December 16, 2021
Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Rocket Lab
The modern “space race” is upon us, and this time, the race is among private-sector enterprises. Leaders in the private sector are facing new opportunities and challenges in regard to space innovation and the private-public partnerships that support it.
In his keynote address at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s fourth annual Space Summit, Peter Beck, CEO and Founder of Rocket Lab, discussed the impact the private sector has had on the space industry and where it’s going in the future.
IPOs Will Help Space Companies Reach Their Potential
For most of the time that humankind has been traveling to space, it has been entirely funded and operated by federal governments. That's beginning to change as space-focused companies like Rocket Lab go public.
Beck talked about how this is a consequential moment for space companies to invest in innovation moving forward.
“If you think of the space industry, at least on the private side, it has been played for a very long time with just enough capital to get things going and exciting, but not large amounts of capital to really reach its potential,” said Beck. “There’s a significant number of companies that have IPOed and it's really going to help the industry to grow and start to execute the programs of ambition that we have so long dreamed about.”
Private-Sector Space Companies Need to Be Mindful of Orbital Debris
With so many more companies taking an interest in space exploration, they have to be cognitive of the orbital debris left behind. These are human-made objects that are left behind by space travelers, orbiting around Earth and impeding exploration.
Beck stated that companies need to be aware of their footprint as they launch into space and the consequences from an environmental and sustainability standpoint.
“This year we saw a really disappointing missile test from Russia, and this created a tremendous amount of debris,” said Beck. “It feels like … a bit of a gold rush going into orbit, but … we absolutely have to think about how we do this from a sustainable standpoint.”
The Private Sector Needs to Partner With Governments for Further Space Innovation
Just because there's an influx of interest in outer space within the private sector, that doesn't mean the role of the government will diminish. Private sector companies should partner with the government to make sure they are sharing resources and ambitions, and not competing with one another.
The more the two entities can work together, the more that can be accomplished and discovered, said Beck, who sees this time as an opportunity for collaboration.
“Government[s] are getting to feed off all of that private industry, investment, and advances, and creating much more capability for nations,” said Beck.
Beck acknowledged that there is still a need for the government to nurture the space exploration efforts of the private sector, but he also looked at the broader picture of opening up space to more innovators.
“You can watch space democratize in real-time, which … is super exciting,” he said. “[When] I grew up … it was only NASA that did amazing things [in space]. Now, commercial companies are doing amazing things [too].”