When Rob Meyerson took over as president of Blue Origin in 2003, the upstart spacecraft company had just 10 employees. When he left a year ago to establish his own management consulting firm, the workforce had grown to more than 1,500.
Now the aerospace engineer has a new focus: enlisting construction firms, mining companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers and even the hospitality industry to begin thinking about the role they can play in the economic development of the moon — or as he puts it, “What we need to live and work in space.”
“I think when you look to the middle of the next decade you’re going to have commercial space stations, commercial transport from Earth to low-Earth orbit and from low-Earth orbit to lunar orbit, and commercial transport to the surface of the moon,” says Meyerson. “And I think that infrastructure is going to form the basis for a marketplace where other companies start to build businesses on top of that.”
To help carry forward the vision, Meyerson is also helping to organize an effort by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics that is kicking off next year to convene non-space companies who will be needed to help develop a more mature space economy.
Meyerson also spoke to POLITICO about what he sees as some of the major obstacles to investing in public and private space development – as well as his fears that if America doesn’t get serious it could be outpaced by new and innovative competitors.
“I really do believe that we have to kind of focus in and start to produce again,” he says. “We’ve gotten out of the habit of delivering on promises. If we continue to go the way we have in the recent past we do run the risk of losing what is a significant lead in space technology. And I think that that can be very dangerous.”
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell us about your new firm Delalune Space.
I spent the last 15 years at Blue Origin as president and led the company from its start as an engineering company. Blue was a think tank prior to my getting there. There were about 10 people there when I joined it. I worked for Jeff Bezos and led the company from about 10 people to 1,500. Prior to that I was at NASA ‘s Johnson Space Center and at Kistler Aerospace. So really I have been in the commercial space industry for 23 years now.
I formed Delalune Space to steer toward my long term vision of developing space and using the resources on the moon, using space resources to lower costs and ultimately to bring in adjacent markets, non-space markets, and try to help attract some of the companies to the space industry that we’re going to need to grow the space industry over time.
What types of “adjacent markets” are we talking about?
What we’re going to need to live and work in space — mining companies, construction companies, companies that’ll utilize resources like manufacturing, pharmaceutical materials development, healthcare. But also hospitality, food and beverage, and agriculture. Ultimately, roads on the surface of moon, landing pads, the power infrastructure we’re going to need to support resource utilization.
I think when you look to the middle of the next decade you’re going to have commercial space stations, commercial transport from Earth to low Earth orbit and from low Earth orbit to lunar orbit, and commercial transport to the surface of the moon — all sort of funded in a combination of public,-private partners. And I think that infrastructure is going to form the basis for a marketplace where other companies start to build businesses on top of that. I think that’s very exciting.
You are partnering with AIAA on their ASCEND Forum?
It stands for Accelerating Space Commerce, Exploration, and New Discovery. It’s going to be an annual event and it starts in November of 2020. It’ll be held in Las Vegas. This will be different from your classic conferences. It’s not going to be just a bunch of space professionals talking to each other. We’re bringing in these adjacent markets. We want to bring in the investment community, we want to bring in the business community, and we want to bring in these markets like I mentioned earlier — hospitality, mining, agriculture, infrastructure, construction, telecommunications.
The other difference between ASCEND and other conferences is it is going to be outcomes focused. We’ll have working groups designed to generate position papers, white papers, policy constructs, projects that we can do, or we’ll form a working group that will go off over a period of months or years to solve a problem — to figure out what is it going take to build this business or this idea and the roadblocks that are in the way.
What are some of the biggest roadblocks to space development you envision?
Funding is an obvious one. That’s something we’ve always had and always will have. Single individuals are not going to pay for this. It’s going to cost tens to hundreds of billions of dollars to settle space.
I think there are some policy roadblocks like space mining property rights. Space traffic management is another one — operating launch vehicles with aircraft in the national airspace and managing both launch vehicles and satellites from low-Earth orbit and all the way up to cislunar space eventually.
How do you see the United States stacking up against China and other nations with big goals?
Right now I see us arguing over a lot of things. For example, should we go to the moon or should we go to Mars? Should we do it with humans or do it robotically? Should we add a Gateway or go straight to the moon? I think all the arguing doesn’t add any value. We need to do all of it.
I really do believe that we have to kind of focus in and start to produce again. We’ve gotten out of the habit of delivering on promises. If we continue to go the way we have in the recent past we do run the risk of losing what is a significant lead in space technology. And I think that that can be very dangerous.