Jeff Bezos is blasting off into space. In July 2021, Bezos will board the first crewed spaceflight launched by his Blue Origin company. The world’s richest people, including Elon Musk and Google’s Sergey Brin (an investor in the space tourism company Space Adventures), have joined the space race.

Where are all the European space billionaires? British billionaire Sir Richard Branson may be a committed pro-European, but his Virgin Galactic spaceflight company is based in the US. Should EU governments be doing more to encourage private sector investment and competition in the European space sector?

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in by Ariadne-Anne, who asks why we don’t we have more European billionaires investing in space.

We spoke to Josef Aschbacher, the Director General of the European Space Agency, and we asked him what he thought the role of the private sector could be in European space exploration:

[…] Let’s just take the US for a moment: the US created a Space Force at the end of 2019, the NASA budget has just been increased, and the Department of Defense is spending huge amounts of money in space. Plus, of course, in the US you have the commercial sector; Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are investing immensely in space, also Silicon Valley, creating a lot of companies in the space domain funded by venture capital first and forement…

[Private sector investment] also needs to happen in Europe. We have fantastic private operators in Europe, quite large in terms of turnover and customer reach and, yes, they are the best partners with whom this has to be built up. So, this is not something that is only a matter for the public sector.

For another perspective, we also spoke to Sue Nelson, an investor, entrepreneur, and presenter of the TechTalk Radio Show, which explores investment and innovation in new technologies. Why did she think there weren’t more European entrepreneurs investing in space?

It does seem to me like space is a sort of a billionaires’ playground at the moment. [In the UK] we could talk about Richard Branson, of course, but then we’ve got other billionaires around the world. I find it really interesting that they’re drawn to space and space projects.

I was born in 1961 and that was, as we all know, an incredible time when people were trying to get into space in what felt like tin cans. I mean, I don’t even know how they got there and how they came back. Yet there has been a lot said about the benefits of doing that, in terms of the inventions and the technologies, and how those were transferred into the broader economy afterwards.

So, I can see what these billionaires are thinking. If you’ve got billions of pounds, you know you can’t spend it all on yourself or your family in your lifetime. I think you have to decide what you believe in. I think the interesting things for me, in terms of space, are actually the technologies that you need to develop in order to overcome the challenges of space exploration, as well as the understanding and learning about Earth you can glean.

Personally, I’m not interested in somebody sitting on Jupiter or wherever, but I am interested in how it gives people a different mindset and spark their imagination, and the ways they combat problems that hopefully can then come into the mainstream on Earth, and that could be in any area or walk of life.

Why don’t we have more European billionaires investing in space? Should Europe be trying to encourage more private actors in the space sector? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

On 17 June 2021, Friends of Europe is holding an event on governing space as part of their Making Space Matter initiative, in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA).

IMAGE CREDITS: Creative Commons (BY-NC-2.0) – SpaceX


46 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    EU Reform Proactive

    Europe has ~500 USD billionaires. Quite a lot one could approach, not so?

    Please DE, why pose such a question to a historically 200-year young population that was only ‘recently liberated’ (around the 1800) from centuries of feudalism.

    As recorded, the majority were peasants who were socially & economically deprived and disadvantaged- similar to the fate of a lamenting third world today.

    It is ‘billions’ above my and most other folks pay grade.

    Why concoct such questions in the first instance, instead ‘proactively’ approaching a couple of these EU billionaires directly, interview them, then present the feedback. It may even yield results & help the DG of ESA? Too simple?

    Another complicated EU approach to chose the most indirect way to leave lots of space for the next round of questions which equally will never yield answers, except let everyone guessing and the eagerly sought $ billions deeply buried.

    It would be very easy to identify these EU & European billionaires by simply searching the web. Hint:

    https://www.euronews.com/2021/04/07/billionaires-club-these-people-are-europe-s-wealthiest-according-to-forbes

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddawkins/2021/04/06/europes-billionaires-are-1-trillion-richer-than-a-year-ago/?sh=12b59c9076e5

    Why not select the most charming & multilingual speaking investigative reporter and start with:

    Mr Bernaurd Arnault & family, followed by Amancio Ortega, Francoise Bettencourt Meyers and her family, Francois Pinault and his family, Beate Heister & Karl Albrecht Jr., Dieter Schwarz, Giovanni Ferrero- to name just a few- maybe not to forget Prince Albert II of Monaco?

    • avatar
      catherine benning

      @ EU Reform Proactive

      I love this post. I knew as soon as I saw the sentiment it was your brilliant thinking.

      There is, of course, another path to try, it could be the rest of them with that amount of cash, are not a crazy as the guy who put his money where his mouth is on this occasion!

