Elon Musk's Greatest Challengers Are Building a New Space Economy

'Think of it as a business park in space.'
Brad Bergan
A model of the Dream Chaser vehicle, displayed at CES 2022.Interesting Engineering

The time to invest in space ventures is now.

Everyone knows that Elon Musk's SpaceX occupies the center of the second space race. But in its wake, other companies have the chance of a lifetime to build out the infrastructure needed for a viable space economy, before we create a novel, interplanetary civilization.

And Sierra Nevada's new company, Sierra Space, aims to claim the mantle of responsibility by building the backbone of tomorrow's space industry in partnership with both NASA and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, according to a live event held at CES 2022 in Las Vegas, attended by Interesting Engineering.

And, with tensions mounting between the U.S., Russia, and China, there's precious little time left for nascent aerospace companies to get ahead of the space economy, before it's too late.

Sierra Space Launching
A computer-simulated depiction of Dream Chaser separating from its first stage in low-Earth orbit. Source: Sierra Space

Sierra Space's vision for the Space Economy

"Within a year or two we acquired three companies, starting with Microsat," said Fatih Ozmen, CEO and Owner of Sierra Nevada Corporation, during the CES 2022 event. "Last year we saw that technology was coming to an inflection point ... thanks for companies like SpaceX, things were a lot more affordable than ever before." Indeed, the space race had caused the cost of lifting mass into space to plummet, opening the door to not only space tourism, but the possibility of bringing ordinary citizens to space on a regular basis.

"We're in a $3 billion contract with NASA right now to do about seven missions (or more)," added Ozmen at the event. "We've been to space hundreds of times, and almost every mission saw a new piece of equipment going up. We've been to every planet in the solar system," and at one point, Ozmen continued, the vision of bringing commercial, strategic, and scientific interests into alignment will become inevitable. Eren Ozmen, Sierra Nevada's president, chairwoman, and owner, further expanded the firm's plans for the future of the space economy.

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Sierra Space Food
A computer depiction of a future commercial space station owned and operated by Sierra Space, Blue Origin, and more. Source: Sierra Space

No time like the present to build the backbone of the space economy

"China has a new space station, and they're going to the moon and going to the Mars, and with Russia other powers might blow up" satellites during anti-satellite missile tests, said Fatih Ozmen, suggesting that the time is now for companies to build out their space industries before things become even more complicated. "As we build technologies and enable humans to travel to space and live in space, we're preserving Earth by pushing the boundaries of what's possible," added Eren Ozmen.

Sierra Space Person
A 3D generated computer simulation of passengers riding to a business park in low-Earth orbit. Source: Sierra Space

"We are good friends with Jeff Bezos," said Ozmen. "We started talking about how to build forces to build the next space station with Jeff," and a new habitat to replace the International Space Station (ISS) is in the works, explained Ozmen. The ability "to even bring the materials for a space station into space is a distinct advantage," she added. "We have been building very strong relationships with the United Nations, and also international space agencies." Sierra Space teamed up with Blue Origin, and is continuing to build the Dream Chaser program, designed to ferry cargo to the ISS for NASA. "Our model is [...] think of it as a business park in space. It's going to be owned and operated by us. We're working with universities and we're working with startups to make it happen."

"Once it starts working later this decade, it's really going to open space for business", added Ozmen, no pun intended. Sierra Space has already come a long way. In November, the firm raised $1.4 billion to modify its Dream Catcher space vehicle so for human missions, with an ultimate goal of landing on Mars, and enabling our society to "build and sustain thriving civilizations beyond Earth," said CEO Sierra Space Tom Vice, in a November press release. Suffice to say that the combination of ambitious values and an integrated vision that mixes commercial interests with human exploration is central to Sierra Space's future, and partnerships with firms and agencies like Blue Origin and NASA, respectively.

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