As Goes Silicon Valley, So Goes NewSpace?

Jeff Foust takes a look what effects the global financial crisis could have on commercial space over at The Space Review. He asked a few experts at Space Investment Summit 5, which was held last week in Los Angeles. They had some interesting perspectives.

Further north, the Silicon Valley is being roiled by a series of layoffs, the largest of which (as of early Tuesday morning) was eBay’s decision to slash 1,600 jobs. Other tech companies large and small have announced (or will soon announce) layoffs. How this will affect space efforts is an interesting question.

There’s a strong link between NewSpace and the communications, computer and Internet sectors. MirCorp was spearheaded by Walt Anderson, who got rich building a long-distance communication network in Europe. As Michael Potter’s new documentary, Orphans of Apollo, makes clear, Anderson’s effort to privatize the Russian space station foundered, in part, when the dot.com bubble burst back in 2000. Anderson had a lot invested in the sector; all of that paper wealth went poof very quickly. He also was counting on a lot of his Internet millionaire friends to invest in Mir. Also poof.

(And, oh yes, Walt was subsequently arrested for failing to pay his taxes. He’s now serving a 10-year sentence in a federal penitentiary somewhere in the flat farmlands of southern New Jersey. But, that’s another story….).

Some of those who prospered from the Internet, such as PayPal’s Elon Musk and Amazon.com Jeff Bezos, have since poured their fortunes into building rockets. Virgin Galactic is being bankrolled in part by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Millionauts who have visited ISS have included a number of his fellow software moguls, including current station visitor Richard Garriott. Google’s Sergey Brin would like to join the list; his company is sponsoring a private race to the moon.

It will be interesting to see what happens to Silicon Valley and how the sudden evaporation of people’s wealth there will affect entrepreneurial space efforts. Is NewSpace too dependent on the volatile tech industry? Will a similar crash occur? Any thoughts out there?

Fasten your seat belts. It could be a very bumpy ride.