Nasa is experimenting with privatisation in interesting new ways. The US space agency’s chief, Jim Bridenstine, has just constituted a Nasa Advisory Council that will determine if commercialising and monetising Nasa’s operations in the low Earth orbit is feasible. This, as the new Nasa leadership claims, will help it to focus on explorations in our immediate neighbourhood—specifically, the Moon and Mars, explorations that China and India are targeting in the next decade—perhaps even farther in our solar system. President Donald Trump had earlier complained about Nasa expenses even as his administration made perhaps the sharpest cuts in government funding of Nasa in years. What’s new this time is that there could be product endorsements by Nasa astronauts and even branding on spacecraft via auction of naming rights for rockets and spacecraft. Perhaps, this vision entails visuals of an astronaut in space, attempting to shove a spoonful Cheerios or Froot Loops in zero-gravity conditions, relayed to Earth for ad-spots in TV/OTT programming, or even a Mars (the chocolate brand) mission to Mars and a MoonPie mission to the Moon.
Meanwhile, India’s Isro is also taking concrete towards creating opportunities for private players in space exploration. As per a Business Standrd report, it will be handing over development and manufacturing of small rockets, PSLV rockets and satellites to private players by 2020. This is expected to result in orders worth `90 billion over the next three years for the private sector, with Isro requiring 40 small rockets, 30 PSLVs and 10 GSLVs over this period. Like its US counterpart, Isro will turn its eye to manned missions and neighbourhood exploration missions. It expects to launch some 59 satellites by 2021, which will require two PSLVs every month as compared with 6-7 that Isro uses annually at present. Such privatisation of space manufacture, and subsequently, explorations and missions, apart from bringing in private sector competence, are also a proxy for nations that will perhaps compete in the future in a space-colonisation race. Protecting a domestic company’s interest in space clears the way for nations to work around the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 that bans signatories from colonising outer space, including the Moon.