The next space explorers are looking past the Moon and Mars. They want to send submersible robots under alien oceans, convert asteroids into spacecraft, digitally produce spacesuits and build the space economy through optical mining.
This isn’t futuristic daydreaming. Visionaries are constructing a new agile space industry that’s bold and appears boundless. They already have created reusable rockets, are exploring lunar nuclear reactors and see possibilities where others see preposterousness and folly.
Humans are going back to the Moon, and then to Mars and then farther into space, thanks to an unprecedented combination of public and private investment. NASA, which is a current client of Voyager Space, submitted a 2023 budget request for nearly $26 billion, including about $7.5 billion for deep space exploration. And according to industry sources, private investors have invested over $200 billion over the past ten years.
To build an agile and resilient space exploration industry, leaders must invest in people and technology that actualize the fantastic. An industry that builds systems to last a decade or longer must think at least a decade beyond that.
Many dreamers are already doing so. Let’s go for a ride with them.
How NASA Fuels Innovation
NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts Program has nurtured and funded seemingly outrageous ideas for more than two decades. Each year, NASA awards grants to researchers in public and private sectors who propose high-risk, high-reward concepts and then test their viability.
In 2022, NASA provided $5.1 million in grants to 17 researchers who are “helping us expand the scope of the possible so we can make it reality,” NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy said. NIAC funds the theoretical, and not every idea proves feasible. But the program germinates early-stage concepts that might become fully fledged systems in 10 or 20 years.
The ideas are thrilling. Here are just a few:
Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are prototyping swimming robots the size of cell phones that can penetrate a frozen planetary crust to explore the oceans beneath it for life. An ice-melting probe would carry the robots into the liquid space on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn to test for possible life.
Project RAMA, which stands for Reconstituting Asteroids into Mechanical Automata, would enable humans to drive asteroids. Through additive manufacturing and in situ resource utilization, engineers could program asteroids to move, turning them into mission vehicles. Project RAMA intends to create a fleet of programmable asteroids to explore the solar system.
NASA is funding research on at least three new spacesuit variations for use on Mars and in deep-space travel. One project, the Digital Thread, sounds like something out of Iron Man. The Digital Thread scans an astronaut’s body, then designs and manufactures a suit based on their physical characteristics. The process seeks to provide protection and mobility while reducing the instances of shoulder injuries, finger-nail loss and strength reduction caused by other suits.
Deep Sleep to Mars
Movies portray humans placing themselves in suspended animation for deep-space travel, a medical process we haven’t yet perfected. But one research team is testing the concept of deep sleep states for Mars travel. The team is designing a “torpor-inducing transfer habitat” and exploring how the body responds to reduced metabolic rates with long-term torpor.
The Promise of Reusable Rockets
Private companies Blue Origin and SpaceX have disrupted space exploration by redesigning it, making rockets that land and are reusable. A resilient space industry will rely on reusable rockets to ferry people and cargo into space, increasing flight capacity, lowering costs and expanding the potential for commercial space travel.
SpaceX, which is a current client of Voyager Space, calls its Falcon 9 rocket, the first “orbital class reusable rocket,” which has powered more than 100 reflights. The two-stage, partially reusable rocket has helped power the Dragon cargo ship on 32 missions to the International Space Station. SpaceX’s Starship Super Heavy craft will be a fully reusable transport system capable of reaching Mars.
At Blue Origin, the New Shepard reusable launch vehicle has flown six crewed suborbital missions since 2021. Blue Origin says 99% of New Shepard is reusable, including its booster and landing gear. Further, Blue Origin says its forthcoming New Glenn will be the largest operationally reusable craft in existence. While reusable rockets make space more accessible, we’ll need to generate vast amounts of energy to live there and explore. One viable option is to go nuclear.
Powering Space Exploration Through Fission
A resilient space program will support itself with portable, durable and scalable energy sources. The sun serves us well now, but how will we power missions where sunlight doesn’t penetrate? One way is with compact nuclear reactors.
Fission surface power systems could provide abundant and continuous power on the Moon and Mars, regardless of their location or environmental conditions. An FSP system could power a lunar base for at least ten years, providing astronauts with the energy to make oxygen from regolith and operate research and living facilities.
In 2022, NASA and the Department of Energy awarded three contracts to design an FSP system or a lunar demonstration by the decade’s end. If the lunar test succeeds, FSP systems could power deep-space exploration.
We will power an agile space industry by encouraging and nurturing these and other innovative ideas. As NASA’s Jim Reuter said, “Creativity is key to future space exploration, and fostering revolutionary ideas today that may sound outlandish will prepare us for new missions and fresh exploration approaches in the coming decades.”
We’re ready for the outlandish. That’s what will propel and expand our presence into space.
Originally published at https://www.newsweek.com on October 28, 2022.
