Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A great update on the private space industry at Reason

Here. I found the discussion of the relationship between profitability and enthusiasm especially interesting. The author, Brian Doherty, writes: "The private space industry is not yet normalized in the sense of being just another job that people gravitate toward. All 30 or so XCOR folk are, Greason and Massee tell me, space enthusiasts—though Greason denies what I detected was an accepted truism at the Space Salon: that the space community must convert more outsiders, especially young people, into space enthusiasts. Make it a profitable business, Greason says, and that enthusiasm will follow."

I think this is only half right. There's always this entrepreneurial tension of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. Firms seek profits but what is profitable is often something innovative - meaning there's no precedent such that firms can compare a profitable to an unprofitable option. Keynesian uncertainty, you might say. That's what Doherty is getting at here, and that's a big part of the story.

But when it comes to space, much of the benefits aren't ever going to be "profitable" in the sense that the private benefits exceed the private costs. For that reason, I do think independent enthusiasm is essential to generate. Just to make it clear - that's to add a point to Doherty's original point, not to subtract from Doherty's point.

The article also has a good discussion of off-the-shelf technology which is of course very important for this industry.

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