The space industry is not at a loss for participants. Companies continue to throw their hat into the ring to be the industry leader, although each of them appears to have a specific segment of the market that they’re looking to capture.
With most space visionaries being tech entrepreneurs, it appears that another big name has jumped into play - Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.
Meet Privateer Space
Earlier in September, Wozniak took to Twitter to announce that he will be starting a space company that is “unlike the others.” The tweet included a teaser link to the company, which Wozniak is calling Privateer Space. The YouTube video testing the company had shed more light on its organization, with Wozniak teaming up with Alex Fielding - the founder of desktop chat tool Ripcord.
The Apple co-founder has yet to say much about Privateer Space and what the company looks to do. However, an unrelated press release from last month, which was first shared by a tech news source, highlighted that Privateer Space focuses on monitoring and cleaning up the many objects in space.
In the press release, Wozniak is quoted saying that he is looking to ensure the accessibility of space for members of future generations. Privateer’s website, however, shows that the company is in “stealth mode.” The website doesn’t include any more information, besides the company’s contact page and information.
As the video explains, humanity can go far in space. However, it’s also important to “take care of each other and solve problems together.” The voiceover is quoted saying that Privateer is looking to do what is good and ensuring that the next generation is also catered for.
“We'll look out for one another. Solve problems together. It isn't a race, it isn't a competition or a game. We are not one person, one company, one nation. We're one planet. We're explorers. We're dreamers, risk-takers, engineers, stargazers. We are human and it's up to us to do what is right and what is good. So here's to taking care of what we have so that the next generation can be better, together,” the voiceover can be heard saying.
The Profitable Space Junk Business
While many might not necessarily resonate with it, Wozniak and Privateer Space just might be on to something big. The business of cleaning up space has the potential to be very lucrative, especially with data showing that the amount of debris being released into space has been increasing at a rate of about 100 percent per decade for the past two decades.
The math is simple - more people and companies go into space, and they leave more debris. For now, estimates show that the total amount of space debris could be as much as 100 million pieces. This means that the “Kessler syndrome” could be getting closer.
Originally posited by NASA scientist Donald Kessler, the Kessler syndrome describes a possible scenario where there is so much debris in space that a single collision will set off a chain reaction of several others - eventually generating more space debris.
Space debris has been an issue ever since the middle of the 20th century. In March 1958, the United States put the Vanguard 1 satellite into orbit. But, it became non-functional and operations ceased after six years. Vanguard 1 remained in medium Earth orbit following this decommissioning, and it continues to orbit the Earth to date. According to space agencies worldwide, Vanguard 1 is now just space debris.
Vanguard 1 is expected to remain in orbit for at least two centuries, after which it will fall back to the Earth’s atmosphere. The intense heat from the friction is expected to burn it up.
But, Vanguard 1 has only been a precursor. Since the satellite was launched, over 6,000 rockets have gone to space. This has led to incredible growth in the number of space debris. International space guidelines recommend removing a spacecraft from low Earth orbit within 25 years of its mission ending. Sadly, these are just guidelines, and most space missions don’t follow them.
While some companies are looking to clean up space use several methods, the entire objective remains the same - forcing the debris into the Earth’s atmosphere, where friction eventually causes it to burn. Some pieces do make it to the Earth’s surface, but they’re usually so small that they don’t cause any problems. Also, a vast majority of these pieces will end up in the ocean anyways.
That said, several companies have already started on the mission to clean up space. But, it is unlikely that any of these companies will be able to match Wozniak when Privateer eventually launches. The Apple co-founder is estimated to be worth about $100 million, and Fielding is also rolling in the high millions.
Both men could also capitalize on their popularity and influence to raise capital for Privateer. If any companies currently play in the “space cleaning” industry, they should be wary.