About the Author
Dylan Taylor is a global business leader, commercial astronaut, thought leader and philanthropist. He is an active vanguard in the space exploration industry as a CEO, investor, explorer and futurist. Currently, Dylan serves as Chairman & CEO of Voyager Space, a multi-national space exploration firm that acquires and integrates leading space exploration enterprises globally.
Dylan has been cited by Harvard University, SpaceNews, the BBC, Pitchbook, CNBC, CNN and others as having played a seminal role in the growth of the private space industry. As an early-stage investor in more than 50 emerging space ventures, including Accion, Kepler, York, Astrobotic, LeoLabs, Relativity, and Planet, Dylan is widely considered the most active private space investor in the world.
Dylan is an explorer of note. On December 11th, 2021 Dylan became just the 606th human to go to space as part of the crew of Blue Origin’s NewShepard Mission 19. Accordingly, Dylan earned his commercial astronaut wings with the FAA.
He is also one of only a handful of humans to have descended to the deepest part of the Ocean, Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench as part of the Limiting Factor Expedition in July of 2022. In that mission, Dylan descended with pilot Victor Vescovo to a depth in excess of 10,800 meters (35,500 feet) into an area of the Mariana Trench that had never been visited by humans. Dylan is the youngest human to have been to the deepest part of the world’s oceans and crossed the Karman line into Space. In addition, Dylan was a mission specialist on the 2022 mission by OceanGate to the Titanic in the Northern Atlantic, making him just the second human to visit space, the Challenger Deep and the Titanic. Dylan has been a member of the Explorers Club since 2014.
Dylan’s technical background, global business experience and unbridled passion for space make him a unique figure within his industry. He regularly speaks and writes about the future of the space economy and is sought after by the media for his expertise in the financial aspects of space investing as well as industry dynamics.
As a thought leader and futurist, he has written many popular pieces on the future of the space industry for Forbes, FastCompany, Newsweek, SpaceNews, ROOM, The Space Review, Apogeo Spatial and Space.com. As a speaker, Dylan has keynoted many of the major space conferences around the world and has appeared regularly on Bloomberg, Fox Business, and CNBC.
Dylan has extensive global business experience as both a board director and CEO in several industries, including advanced electronics, finance and real estate. He previously served as a Director for UMB Bank, a Fortune 500 company based in Kansas City and as a mutual fund director for the Jackson Funds where he oversaw assets of $8B across 130 distinct funds. He has also served in roles of CEO, President and Board Director for multinational companies like Prudential PLC, Honeywell, Colliers and Jones Lang LaSalle. Dylan was recognized as a Fortune 1000 CEO with P&L responsibility in excess of $3B and operations encompassing 15,000 employees in over 60 countries. In addition, Dylan has participated in 4 IPOs over the course of his career.
Dylan is a leading advocate of space manufacturing and the utilization of in-space resources to further space exploration and settlement. In 2017, he became the first private citizen to manufacture an item in space when the gravity meter he co-designed and commissioned was 3D printed on the International Space Station. The historic item is now housed in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.
Dylan maintains an extensive philanthropic impact on the space industry. In 2017, Dylan founded the nonprofit and social movement, Space for Humanity, which seeks to democratize space exploration and develop solutions to global issues through the scope of human awareness to help solve the world’s most intractable problems. Building upon his passion and support for the space industry, Dylan serves as a strategic advisor for both the Archmission and the Human Spaceflight Program and is a co-founding patron of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, which promotes the growth of commercial space activity. Additionally, he is also a leading benefactor to the Brooke Ownens Fellowship, Patti Grace Smith Fellowship and Mission: Astro Access.
Dylan is the founder and Chairman of Multiverse Media, parent company of the popular space philosophy website 2211.world as well as the Ad Astra Dinners, a Jeffersonian-style dinner series featuring some of the world’s leading influencers discussing the future of humanity in space. Another subsidiary of Multiverse Media, Multiverse Publishing, publishes books by leading authors including Frank White, Isaac Asimov and Gerard K. O’Neill. It is also the executive producer of the documentary film, The High Frontier.
For his influence as a global leader and his commitment to creating a positive impact on the world, Dylan has been honored with numerous personal and professional accolades in recent years. The World Economic Forum recognized Dylan as a Young Global Leader in 2011 and he was named a Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute in 2014. In 2020, Dylan was recognized by the Commercial Spaceflight Federation with their top honor for business and finance, following in the footsteps of 2019’s inaugural winner, the late Paul Allen.
Dylan Taylor earned an MBA in Finance and Strategy from the Booth School of Business at University of Chicago and holds a BS in Engineering from the honors college at the University of Arizona, where he graduated Tau Beta Pi and in 2018 was named Alumnus of the year. In 2013, he attended the Global Leadership and Public Policy for the 21st Century program at Harvard University.
Dylan and his family reside in Denver, Colorado where he is active locally with Colorado Concern and the Colorado Spaceport. In his spare time, Dylan enjoys hiking, competing in triathlons and spending time outdoors. He is married to author Gabrielle V. Taylor with whom he has two teenage daughters.