The exploration to space isn’t just about discovering new worlds beyond our own. It also has massive ramifications on our life here on Earth. Today’s space industry is deeply linked to deep tech affecting various industries. And the future is bright for the space industry, as is evident from our conversation with Raphael Roettgen, a space industry leader, technical evangelist, and futurist. Raphael deeply believes that humanity needs to be multi-planetary, or else it risks losing everything. Join in as we discuss the limitless possibilities offered by space manufacturing, space travel, and all other wonders of this nascent major industry.

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The Future Of The Space Industry – A Conversation With Raphael Roettgen

Welcome back to the show where we are talking in the present, but we are talking about the future. For this episode, we have a really special guest. Raphael Roettgen is a leader in the space industry and is a techno evangelist. He’s an optimist. He’s doing a lot of cool things, trying to get us into space and trying to make it a viable sector for business. Raphael, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you’re doing?

Of course. Thank you so much for the invite. I love to be on a show that’s about futurism and about what I take to be techno-optimism because I’m certainly a techno-optimist. I like to start off by saying I’m a reformed investment banker and hedge fund guy, but a few years ago, I accidentally slipped into the space sector. It started by looking at SpaceX, investing in it, and then trying to understand what’s going on with the company, SpaceX, and where it could go.

In the process, I started learning how we got to the inflection point that the space sector is at. That’s substantially about very significant cost decreases. People who watch SpaceX probably would’ve watched these booster landings many times when they brought back the rockets. At the core, that means that you don’t throw away a piece of equipment that costs maybe something like $30 million, but you reuse it 10 times, maybe even 20 times. You materially reduce the cost of accessing space.

As I studied more about the space sector, I came to realize that degrees in large costs are not the only cost degrees. The components are getting cheaper as well. Entire satellites and spacecraft are getting cheaper. That’s driven by factors like moving towards more mass manufacturing, volume manufacturing, space components, and general tech deflation. 

I went really down the space rabbit hole and I started eventually E2MC. We usually use E2MC, the acronym. That’s our legal company name, but originally, it stands for Earth to Mars Capital. That’s meant to reflect our ambition that as financiers and investors, we want to help humanity’s expansion to space, including to Mars, making life multi-planetary.

The Futurist Society Podcast | Raphael Roettgen | Future Space Industry

I want to, early on, say very clearly that even though I do hope we will expand to the Moon, Mars, the asteroid bodies, and all of that eventually, I very strongly believe that in the process of doing that, we will do a lot of things which will benefit life on Earth first. People may know about what we call the spinoff effects. The many things that were developed, for example, as part of the Apollo program in the US in the Moon missions, ended up coming back to Earth. Even things like MRIs. Those MRIs originally came as a side effect or as a spinoff effect of the Space Act. There are many such examples.

I believe that as part of this new push towards the Moon and Mars, we will develop many things that can have positive spinoff effects on Earth. I’m already starting to see this in my day-to-day job. My day-to-day job is being a space venture capitalist. I invest in more space-related startup companies. This could be satellite communications companies, what we call Earth observation companies, or satellite navigation companies.

We’re always seeing some companies that are starting to cross over into other what we call deep tech sectors. I’ll give you a very concrete example. One of my other roles is that we helped to found a company here in Switzerland called Prometheus Life Technologies. That company has a technology license from the University of Zurich, one of the big research universities local here, to grow and produce human organ tissue, so-called organoids, under microgravity conditions, which has certain advantages.

We could use these organoids to, for example, substitute animals in the testing of drugs. We can also use regenerative medicine for very clear positive impact use cases right here on Earth. The process of going to space and taking advantage of space is one example of how we can create a positive impact here on Earth.

That’s something that’s of particular interest to me. What is better about space and engineering these in space versus engineering these domestically? 

Specifically, the organoids are three-dimensional human cell structures. We call them organoids because we make specific organ tissue. I assume this is a non-technical show, so I’ll go a little bit into it. We start with what’s called mesenchymal stem cells. We get stem cells from donors, from their bone marrow. There are what’s called pluripotent stem cells. They can differentiate into, not all, but a number of different organ tissues.

For example, we have produced liver adipose, which is fat cells, neural cartilage, bone differentiated tissues, and organoids in microgravity. Why do you do that under microgravity? As you ask Dr. Awesome why you do that on Earth, you can do it on Earth. People are doing it on Earth. First of all, you have the gravity vector. If you don’t support the cell structure somehow, it’s going to collapse into two-dimensional blobs, casually speaking. You have to use what’s called a matrix or scaffold. That’s introducing foreign materials. That heavily impacts any user of regenerative medicine.

