fit the NewSpace categorization and are active as of end of 2019:

Dormant or defunct companies (e.g., industry pioneers)

Other organizations

Governing bodies

Academic institutions

Media and events

See also


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