    • avatar
      EU Reform Proactive

      Hi Catherine,

      A glimpse behind ESA’s DG appointment scene 2014-2020.
      https://spacenews.com/dlrs-woerner-to-head-esa/

      “Those who do not honour the small are not worth the big,” says an ancient peasant saying!

      Unfortunately, my humble offer- to donate an annual worth of a cinema ticket (remember?)- fell on deaf ears!

      There are anything between 25k- 50k active lobbyists ‘directly enhancing’ the EU voters indirect & minimalistic representative EU27 kind of Brussels democracy.

      A ‘lunatic’ idea like crowdfunding for a lunar project, or donations by ordinary taxpayers- with no strings attached- might be conceived as a danger to the EU supranational goals because both the thousands of corporate lobbyists in the corridors of Brussels and the EU negotiators are used to attach strings on each other’s generosities.

      But, besides Elon’s SpaceX Starship, there is ‘Dear’ Yusaku Maezawa, a willing Japanese billionaire helping out!

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DearMoon_project

      Why not suggest a ‘role reversal’?:

      Dare all these pro-EU autocrats, bureaucrats & the 705 MEP’s to become temporary lobbyists (while being paid) and approach the 500-600 billionaires & other millionaires around Europe until an overwhelming, permanent and politically independent funding structure for ESA is secured? Maybe all pro-EU think tanks could chip in a bit as well?

      What could their responses be? Guess:

      It might be judged immoral, unethical, transgressing the EUHR Charter, the EU treaties & their EU employment contracts to expect such outrageous assignment? Many hidden dangers might be lurking in the dark streets in search of the richest in our societies while seeking to enter their secluded corridors- to solicit some donations?

      Our concern should be the many (secrete) strings both will attach.

      Not to forget that each ESA Member (total of 17 sovereign Nations) is funding ESA plus the EU funds ESA once more. Is it a coincidental oversight of double funding by all EU taxpayers + my- no-strings- rejected donation cinema ticket?

      As we know, the EU is eying (full) political control over ESA, while it could become an interesting, non-political CoE47 pure science project instead.

  2. avatar
    Крис

    We don’t need any billionaires investing in space. Space research should be a right exclusively on a state level. Privatisation of space research as well as any other scientific research is bad.

  3. avatar
    George

    Why do we have “European billionaires” at all? What kind of EU system breeds oligarchs?

    • avatar
      George

      Debating Europe *check notes* …:”European countries”Here’s a good topic for debate for you:- “Does capitalism and feudalism have a place in Europe in 21st century?”

  4. avatar
    Børge

    Europe has one who is living in the UK. U.S. doesn’t have that many billionaires investing in space, either.

    • avatar
      catherine benning

      @ Børge

      If it is Richard Branson you are speaking of he doesn’t live in the UK. He may have to pay tax if he did. Not something many billionaires are keen on.

  5. avatar
    Olivier

    Why not. Don t we believe in free enterprise. Are you not backing a free market..?

  6. avatar
    Tristan

    Shouldn’t the real question be: do we need billionaires?

    • avatar
      catherine benning

      @ Tristan

      Actually you have something there. Free enterprise does not mean excessive liberty. For, it broaches restrictions leading to gross monopolies. Creating stagnation throughout the financial world markets. Billionaires are already disturbing democratic elected government control. Elected being the number one criteria here.

      Hence the worrisome move in G7 of Royals openly entering political debate forums. Which, will easily lead us back to absolute monarchy. Saudi Kings and Princes a prime example.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absolute_monarchy

  7. avatar
    João

    Why don’t we have more Europeans investing in future tech? That for me is the biggest issue, we always go for the low risk iterative innovation, whereas Americans have a tradition of being disruptive.

  8. avatar
    maria23445

    It’s your money. Use it when you need it.

  9. avatar
    jthk

    Take care of the people and post-pandemic economic recovery before engaging in the space competition. Do not mix up the purpose of a democracy. It is the people come first and their well being is at top priority.

  10. avatar
    jthk

    If European has prepared to invest more on the space technology, it is important to protect it against hostile acquisition taking the French Alstom as a classic case. How should Europe protect its technology and research being stolen by the US when Denmark had the history of cooperated with the US National Security Agency (NSA) to spying on important political leaders of European. We have reason to believe that technology and research are also targets as well.

  11. avatar
    Крис

    The problem is not that there aren’t more European billionaires investing in space. It’s the privatisation of space research itself that is the problem. Space research as well as any other scientific research should be done only on international level.

  12. avatar
    Børge

    Branson is an European. Bezos lives in the U.S.

