Space is only 62 miles away.
That is where the Karman Line lies, the official boundary between the atmosphere and space.
Last week a group of undergraduate students launched a rocket past the Karman Line for the first time.
It was a significant achievement from an engineering perspective. But it was also significant in terms of what it means for the future of space travel.
For a long time, space exploration was the preserve of government agencies like NASA, who alone had the necessary funding to launch interstellar projects.
But Elon Musk’s SpaceX, despite many challenges and setbacks, has been attracting attention for undertaking space missions privately. Amazon, too, is getting in on the space action.
But the students’ launch suggests that even huge companies aren’t the only ones who get to launch rockets past the Karman Line. The technology is now within the grasp of dedicated individuals too. Sure, a group of undergraduates is unlikely to singlehandedly colonise Mars or crack consumer space travel, but they have proven that it is possible for individuals to utilise rocket science and explore new frontiers.
Technology, creativity and determination are always the engines for shifts and changes in the marketplace. If students are able to master the science behind space launches, what will it lead to?
It was a generation of young students who mastered most of the technology behind the Internet. Who created Facebook and pushed social media to where it is now. This was one of the biggest cultural and consumer shifts we’ve ever seen.
If the next generation becomes the one which learns and owns the science of amateur space travel, we could be looking at a very exciting future.
Imagine, for example, how our lives might change if it was possible for a dedicated, scalable small business – on the level of the Silicon Valley unicorns that have shaped and changed our daily lives and habits today – to own and disrupt space itself.
What would a day in the life of an average office worker look like in a world where space was an accessible, free-for-all environment?
This week we’re investigating this question as part of our three-part Unframing blog series, in which we take a look at the potential future of a different industry in order to unlock the insights and lessons that they hold. Unframing involves sketching out unlikely – but possible – speculations about where technological and cultural shifts may be about to carry us under the right circumstances, in order to help your business think differently about the challenges you face and the opportunities that may become available. So, with that in mind…
Meet Luke Skywalker, a conveniently-named creative in an advertising agency in East London. After his morning coffee, Luke is given a brief for Lune-R, a travel company that is offering luxury two-week cruises just above the Karman Line, with a weekend break on the moon. As foretold by the Arctic Monkeys and Futurama, the moon is now a tourist destination featuring a casino and theme park, and can be visited for a few thousand pounds per person.
Luke builds a creative presentation using stock footage captured by Challengr, a company that uses drones and robots to photograph deep space and planetary surfaces. Stock footage of space is now frequently used to advertise companies like Lune-R, as well as smaller firms like X-Space, who offer zero-gravity extreme sports in space and cater largely to stag dos, the Waldorf Hotel, which has opened a boutique eatery for gourmet pastes on the ISS and earned the first Michelin Star in space, and Perspective, a private therapy firm that helps clients achieve peace through medically-induced space asthenia; the therapeutic possibilities of total human insignificance has proved popular among neurotic, work-obsessed millenialls. The stock imagery Luke uses is free, as all photography is paid for by subscriptions to Apollo, an online learning tool that allows students and amateurs to analyse cosmic geography in order to collectively advance our knowledge of the solar system.
Luke travels home on the District Line in time for a delivery from Amazon Moon. These almost instant deliveries can be scheduled with total precision, as enormous amounts of stock are simply held in orbit, ready to be literally dropped from the sky using laser-guided technology. Drone delivery is no longer a necessary consumer prospect.
Back in the office, Luke eats a hearty Pret lunch and bundles the empty sandwich wrappers into a zip-lock bag and leaves it in the Solar Furnace tray by the bins. At the end of every day the Disposall company collects the Solar Refuse from eco-friendly businesses all over London and fires it directly into the sun, where it can be cleanly disposed of by the fire as powerful and hot as a billion atom bombs. Every landfill on earth is currently being depleted to help restore the planet to its original greenness; even nuclear waste can be disposed of this way, meaning fossil fuel consumption has fallen to approximately 4%, helping to avoid a climate crisis.
Luke returns home. The booming market in lunar drones has had the welcome secondary benefit of popularising helper drones to automate a number of daily processes on earth. Those who were previously forced to work long hours in retail or environmental roles now build bots, and the efficiency this affords companies means a 4pm daily finish is standard among most businesses, with more time for leisure.
Luke, who is enjoying an unseasonably warm summer’s evening in Victoria Park, notices a light shining in the sky. Dutifully, he puts on his AR glasses. He knows that companies now use satellites to communicate with whole continents at once; when a signal is displayed from the upper atmosphere, those with AR glasses can automatically access exclusive deals by scanning the sky. The concept of traditional shopping, in fact, is nearly dead; companies monitor global fluctuations in currencies to offer products at the lowest possible price, then advertise them for short windows of time using satellite beacons. Nearly all shopping is done spontaneously, saving consumers money, while acres of space previously used for shops and malls now host indoor gardens and biodomes, helping keep the planet green.
As Luke prepared for bed, he opens his laptop and watches a blank, dark screen. Nothing happens until he is brushing his teeth, at which point a bright light is seen. Luke opens an input box and records a set of coordinates, the time, and the words, ‘bright incandescent flash.’ Luke, like many others of his generation, often spends an hour before bed streaming from mobile telescopes on the very fringes of space, reporting any flashes of activity. Companies now crowdsource space exploration, turning volunteers into astral cartographers. All they have to do is watch the screen and report back and they will earn money to spend anywhere on earth – or redeemed in Lunar Park vouchers.
This future may still be a long way off, but the value of Unframing is not to predict the future – its to explore the types of possibilities that will disrupt your business, and which may arrive sooner in more everyday forms as a result of breakthroughs in tech, culture, thinking, or behaviour. Breakthroughs in space travel – indeed, in any industry – create spiderwebs of new opportunities and challengers, new rivals and sources of income, new industries and market gaps that will be grasped and seized by quick-thinking entrepreneurs and diligent students alike. The trick is to be on the right side of these opportunities as and when they arrive, whether they involve space theme parks or more mundane things. But either way, there’s only one way to make sure your business is always the disruptor, never the disrupted – keep watching the skies.