Regenerative medicine is when we use these organoids. In theory, we could do a partial liver regeneration or partial liver transplant. The ultimate dream is that we have entire organ transplants. That’s more ambitious. We can talk about this. One advantage is no foreign materials because there are no scaffolds and no matrices. Also, you grow very cleanly in three dimensions. What we found, and we don’t even fully understand this yet, is that the differentiation is better than in the terrestrial control as well. We can grow them also bigger. That’s not relevant for every use case, but we can grow them bigger without having what’s called a necrotic core where the cells are dying in the middle.

We’ve done this on two missions or the academic team from which our company comes has done this on two missions to the International Space Station and has grown almost 500 organoids in total. We have observed extremely consistent batch homogeneity, like consistent batch quality. For scientific testing purposes, it’s very important because you can reproduce your results.

From all that we hear from users on Earth, that is typically not the case with terrestrial organoids. We think we have these very clear advantages. We have proven we can produce them. Also, to address one of the first questions we always get, it’s not as expensive as people may think it is. This is not limited to our organoid use case. This is anything in space manufacturing. People think this is crazy expensive. People think, “Some mission to produce something in space is tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars.” It’s not. For example, the missions we fuel in a relatively small box. It’s what is called a 2U unit in space. That’s 10x10x20 centimeters. Going up, staying in the International Space Station, and coming back for something like this is about $150,000. It’s not that much money. 

The round-trip cost to and from the International Space Station is about $150,000. It’s actually not that much money.

I didn’t know that there were advantages to a low-gravity environment. From a short-term goal, that’s something that’s super interesting. I hope that’s something that comes to fruition. I wanted to talk with you about long-term goals. The idea of becoming a multi-planetary species is something that’s looked at by the Founder of SpaceX, Elon Musk, as a protective effect. How do you feel about that? When do you think that timeline is going to be? 

When I talk about why I believe humanity should become multi-planetary, I sometimes say there are both carrot and stick arguments. If you start with the stick because of the unpleasant arguments first, the stick arguments are about that. The universe is a pretty hostile place. We are in this localized paradise, but it’s certainly vulnerable. I don’t remember the exact statistics, but we can all look it up on the internet.

The Futurist Society Podcast | Raphael Roettgen | Future Space Industry

Since the Earth came into existence so many billion years ago, and even since higher complexity life came into existence, we had multiple extinction-level events where a vast majority of life was wiped out. The best-known one is the one that we think is the impact of meteorites in Mexico. I can never pronounce the name of the impact. It’s a complicated name. They wiped out the dinosaurs, and it wiped out a good part of the rest of the dinosaurs’ lives as well. That was not the first time in Earth’s history.

There are a lot of things flying around in space. There are a lot of rocks. We’re starting to monitor them. People have various opinions on how good our monitoring is, but the monitoring is one thing. The second thing is, let’s say, we even found something that we identified as a very real threat. It’s something that could hit Earth and cause an extinction-level event. Could we do something about it?

To credit, there are organizations often linked to space agencies like NASA or ASA, which are working on these things. Sometimes, they’re called planetary defense groups. They’re working on both the monitoring and potential ways to deflect an asteroid if it is in danger. There was something called the Dart Mission. That was we, on purpose, impacted the tiny Moonlet of an asteroid and deflected its course ever so slightly. It was also meant to be a test run if you had to do something like that in real life. 

One reason for being multi-planetary and is one of the stick arguments is that we have something like a risk of a massive asteroid impact that wipes out civilization and we lose everything. Maybe it doesn’t wipe out everything. Maybe there’s some microbial life that survives, but then that microbial life has to start almost from zero, which is not great.

Asteroid impacts are not the only danger from the universe. Another hypothetical danger is solar events or solar storms. This has happened many times throughout history. We haven’t had a severe one. The last well-known severe one was in the mid-19th century, around 1850 from memory or something like this. It was called the Carrington Event. It caused the Northern Lights.

As far south as the Caribbean, it blew out a good part of telegraphs at the time. We think if something like this happened in this world with much more technology than the telegraphs, unless we switch them often, it could wipe out a good part of our satellites. It could wipe out a good part of our power infrastructure. This is another danger out there. Those are the stick arguments. Something bad could happen in the universe. It almost wipes us out. If we’re diversifying to other places, we’re protected.

Coming to the nicer part, the carrot argument, there are so many positive aspects to space exploration. I started talking about one of them, which is the spinoff effects. In developing technology for these complex, difficult missions, we can take many of these technologies and use them for some positive impact use case on Earth, like the MRI, for example. This very much will continue, but that’s only one thing. The other thing is general research and science, knowing more about our universe.

