Applying Lessons from the Internet’s Business Ecosystem to the Space Economy

Lessons to Learn

As the space economy evolves and matures, it presents a new frontier for technological innovation, economic growth, and societal advancement. Similar to the early days of the Internet, the space economy is at a nascent stage where opportunities seem boundless, but the path to sustainable growth remains unclear. By examining the growth of the Internet’s business ecosystem, we can extract valuable insights to guide the development of the space economy.

Stages of the Internet’s Business Ecosystem Growth

The growth of the Internet’s business ecosystem over time can be broadly divided into a few key stages:

1. Early Days – Infrastructure and Accessibility (1980s – 1990s): The first stage involved laying the groundwork for the internet, which was largely supported by government and academic institutions. Early internet businesses included internet service providers (ISPs), like America Online and CompuServe, which provided consumers with internet access. Websites at this time were mainly text-based and primarily used for sharing information.

2. Dot-Com Boom – Emergence of E-commerce (Late 1990s – Early 2000s): As the internet became more widely accessible, the late ’90s saw the emergence of the first significant wave of internet-based businesses. Companies like Amazon and eBay were founded during this period, ushering in the era of e-commerce. Many other businesses also sought to capitalize on the internet, leading to the “dot-com” boom. However, this period also ended with the dot-com bust, as many of these companies collapsed due to unsustainable business models.

3. Web 2.0 – User-Generated Content and Social Networking (Mid-2000s): The mid-2000s saw the rise of “Web 2.0,” characterized by more interactive websites and the growth of user-generated content. This period saw the rise of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, as well as the growth of blogging and other forms of online self-expression. The business model of the internet also began to shift towards advertising revenue.

4. Mobile Internet – Ubiquity and On-Demand Services (2010s): With the widespread adoption of smartphones and the development of mobile applications, the internet became increasingly integrated into everyday life. This period saw the rise of the “app economy” and the growth of on-demand services like Uber and Airbnb. The development of mobile technology also helped drive the growth of social media and online video streaming.

5. Big Data and AI – Personalization and Automation (Late 2010s – Present): The rise of big data and artificial intelligence has led to increased personalization and automation in online services. Companies like Netflix and Spotify use complex algorithms to provide personalized recommendations, while automation has become increasingly prevalent in areas like customer service and advertising. Meanwhile, the growing importance of data has led to new business models focused on data collection and analysis.

These stages represent a broad overview, and there’s considerable overlap and interplay between them. The internet’s business ecosystem continues to evolve, with trends like blockchain, virtual and augmented reality, and the Internet of Things (IoT) promising to shape the future of the online world.

Lessons for the Space Economy

The evolution of the Internet’s business ecosystem offers several lessons that could potentially be applied to the growth of the space economy:

1. Building Infrastructure: Much like the initial focus of the internet was on building infrastructure and improving accessibility, the space economy will also require substantial investment in fundamental technologies and infrastructure, such as launch systems, satellite networks, and perhaps even lunar or Martian bases.

2. Importance of Sustainable Business Models: The dot-com bust highlighted the importance of sustainable business models. Companies in the space economy should ensure that their business models are not solely built on speculation or potential, but also on concrete plans for revenue generation and growth.

3. Leveraging Network Effects: The success of many internet companies has been largely due to network effects, where the value of a service increases as more people use it. Companies in the space economy could also seek to leverage network effects. For example, a company that operates a network of fuel depots in space could see the value of its service increase as more spacecraft use the depots.

4. Importance of Regulation: As with the internet, the space economy will require effective regulation to promote fair competition, ensure security, and prevent misuse. However, regulations should also be designed to encourage innovation and not stifle it.

5. Role of Private and Public Sector: The growth of the internet was fueled by a combination of public sector research (e.g., the creation of the initial ARPANET) and private sector innovation (e.g., the development of web browsers, search engines, and e-commerce platforms). Similarly, the space economy will likely rely on a mix of public and private efforts. NASA and other space agencies can continue to undertake fundamental research and exploration, while private companies can commercialize these findings and offer new space-based services.

6. Constant Evolution: Just as the internet has continually evolved, so too will the space economy. New technologies, such as reusable rockets and satellite miniaturization, will create new opportunities and challenges. Companies in the space economy will need to be flexible and adaptable to succeed in this constantly changing environment.

The Challenge of Sustainable Business Models

Many space-related businesses are still in their early stages of development, and the sustainability of their business models was yet to be fully tested. It is also worth mentioning that the economic landscape can change rapidly, and businesses that appear unsustainable today may become viable in the future due to advancements in technology or changes in market conditions. However, a few types of businesses in the space economy have often faced questions about the sustainability of their business models:

Space Tourism: Companies such as Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and SpaceX have begun offering or planning to offer space tourism services. These services are currently priced so high that only the extremely wealthy can afford them, raising questions about the size of the market and the companies’ ability to generate sufficient revenue. Additionally, the high costs and risks associated with space travel make it unclear how these companies will become profitable in the short term.

Small Satellite Launchers: A number of companies have been founded to provide launch services specifically for small satellites. While there is growing demand for such services, the market has become crowded, and it’s uncertain whether there will be enough business to support all of these companies in the long term.

Asteroid Mining: Some companies have proposed mining asteroids for resources like water and precious metals. While the potential rewards are huge, so are the technological challenges and upfront costs. As of 2023, the economic viability of asteroid mining remained highly speculative.

Space-based Solar Power: The idea of collecting solar power in space and beaming it back to Earth has been around for decades, and a few companies have been founded to pursue this idea. However, the technical challenges are immense, and it’s uncertain whether space-based solar power can compete economically with other forms of renewable energy.

Again, it’s important to note that these are general observations, and individual companies may have plans to overcome these challenges and achieve long-term sustainability. Moreover, the space sector often involves long time horizons, and what may seem unsustainable today could become viable in the future.

Leveraging Network Effects

Several space economy businesses have the potential to leverage network effects, similar to those seen in the internet economy:

Satellite Communications: Companies like SpaceX, with its Starlink project, are developing networks of small satellites to provide global internet coverage. As more users join the network, the value of the service increases due to improved coverage and potentially reduced costs from economies of scale.

Space Tourism: Companies like Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are pioneering space tourism. As more tourists take trips to space, awareness and desire to participate in such experiences can increase, thus creating a network effect.

Space Habitats: In the future, companies planning to develop space habitats or lunar bases, such as Vast, Northrop Grumman, and Blue Origin, could benefit from network effects. As more habitats are built and more people live and work in space, the value of these habitats could increase due to the establishment of a broader community, shared resources, and the potential for commerce.

In-Space Services: Companies like Orbit Fab aim to establish ‘gas stations in space’ to refuel satellites and other spacecraft. As more customers use these services, the value of these stations can increase as it could encourage more companies to keep their satellites in orbit for longer, knowing refueling options are available.

Space Data Services: Companies that offer satellite imagery and data services, like Planet Labs, can also experience network effects. The more users access and find value in the data, the more valuable the service becomes, driving demand for even more data and applications.

It’s important to note that while the network effect can accelerate growth, businesses also need to manage challenges such as ensuring quality of service, maintaining the infrastructure to support the growing user base, and addressing regulatory and security concerns.


The evolution of the Internet’s business ecosystem offers valuable lessons for the emerging space economy. As we stand on the brink of this new era of space exploration and commercialization, learning from past successes and failures can guide us towards sustainable and equitable growth in the space sector. Much like the internet revolutionized our world, the space economy holds the potential to bring unprecedented change, promising an exciting journey ahead.

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