Many of us learned in school about humanity’s distant past, when traveling beyond Earth’s atmosphere was no more than a vague dream. Humans progressed through the stone age, the bronze age, and other periods marked by technological shifts revolutionizing life on this planet. (As crude as we may consider simple bronze tools, just imagine how amazing they would be in the hands of someone who previously only had stone implements.)
The various ages of humankind share one critical thing in common: they are all recognized long after the fact. Sierra Space believes we are entering yet another pivotal era—one promising to transform existence as we know it. But we don’t have to wait to name it retrospectively—the Orbital Age is beginning now, as you read this very article.
The Orbital Age commences with a transition from 60 years of human space exploration to human space commercialization. Another way to think of this moment is as a civilizational pivot: from flying astronauts chosen by a government agency to a government-run space station, to enabling hundreds of private citizens to travel to space aboard a fleet of spaceplanes to a constellation of space destinations in low-Earth orbit. Here, just 250 miles above our heads, people shall live and work in micro-gravity on a semi-permanent basis.
The speed at which the Orbital Age is progressing makes it clear developments are occurring at light speed. For example, the Iron Age took roughly 1,000 years to spread throughout the globe. Compare this to more recent eras, like the Late Middle Ages, and you’ll find that humanity is now revolutionizing society in the blink of an eye, as compared to antiquity.
In fact, the start of the Orbital Age has been so rapid that it’s vital America doesn’t fall behind other countries in space’s commercialization. Sierra Space CEO Tom Vice explains in a recent op-ed for the Washington Post that China is already making big moves into low-Earth orbit (LEO). Vice writes, “As the U.S. and other nations call for sustainable growth in low-Earth orbit, China is showing no sign of slowing down and could outpace everyone in space transportation and LEO infrastructure.”
Just as China is surging, world events strain America’s legacy approach to LEO: the International Space Station (ISS). Russia has threatened to pull out of the ISS program, or as Vice puts it, “Geopolitics turned to LEO-politics.” Meanwhile, many American innovators are focusing their energy in various other directions, some turning to virtual reality as the next big thing. While leading lights of Silicon Valley are joining Mark Zuckerberg in betting billions on the Metaverse, Sierra Space believes humanity is ready for the next great leap—Silicon Valley in space.
Despite such lofty rhetoric, it can still be hard to imagine how the Orbital Age will affect life on Earth, but that’s true for every technological leap that upended society. As the first Model T rolled out of the Ford factory, almost no one could envision how the car would change transportation and the economy. Likewise, even most of the tech literate in the early ‘90s couldn’t foresee an entirely new industry of web developers, app programmers, and other internet-based careers we now take for granted.
Even so, one thing is clear. Unlimited potential exists to improve life on Earth via Orbital Age innovation. This isn’t just wishful thinking, either. Tremendous advances in medicine have already been achieved through the ISS collaboration. More surprising? Less than 300 people have ever lived and worked aboard the international station in its more than 20 years of service.
What medical advances might be achieved when not only are there more people calling LEO their home and office—but they’re chosen by private industry for their science expertise instead of their capabilities as astronauts? Sierra Space is especially excited by the possibilities in areas such as anti-body drug conjugates (ADC) for successful cancer treatment. Already, ADCs show promise in fighting this scourge, and the Orbital Age is kickstarting this technology into high(er) gear. The treatments discovered by labs operating in microgravity will soon change how we think about illness and wellness.
And that’s just the start.
The Orbital Age will also facilitate travel to LEO at the speed of business, not government. Truth be told, there isn’t an industry without the potential to benefit life on Earth once living and working in space becomes common. For example, Sierra Space believes manufacturing companies will find the next moldable, shapable material to replace plastics—and the accompanying pollution.
Also, emerging computing advances will greatly improve terrestrial life. Just think about the massive amounts of energy and air conditioners required to run modern server farms. What if tomorrow’s data processing centers (in LEO) could thrive in the deep cold of space without a single watt of electricity for cooling? For one thing, quantum computing would receive a huge boost.
Eventually, the Orbital Age will refine technologies and skills needed to colonize the Moon, then Mars. But to achieve these goals and prevent a Chinese takeover of LEO, America must get back in the race. Sierra Space is taking a leadership role in launching the Orbital Age with the Dream Chaser™ spaceplane and Large Integrated Flexible Environment (LIFE™) Habitat.
Both the fleet of Dream Chasers and a constellation of LIFE habitats will also play a critical role in the Orbital Reef project, an exciting partnership between Sierra Space, Blue Origin, and aerospace leaders to create a future off-world. Keep up to date with Sierra Space and our mission to enter the Orbital Age by visiting our News page and subscribing to the Orbital Age newsletter.