Closely linked to that is the inspiration angle. Everybody knows. There are statistics we can look up, but when, for example, the Apollo program went on, it inspired a lot of people to go into STEM disciplines shortly after, arguably, Silicon Valley started. A lot of the first Silicon Valley generation of tech entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs or even Bill Gates say they watched the Moon landing and they were inspired to go something like this. You can already see this happening again. Where do I see this happening again?

Many of the audience may be aware that a few months ago, India, which at my VC fund, we are ridiculously bullish on India as an economy in general but also in space, became only the fourth country ever to land on the Moon, not with crew yet. I’m convinced they will do that, too, but with a probe. They did it on the third attempt. There is nothing to be ashamed of there. They did it very successfully. They’re the fourth nation ever since after the United States, the Soviet Union, and China, so it is really quite a big deal.

What I want to get to is that you can find on the internet, like on YouTube, scenes from public spaces in India, like shopping malls, with crowds of people watching the livestream and cheering. You think, “This must be like a cricket match or something in India,” but it’s not. It’s the Moon landing. People are so inspired by it. It’s going to create a whole new generation of Indian youth pursuing STEM disciplines and creating great things. This inspiration argument is really important.

The last thing closely related to inspiration is the dream of going somewhere, like to a new place. It’s something we’ve had throughout Earth’s history. People are not happy with where they are. They want to go somewhere else, work hard, and be in control of their own destiny. The American dream is a stereotypical example of that. It will take some time. We first have to build up a lot of basic infrastructure with all of this.

In the end, I could see if everything went well. There might be something like a Martian dream, a Moon dream, or something if we built the right type of society right there. It’s the right type of society that allows people to control their own destiny and be successful if they work hard. If we create those conditions, then I’m extremely optimistic.

Part of the reason is that sometimes, people say as an argument against going to Mars is something like, “It’s going to be so hard to live there.” Some places we expanded to on Earth are much easier than on Mars, but they were not particularly easy to live in. People came there, worked hard, and made these things come to fruition. These places may attract some of the most entrepreneurial-motivated among us to go there. In the end, these new settlements or this outpost of humanity may become some of our most advanced human societies out there.

The outposts of humanity outside the Earth may just become some of the most advanced human societies.

I love science fiction. If you are a great science fiction buff like me, you may know there is a TV series from a few years ago called The Expanse, which I love. It was the expanse of Earth, but we have settled on Mars. We settled in the asteroid belt. Mars is depicted as a far more advanced society than Earth. I could immediately believe that.

When you were talking about the whole Indian reaction to their Moon landing, it was making me tear up a little bit. Even talking about it is so inspirational. I can see that. When they were showing the next generation of lunar astronauts on late-night talk shows, these people were the best of humanity. They’re going on there and are talking about the whole purpose of their mission. It’s tough not to be moved by that. It’s so incredibly inspiring. I’m really looking forward to when the US goes back to the Moon with a mission. I’m sure that you’re probably excited about it, too. It’s been pushed back a few times. Can you tell me a little bit more about that and your thoughts on that?

Yeah. We’ve got to get certain things in place. Artemis, like Apollo, is numbered. Artemis is one we’ve already flown. This was flying the Orion capsule. The Orion capsule is the generation spacecraft that NASA is using for crewed space missions. It was flying that the Orion capsule un-crewed around the Moon. That happened in 2022. It was executed arguably flawlessly, which is great.

Artemis 2 will do the same thing but crewed, so with astronauts on board. Artemis 3 is the first one that’s supposed to land on the lunar surface. For the lunar missions, the ones which are to fly around, you need the big rocket they’re having right now, which is called the SSS, the space launch system, and the capsule. The capsule goes on a trip, flies around the Moon, and comes back.

If you want to land on the Moon, you need additional parts of the architectural vehicle. What NASA is doing is working with two of what they call HLS, Human Landing Systems. Two contracts were awarded. The first one is SpaceX with a version of their next-generation rocket, which many readers may have watched. They’re testing in Boca Chica in Texas, which is the Starship stack. There is going to be a lunar starship version that’s meant to have this role as a lander. A second contract was eventually awarded to another consortium led by Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’s space company. There are certain parts of the technology stack we still have to put in place.

People who are following SpaceX and what’s going on specifically with the Starship program may be aware that we had the second in-flight test of the Starship. This is a whole discussion by itself. People divide on, “Was it a success? Was it a failure?” I think it was a fantastic success, but it’s also quite clear that there is a way to go.