    • avatar
      catherine benning

      Børge

      Richard Branson was born in the UK, but is a non resident and pays no UK tax. He sold his house in Oxfordshire to his children. Probably at a £1.00 each. His homes are in South Africa, Kenya, Switzerland an Necker Island. He pays no tax in any of them. He has, so far, accumulated 6 Billion dollars, probably partly because he pays no tax. So, he is not a European. Unless his house in Switzerland is regarded as him being European. The UK is not part of the EU. Which, for some unknown reason frightens the sh– out of him. I wonder if it’s anything to do with tax paying?

      https://www.biography.com/business-figure/richard-branson

  13. avatar
    Pedro

    We shouldn’t have any billionaire at all running to space. If this was a movie, Bezos and Branson would be the villains, not the superheroes. With the money they have they could solve climate change and end world hunger, so why don’t they? Because they are preparing their escape. Praising this crime on Humanity and calling for European billionaires to do the same is absolutely dumb.

  14. avatar
    Richard

    How bout instead of vanity projects to space you end world hunger or pay your staff a wage they can actually exist off…Disgusting

  15. avatar
    Крис

    I think commercialisation of space and privatisation of space sciences are bad ideas which will eventually give their bad fruits. They probably already do. If you are going to talk about Jeff Bezos you can tell us something more interesting about him. Like how his workers have to urinate in water bottles to deliver the Amazon products on time.

  16. avatar
    Michał

    I think it would be better if we could send all the billionaires to space, and let them stay there.

  17. avatar
    Christos

    A rich man’s vanity… there are people on this planet who can’t afford to travel in their own country!! Never mind travel abroad or “see the world”….

  18. avatar
    Jevgeni

    We could send them all to space with one-way ticket if they don’t start paying fare taxes.

  19. avatar
    Nikos

    This guy(most of the years) pays zero incomes taxes btw

  20. avatar
    Peťo

    Billionaires would not exist in a moral society

  21. avatar
    Enrico

    I ricchi mercanti del passato ci hanno lasciato Venezia Firenze Praga Vienna Parigi San Pietroburgo che ancora oggi l’umanità può ammirare. Oggi questo idiota spreca risorse inquina per fare un giro su una giostra. Meritiamo l’estinzione

  22. avatar
    Paul

    No different to the commercialisation of resources here on earth..of airspace…of the seas….they will always operate within the boundaries of laws…so up to lawmakers to ensure they’re fit for purpose.

  23. avatar
    Julietta

    Torn between disgust and indifference …

  24. avatar
    Amalia

    Expensive habits always made me sick This is far more than than just expensive.

    • avatar
      Nina

      Amalia Decca άφησε τον , καλύτερα μήπως εξαφανιστεί στο διάστημα .

    • avatar
      Amalia

      Nina Grigoriou δεν το είχα σκεφτεί

    • avatar
      Nina

      Amalia Decca

  25. avatar
    Joao

    That’s just what the world needs now, ultra billionaires fantasizing with rockets and who has the bigger one… The eternal game.

  26. avatar
    Yannick

    I guess it’s the same as the commercialisation of anything, it would be ok if the true costs of sending off tourists for a 10s ride in near space would be factored in. It’s good to be spearheading new things, I just wish the superrich would spearhead solving bigger problems here down on earth.

  27. avatar
    Harilaos

    It is a hype 100%, the SOLE purpose of which is to boost the public image of these guys. 10 minutes flight (of which 4 minutes in 0 gravity) CAN NOT be considered space flight. It is what is called a “sub orbital” flight, ie a ballistic path that does not have enough speed to get the craft into orbit around the Earth, and thus drops back to Earth. Yuri Gagarin, the 1st man to go into space some 60 years ago, had an ORBITAL flight, that lasted 105 minutes. So stop pulling our legs!

    • avatar
      Yannick

      Harilaos N. Psaraftis please don’t give them ideas!

  28. avatar
    Christian

    I find it somewhat appalling. Difficult to imagine anytime less sustainable than space tourisme. At the same time we leave it to the poorest to pay the bill for climate change. These rich guys should feel ashamed and start paying their taxes.

  29. avatar
    EU Reform Proactive

    Last, but not least:

    While the DE & others narrowly focus on billionaires per se (why?) and their perceived private extravaganzas in outdoing each other in space- little attention is drawn to some well-known private European companies like Porsche /Volkswagen or the Airbus Company.

    https://www.airbus.com/company.html

    All are serious & very competent players in the aviation industry and proudly follow in the footsteps of past European achievers and innovators in pioneering new technologies.

    How misguided, misinformed and narrow-minded can one be to believe that only state-owned entities (“ex. USSR mindsets”) should exclusively be entitled to enter space research & development.

    Best wishes to all these entrepreneurs who not only believe in the benefit to spearhead new technologies, but in turn create a new range of high-end jobs!

    https://www.isaraerospace.com/career.php
    https://www.porsche-se.com/mitteilungen/pressemitteilungen/details/news/detail/News/porsche-se-investiert-in-raketentechnologie-start-up-isar-aerospace

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