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SpaceWaves: Space is the place for out-of-this-world investments (with video)

Fuller Speed Ahead host and FreightWaves founder and CEO Craig Fuller chats with author Robert Jacobson about space-related business opportunities

Doing business in space might sound like science fiction, but that future isn’t as far off as some might think, according to Robert Jacobson, author of “Space is Open for Business.”

“We’re developing a core infrastructure like spaceports, launch facilities, new satellite infrastructure, new types of satellites,” said Jacobson during the SpaceWaves session “The New Frontier: Doing Business in Space” with FreightWaves founder and CEO Craig Fuller on Thursday. Jacobson became enamored with space after watching the first private flight into space in June 2004 in the Mojave Desert.

“As we’re building up this core infrastructure, that will allow the applications developers to create new businesses and new tools that will be useful for us here on Earth and in the space ecosystem,” Jacobson said. 

Opportunities abound for space-related investments, and they don’t consist mainly of getting people to the moon and back, although there is work being done in that area, according to Jacobson.

These opportunities exist both in the lower-Earth orbit and in deep space toward the moon, Jacobson said. 

In the lower-Earth orbit, there is communications infrastructure that provides services like internet access to places and markets on Earth that have no access or limited access. Examples of this include Amazon’s “constellation” of satellites and Elon Musk’s Starlink, both of which seek to provide internet access. There are also applications being developed that sit on top of those infrastructure platforms, according to Jacobson. 

There are also manufacturing, life sciences and biotechnology companies exploring the effects of microgravity or zero gravity on products and on organisms. For instance, some researchers are finding that viruses that have been dormant can reactivate in space, while certain bacteria appear to behave differently when experiencing microgravity, Jacobson said.

“If we could understand why they have these new characteristics — why they re-characterize their behavior in space — we might have some really great novel applications that would be very useful here on Earth,” Jacobson said.

Meanwhile, investments in deep space include developing engines that are reusable and can restart, since rocket engines historically were customized per each trip. Companies such as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin are building landers that could land cargo on the moon. Advancements in early robotics and 3D printing would enable mining to occur on the lunar landscape, using robots, machine learning and artificial intelligence to do the “nitty-gritty” work while humans serve as overseers, Jacobson said. 

“Logistics might win this war” to get humans back onto the moon because one has to consider all the ancillary services, such as communications and the services in the lower Earth orbits, that would be needed to succeed, Jacobson said.

While it might seem obvious that space-related private investments would come from billionaires or luminaries such as Musk and Bezos, everyday Main Street investors can also explore microgravity pursuits. Investors who want to play it safe can buy stocks in Virgin Galactic or Boeing. Meanwhile, riskier investors can support via angel investments the hundreds of new companies seeking to integrate Space Age technology with earthbound logistics or infrastructure needs.

For those wanting to invest in short-term opportunities in space commercialization, they should consider exploring the communications field since groups are currently exploring putting a 4G network on the moon and 5G satellites around the Earth, Jacobson said. 5G is particularly important for the Internet of Things because it connects devices and machines.

Transportation applications include using space-related technologies to meet service needs, such as changing the temperature of cargo or monitoring its condition while it’s in midstream or fine-tuning service for last-mile deliveries, according to Jacobson. Companies should consider partnering or co-investing with another vendor to pursue these opportunities, he said.

“Start looking at where are the gaps. There could be a space segment that could help fill that,” Jacobson said.

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.