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).