The timeline has switched to a crewed Moon landing in 2025. I don’t know where we’re going to hit that. It’s probably a stretch at this point in time, to be quite honest, but you never know. I do hope that at some point in time in the 2020s, we’re certainly going to land again with humans on the Moon. In the meantime, quite excitingly, we will see more robotic landings on the Moon, including private commercial companies.

We will see more robotic landings on the moon, including by private commercial companies.

An example of what we’ve seen so far is government missions. Four countries have managed to successfully soft land. You can also hard land, which is when you crash on the Moon. We’ll talk about it in a second. Only for countries, the US, the Soviet Union, China, and India. There are a number of startup companies that are working on opening up the lunar economy. They’re starting with what’s called Luna Transport Services.

There’s a whole program in the US called the CLPS Program by NASA. CLPS is an acronym that stands for Commercial Lunar Payload Services. A number of contracts were awarded to a number of companies to deliver stuff to the Moon. They’ll start over the next few months. Outside the CLPS program, another example of a private company wanting to go to the Moon is a Japanese company. They are very well-financed. They have hundreds of millions of dollars in venture funding. They’re called ispace. They had their first attempt at landing on the Moon, but they crashed at the last part.

It’s not easy to land on the Moon. India’s first couple of attempts also or at least one of them crashed. A privately funded Israeli not-for-profit company also tried to land on the Moon in 2019. It also crashed in the very final phase of descent. They’re also going to try again. We’re going to see a lot of robotic activity around the Moon as well. 

What would be the commercial benefits of landing on the Moon? I’ve heard from the astronauts that it’s the first step in the eventual journey to Mars. For people on Earth, what are the benefits of something like that?

Let me be very clear. With the positive impact of use cases on Earth in the foreseeable future, certainly in the next few years, we’re still talking about doing stuff in Earth’s orbit, for sure. The commercial use case of the Moon is less clear at the moment. I was at a space event in Italy that was all about the Moon. I was on two panels. We were trying to discuss this, and I don’t think we came to a consensus.

I ran a poll on LinkedIn. My question around this is always like, “What do you think is the first commercial killer app, for the lack of a better word, of the Moon? People are not sure, but I’ll give you the candidates. People can go and research and form their own opinions. One clear candidate is some sort of resource utilization or extraction. What kind of resources do you have on the Moon? We think there might be a good amount of water ice around. It is water in frozen form.

Research calls into question how much there may really be, but people still believe there is a reasonable amount of water ice. That can be used, but that will be used initially as a local resource. You would use hydrolysis to split that into hydrogen and oxygen, and then you could use that for life support. You could also use it as a rocket propellant. Hydrogen and oxygen together, you can use it as rocket propellant, with hydrogen being the fuel and then oxygen as the oxidizer. You could also, in theory, bring some of that from the lunar surface somewhere else and transfer it to some other spacecraft that’s fuel as well. There are other types of resources.

Wearing my head as a venture capitalist, we have had pitches from two companies in the last few months that want to extract Helium-3. Helium-3 is a type of helium. That’s extremely limited. It’s much more abundant on the Moon because the solvent deposits it there. This has a range of theoretical use cases. One of the most important and best-known ones probably is one part of the fuel for nuclear fusion reactors. This is a technology we’re still working on. This is one of the reasons people think about extracting this on the Moon. You could have fusion reactors on the Moon for energy generation there or bring the Helium-3 back to Earth. Those are the resource extraction use cases.

Another one that you already alluded to is that people say we use it as a staging ground for going to Mars. This has been explored in several science fiction works. There was a Netflix show where they went to Mars, but they launched from the Moon. It was a staging ground. You’re already in a much lower-g environment. You test the equipment in harsh conditions and all of that. The lunar gravity valve is much easier to escape than Earth. There is a variety of reasons. The Moon as a testing and staging ground is the second well-known use case category. There is a third that is more controversial but is quite realistic. If you put a gun on my chest and say, “You have to pick one commercial use case now,” what’s going to be the first killer app is tourism?

Of course.

You say, “Of course.” A lot of people either don’t say, “Of course,” either because they don’t believe it or because they don’t like the thought.

Everybody I talk to thinks about the Moon as someplace they want to go to. Granted, I’m in a very select environment. I’m in Cambridge, Massachusetts, so everybody is forward-thinking and thinking about the future. Everybody wants to go to the Moon. I would want to go to the Moon. I know my daughter would want to go to the Moon. Driving cross country to check out the Moon would be a fun father-daughter trip. That’s something that I would be really interested in. We have to get there first. We got to set up a lot of things beforehand. To begin with, we are dipping our toes in space tourism. It’s only available to a select few of our species. How long do you think it’s going to take for us to get to the Moon with space tourism?

