Friday, May 1, 2020

The Consequential Frontier

By Brian Doherty - May 01, 2020 at 05:00AM

Journalist Peter Ward's book The Consequential Frontier: Challenging the Privatization of Space provides more evidence of what's right about the privatization of space than evidence of what's wrong with it. The latter point is mostly addressed via tossed-off addendums full of leftist catch-phrase complaints about monopoly, inequality, lack of democracy, and greed stuck at the end of chapters full of good reporting about the state of the industry.

The book details how private efforts in space have dramatically lowered satellite launch costs from wasteful cost-plus government programs that would do more to maintain jobs in multiple congressional districts than get things into orbit. It tells how the private sector developed reusable rocket boosters and how private actors are making actual space living a possibility in a way NASA never did.

The old corporate guard of Lockheed Martin and Boeing are being challenged by eager, innovative startups such as Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origins. Given the well-documented personal obsessions motivating Musk and Bezos, it would seem to miss the point to insist, as Ward does, that a pure capitalist drive for profit is steering the new space age.

The book does remind the reader that private space tourism has been a receding target for over a decade now, which is disappointing, and that not every private space company has pulled off its most ambitious plans. But private venture capital has bet big on space companies to the tune of $4.2 billion or so, and the "privatization" of space has already expanded the possibilities of the cosmos for all mankind far beyond what six decades of federal space bureaucracy could.

from Reason Magazine Articles