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Robert Jacobson, Space Advisors Managing Partner & ‘Space Is Open for Business’ Author joins Yahoo Finance’s Ines Ferre and the Yahoo Finance Live panel to discuss actor William Shatner’s space odyssey.
AKIKO FUJITA: Let's bring in Robert Jacobson, he's Space Advisors Managing Partner. He's also the author of "Space Is Open for Business." I know, Robert, you're going to be watching the liftoff tomorrow as well. But there's been a healthy amount of skepticism, especially around space tourism, for those who say, look, this is just about the world's richest being able to spend their money to travel outside or into space. What do you say to that? And what does this particular mission mean in advancing or at least making space tourism a little more accessible for those who aren't Jeff Bezos?
ROBERT JACOBSON: Well, like many-- thank you very much, Akiko, great to be here today-- and like any other new industry, you will have early adopters. And William Shatner and his fellow passengers-- the paying passengers-- are early adopters. So we're one step closer to a more mainstream accessibility for a human space experience. What I would say to those who feel that space is just for the super rich and it's just a joy ride, well, I have no problem with humans actually having more joy in their life, especially when we live in a world with so many challenges. And there will be an opportunity where many more people-- we're talking potentially hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, eventually in our lifetime be able to access space through these new platforms.
INES FERRE: And, Robert, Ines here. When we're talking about Blue Origin and we also talk about Virgin Galactic with these suborbital flights, how do these companies compare with each other-- and you're also comparing it, many people compare it, to SpaceX, which has had the mission to space. So how would you kind rank these companies in this sort of race for space tourism?
ROBERT JACOBSON: Well, there's many other markets besides space tourism. And Blue Origin, though, probably needs to fundamentally re-examine its approach to rocket development if it wants to remain competitive. There are many other groups out there that are building launchers, rockets. And currently, SpaceX is the industry benchmark.
So I think Blue Origin needs to really reexamine its development, because it's been a very long, slow process. Their current vehicle is suborbital only. That means it can make it to about 100 kilometers above sea level-- about 62 miles-- which is about the edge of space. It is the technical boundary of space. But their orbital project is going much slower, whereas a group like SpaceX already has a repeatable and a viable commercial business in orbital flight.
AKIKO FUJITA: What's the business potential? I mean, your book is "Space is Open for Business"-- obviously, tourism the very first step that we're seeing right now. But when you listen to somebody like Jeff Bezos, he envisions something much bigger-- actually doing business within space-- manufacturing, developing. What do you see as the next step beyond tourism? And what are these flights that we've been seeing, whether it's from Virgin Galactic or SpaceX, ultimately lead to?
ROBERT JACOBSON: Well, first of all, space provides an awesome ROIII-- return on investment, innovation, and inspiration. And its real value is not 20 minutes or 11 minutes of space tourism. We need real cases outside of tourism, and they include having people up there conducting things like life science research in space, which potentially could be really beneficial for us here on Earth.
The real value is going to be, how do we use these launch platforms to help other areas and industries? We could have biotech, life science, energy, climate change mitigation, transportation-- the list is really almost endless. Space affects every industry, and there's lots of opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors to participate, profit, and really benefit from this emerging sector.
INES FERRE: And, Robert, which do you see those applications being first? Because some of the goals are-- I mean, Elon Musk has the goal of being able to go to Mars and be able to settle in Mars as well. So will we be seeing humans going to Mars in our lifetime, realistically?
ROBERT JACOBSON: I think we will see humans going to Mars in our lifetime. But I think the early business cases are not necessarily about Mars. I actually think investors should be looking at things like data sets. And you know, Jeff Bezos, who started Amazon, I would not be surprised if he's looking at how do we leverage Amazon Web Services to transform data sets created in space that could be highly valuable.
Amazon also has its own satellite connectivity program. And there's several other competitors that are doing that as well. So I think using these data sets, whether it's for life science, communications-- is going to be the near-term opportunities.
INES FERRE: And when we're talking about satellites, as you were just mentioning, do you think that-- which is the leader there? I mean, SpaceX certainly seems to be looking to connect the whole world via satellites in space, so how do you see that playing out?
ROBERT JACOBSON: Well, SpaceX, Oneweb are both strong competitors. I'm not sure yet if Amazon, how serious they're taking their commitment. So I think time will tell in terms of who is going to be the winner. But you have billions of people who don't have connectivity to the internet, so I think it's a huge market opportunity for any or all of these entrants to take advantage of.
INES FERRE: And, Robert, Blue Origin hasn't said how much their seats on their new shepard costs. We know that Virgin Galactic's costs somewhere around $450,000. Where do you see this going as far as being able to lower the costs for these suborbital missions? Do you see that being cut in half, at least, in our lifetime? Or where do you see that price being lowered to?
ROBERT JACOBSON: It's all about reusability, Ines. And if groups like Blue Origin and SpaceX continue to repeatedly fly, I think you could see flights coming down to the potentially tens of thousands of dollars relatively soon.
AKIKO FUJITA: Robert Jacobson, Space Advisors Managing Partner and author of "Space is Open for Business," appreciate the time today. We'll all be watching tomorrow morning.