“The shift from public to private priorities in space is especially significant because a widely shared goal among commercial space’s leaders is the achievement of a large-scale, largely self-sufficient, developed space economy…

If such space-economy visions are even partially realized, the implications for society — and economists — will be enormous. After all, it will be our best chance in human history to create and study economic societies from a (nearly) blank slate.”  

— Matt Weinzierl in Space, the Final Economic Frontier
 

Space Colony image courtesy of the NASA Ames Research Center. Artwork by Rick Guidice.
Three Colonies, housing approximately 10,000 people, were designed in the 1970s. Artistic renderings of the concepts were created.
 

Harvard's Space Research Network

We hope to provide a focal-point for research-driven discussions of commercial space and help to open the space sector to a broad range of talented individuals.

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Affiliated Faculty Research

Prithwiraj Choudhury, Tarun Khanna, Karim Lakhani, and Rachna Tahilyani. 4/9/2018. “ISRO: EXPLORE SPACE OR EXPLOIT CUBESATS?” Harvard Business School Case 617062.Abstract

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) achieved global acclaim by launching successful missions to the moon and Mars at a fraction of the cost of prior Western missions. It is now faced with an important strategic dilemma-whether to continue exploring deep space in collaboration with NASA and other leading agencies, whether to leverage its infrastructure for societal uses, or whether to exploit a commercial opportunity related to launching small, handheld cubesats.

The case explores the basis for ISRO's cost advantage vis-à-vis western entities, as well as its resource constraints and human capital considerations as it makes this important strategic choice for the future.

Matthew C Weinzierl. 2018. “SPACE, THE FINAL ECONOMIC FRONTIER.” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 32, no. 2 (Spring 2018), Pp. 173–192.Abstract

After decades of centralized control of economic activity in space, NASA and U.S. policymakers have begun to cede the direction of human activities in space to commercial companies. NASA garnered more than 0.7% of GDP in the mid-1960s but is only around 0.1% of GDP today. Meanwhile, space has become big business, with $300 billion in annual revenue.

The shift from public to private priorities in space is especially significant because a widely shared goal among commercial space's leaders is the achievement of a large-scale, mainly self-sufficient, developed space economy. Jeff Bezos has stated that the mission of his firm Blue Origin is "millions of people living and working in space." Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, has laid out plans to build a city of a million people on Mars within the next century. Both Neil deGrasse Tyson and Peter Diamandis have been given credit for stating that Earth's first trillionaire will be an asteroid miner. Such visions are clearly not going to become reality in the near future. But detailed roadmaps to them are being produced, and recent progress in the required technologies has been dramatic. If such space-economy visions are even partially realized, the implications for society will be enormous. Though economists should treat the prospect of a developed space economy with healthy skepticism, it would be irresponsible to treat it as science fiction.

In this article, I provide an analytical framework — based on classic economic analysis of the role of government in market economies — for understanding and managing the development of the space economy.

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