SINGAPORE (July 2): What do Amazon.com’s founder Jeff Bezos, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk, Virgin’s Richard Branson and Microsoft’s co-founder Paul Allen have in common, apart from their billions? The legendary entrepreneurs all share a love of space travel and are not shy of spending big chunks of their self-made wealth to boldly go where no one has gone before and conquer the final frontier.
As the fictional Captain James Kirk might put it, the billionaire “rocket men” are blazing a trail, helping to “explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilisations” and make space travel affordable for the masses, just as airline pioneers before them made air travel affordable. And it is not just Bezos, Musk, Branson and Allen who are dabbling in space. Sixteen of the world’s 1,000 or so billionaires, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Google’s Larry Page and Tencent Holdings’ Pony Ma, now have investments in the sector — everything from commercial satellites to launch start-ups and asteroid mining.
Space is big business. It was a US$339 billion market in 2016 and is expected to grow to US$2.7 trillion by 2045, notes Bank of America Merrill Lynch in a recent report. Global government spending on space programmes is expected to surpass US$79 billion annually by 2026, according to consultancy Euroconsult. The US accounts for just over half of all government spending in space. In early June, the European Commission unveiled plans to spend €16 billion, or US$18.6 billion ($25.4 billion), on a space programme to boost the European Union’s space capabilities by 2027.