Show an ad over header. AMP

Why the private space industry embraces risk

The space industry has always accepted some level of risk and failure, but as the commercial space industry matures, companies are using failure to their advantage to try to help their businesses succeed.

Why it matters: By taking on more risk and pushing their systems to the limits, space companies may be able to reach ambitious goals — like building a city on Mars or mining the Moon for resources.

The big picture: A rocket's failure could have once signaled major trouble for a rocket company's business, but that’s not necessarily the case anymore, experts say.

  • Instead, after a setback, some space companies now have the flexibility to use that failure and return to flight more quickly and with a better launcher than before.

What's happening: Companies are taking more risks to work out bugs in a system faster and to ultimately make a better product.

  • SpaceX is testing its Starship designed for interplanetary missions by staging test flights quickly, effectively allowing them to fail and iterate so they won't repeat that failure.
  • Instead of working to build the perfect rocket on the first try, small rocket builder Astra is using an iterative process to create a better rocket through risk and failure.

Where it stands: The industry at large is also giving commercial companies more leeway when an accident does occur, according to Eric Stallmer of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.

  • A Rocket Lab rocket failed to deliver a payload to orbit in July, but the company bounced back fast with a successful return-to-flight mission on Sunday.
  • That quick turnaround is notable because earlier failures from other companies sidelined those businesses for several months.
  • Stallmer added that new sensors and other pieces of technology are allowing companies to track everything happening on a rocket and quickly identify the root cause of an accident.

Between the lines: Risk and failure tolerance are the signs of a maturing private industry.

  • Risk tolerance could also be a way for companies to break through in an increasingly crowded market.
  • "You have to accept a higher amount of risk," industry analyst Peter Marquez told Axios, drawing a comparison to investing in riskier stocks for a higher return.

Background: During the early days of the space program, failure was key to the development of systems that would take people to orbit and eventually the Moon.

  • Longtime government contractors like Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which likely took more risks earlier on, are now in mature positions in the industry where high-profile failures could spell problems for their businesses.
  • But upstarts are incorporating those ideas about risk into their businesses now, capitalizing on failure and using it as a means to an end.

Yes, but: "It's not that failure is more tolerated" from a business and technical perspective, United Launch Alliance's Tory Bruno told Axios. "It's that the nature of the industry, the nature of the payloads that we're putting into space as an industry has changed."

  • The money from commercial payloads and even inexpensive government ones can likely be recovered relatively quickly, making that type of mission failure less serious than others that may include expensive spy satellites or other multibillion-dollar tools.
  • And some missions — like SpaceX's first human flight for NASA earlier this summer — are too high-stakes to tolerate high risk.

Trump pushes to expand ban against anti-racism training to federal contractors

President Trump announced late Tuesday that the White House attempt to halt federal agencies' anti-racism training would be expanded to block federal contractors from "promoting radical ideologies that divide Americans by race or sex."

Why it matters: The executive order appears to give the government the ability to cancel contracts if anti-racist or diversity trainings focused on sexual identity or gender are organized. The memo applies to executive departments and agencies, the U.S. military, federal contractors and federal grant recipients.

Keep reading... Show less

GoodRx prices IPO at $33 per share, valued at $12.7 billion

GoodRx, a price comparison app for prescription drugs at local pharmacies, on Tuesday raised $1.14 billion in its IPO, Axios has learned.

By the numbers: GoodRx priced its shares at $33 a piece, above its $24-$28 per share offering range, which will give it an initial market cap of around $12.7 billion.

Keep reading... Show less

Scoop: Meadows puts agencies on notice about staff shake-up

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told administration officials Monday to expect senior aides to be replaced at many government agencies, according to an internal email obtained by Axios.

Behind the scenes: Meadows asked the director of the White House Presidential Personnel Office John McEntee "to look at replacing the White House Liaisons (WHLs) at many of your agencies," according to the email. "John will be working with outgoing liaisons to explore other opportunities."

Keep reading... Show less

White House ricin package suspect allegedly urged Trump to "give up for this election"

A Canadian woman allegedly mailed a letter addressed to President Trump containing the poison ricin and the threat "give up and remove your application for this election," court papers filed Tuesday show.

Driving the news: Pascale Cecile Veronique Ferrier, 53, was arrested trying to enter New York from Canada on Sunday. She appeared briefly in a Buffalo, N.Y., courtroom where a judge entered a not guilty plea on her behalf to the charge of threatening the president, per CBC.

Keep reading... Show less

House Democrats, Trump administration strike deal to avert government shutdown

House Democrats have reached a deal with the Trump administration on legislation to fund the government through Dec. 11, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced Tuesday.

Why it matters: The deal will avert a government shutdown when funding expires in eight days. Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said earlier that they hoped to hold a vote on the legislation on Tuesday evening.

Keep reading... Show less

Remote work won't kill your office

We can officially declare the 9-to-5, five-days-a-week, in-office way of working dead. But offices themselves aren't dead. And neither are cities.

The big picture: Since the onset of pandemic-induced telework, companies have oscillated between can't-wait-to-go-back and work-from-home-forever. Now, it's becoming increasingly clear that the future of work will land somewhere in the middle — a remote/in-person hybrid.

Keep reading... Show less

FBI: Foreign actors likely to sow disinformation about delays in election results

The FBI and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency released a public service announcement on Tuesday warning that mail-in ballots "could leave officials with incomplete results on election night," and that foreign actors are likely to spread disinformation about the delays.

The bottom line: The agencies called on the public to "critically evaluate the sources of the information they consume and to seek out reliable and verified information from trusted sources," including state and local election officials.

Keep reading... Show less

The big business of immigrant detention

Around 70% of all immigration detention centers are run by private companies, including the one at the heart of a new whistleblower complaint that alleges systemic medical neglect and malpractice.

Axios Re:Cap digs into the business of immigrant detention, including oversight and profit incentives, with Jonathan Blitzer, a staff writer for the New Yorker who’s covered the subject for years.



Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories