A New Combatant Has Entered The Space Race
Steve Wozniak is aiming to clean up everyone else’s mess
The space race of the 21st century isn’t between America and Russia. It’s not even between capitalism and communism. It’s between capitalism and capitalism – or rather, billionaire vs. billionaire. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has officially become the latest rich tech dude to enter the space race.
Wozniak’s announcement was typical of most tech billionaire “I’m going to do space stuff” announcements – it was a cryptic Tweet. “A Private space company is starting up, unlike the others,” Wozniak Tweeted along with the link to a minute long YouTube video. The video was just as mysterious as the Tweet, providing as much clarification as a Vogue advertisement. You know they’re selling something, but it’s unclear if it’s jeans or jewelry or horses or cheekbones.
The video announces the arrival of Privateer Space, a company that’s “working to keep space safe and accessible to all humankind.” Whatever Privateer will actually do, it promises to take “care of what we have so the next generation can be better together.” It literally could be anything, especially with the tag line, “The sky is no longer the limit.”
While we don’t have many details beyond a few vague images of the moon landing and dads with babies set to a husky voice over, there are a few facts of which we can be certain. Privateer was co-founded by frequent Wozniak collaborator and former Apple engineer Alex Fielding. In 2002, Wozniak and Fielding teamed up on a more terrestrial company called Wheels of Zeus (or WoZ, get it?) which developed GPS smart tags. Wozniak also sat on the board of directors for Fielding founded robotics startup Ripcord Networks.
We also know it’s unlikely Privateer Space will be another space tourism company, so Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos can breathe a sigh of relief. It turns out, blasting large fuel-guzzling rockets into the air isn’t great for the environment – and the environment is a pet issue for Wozniak. He’s been a long-time supporter of environmental causes and put his clout behind Efforce, a billion-dollar marketplace for funding ecologically-friendly projects. Plus, we need another space tourism company like we need another hole in the ozone.
The official announcement will be made tomorrow, but internet sleuthing has solved the mystery today. A press release from August put out by Desktop Metal dropped a nod to Privateer Space, calling it a “new satellite company focused on monitoring and cleaning up objects in space.” Gotcha!
It’s not as sexy as space tourism, but it’s arguably more important. Human space exploration has been more about exploration but less about the cleanup of said exploration. Last year, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted “In the last 2 weeks, there have been 3 high concern potential conjunctions. Debris is getting worse!” and asked congress to fund a $15 million cleanup mission. They did not.
In 2019, NASA called low Earth orbit “the World’s largest garbage dump.” It contains 6,000 tons of waste and NASA is currently monitoring 27,000 pieces of large space junk, because dead satellites and launch vehicle rockets floating around up there is dangerous.
Space junk has the potential to fall to Earth, disrupt satellite communication, and harm astronauts. It travels faster than a speeding bullet (seven times faster, to be exact). Space shuttle windows have already been smashed by literally just paint flecks. Plus, if and when space tourism actually becomes a thing – who’s going to want to look at the space version of the Pacific trash vortex?
Privateer will officially announce whatever the heck it actually is on Tuesday at the AMOS Tech 2021 conference in Maui. Until then, we can only speculate.
Related: Space Travel Regulations Are Coming. The Question: When?