In what you call the very select manner, I’m hoping it’s going to happen relatively soon. That is also going to be dependent again on the starship timeline. I don’t see NASA giving access to the Orion spacecraft. I don’t think that’s going to happen. It will probably have to be a private company, and the only viable product you could do it would be SpaceX and then arguably with a working starship. I’m not even sure whether they could modify the crewed dragon. There were plans for modifying a dragon capsule to go deep into space, but they’re on ice or abandoned. We’re talking about the starship here. You’re back on the starship timeline.

The first tourism trips to the Moon wouldn’t land. There was the Artemis as 1 and 2, or if you go back to history, the first one ever was Apollo 8. You go around the Moon, which would be incredible enough by itself because you have this amazing view of Earth as the blue jewel hanging there. You go on the dark side of the Moon. You come up and see what they call the Earth rise as you come back into the horizon.

This is something people may not be aware of. For all I know, if you have the means because this is not cheap and there’s no published price for this, you can go and call up SpaceX and say, “I want to go on a circle lunar trip,” and they’ll sell you a ticket. For all I know, this is available. What is publicly known is that the first one to buy was a Japanese eCommerce billionaire, Yusaku Maezawa. He booked an entire starship, whenever that’s ready to go on a circular lunar mission, taking eight different types of artists like photographers, filmmakers, and musicians on a circle lunar trip. He had already paid for that trip. You can go to SpaceX and buy these trips.

When I was in Italy on these Moon panels and we were having this discussion on the killer use cases, I said, “The first killer app is use cases.” For all that I know, I see a lot of things because I am a venture capitalist and people pitch to me all the time. The only commercial business that I’m aware of where people are making revenue due to the Moon, at least on a bigger scale, is SpaceX pre-selling tickets for circle lunar trips. I am not aware of anything else big. There are some smaller examples.

A friend of mine has a company called LifeShip. You will be able to send your DNA to the Moon. He’s selling these kits. He hasn’t flown yet. He’s dependent on the Artemis missions, but he’s selling kits where people spit and then he extracts the DNA. Technically, he’s making money off the Moon but on a much smaller scale. On a bigger scale, space tourism is the only commercial business I’m aware of that’s making money off the Moon.

Space tourism is the only commercial business that’s making money off of the moon right now.

It’s certainly something that is exciting. Back in college, I launched a weather balloon up into the air to see the curvature of the Earth. For me, I thought it was such a profound experience. I’m sure that you’re familiar with the overview effect, where you take a look at the Earth looking down. It’s like this religious experience that changes people. I really hope that is available to more people. That would have a beneficial effect on society.

Thank you so much for mentioning that because when I went through the reasons to go to space, the carrot and the stick, that’s something I forgot about the carrot part. You’re right. It’s the overview effect. It was coined by Frank Wright, an American writer. It’s something that has been reported by pretty much almost every astronaut and cosmonaut as well. They have this quasi-spiritual experience where you see the Earth, the curvature. What gets a lot of people is that they see how thin the atmosphere is or at least the visible blue part. It’s really thin. They’re like, “We have this very special place.” Also, you can find videos on the internet.

William Shatner, better known as Captain Kirk, flew on a suborbital space flight. He came back all teared up and was like, “I saw Earth, and then around it, I saw only death.” It’s a very powerful effect. I agree with you. I hope that many people will have that, like normal people. The cheaper it gets, the more we can take. To some extent, there are cheaper ways than going all the way for a rocket.

You mentioned weather balloons. We invested in a company called Space Perspective, which wants to take people on a capsule underneath a balloon up to about 100,000 or 120,000 feet, where you can see the curvature. You start having this overview effect. Echoing what one of the Apollo astronauts said, which may have been Harrison, but I forget, he said after he saw it, he said, “I wish we could take some politicians, drag them out here, and tell them, “Look at that, you SOB,” to change their minds on certain geopolitical decisions. 

Certainly, at that young age, it framed a lot of my perspective about how humanity is such a fleeting species in the history of our existence. It’s such a small section of time that we’ve been on this planet that this thing is larger than us. It will continue to be there after that we are gone. Also, we have to take care of it. Those are all really important topics that unfortunately get lost when we have our day-to-day lives. I wanted to talk with you a little bit about the Lagrangian points.

I had another guest on a few months ago. His name is David Livingston. He has this show called The Space Show. I know you have your own podcast, which I’d love to hear more about. He has been in this sector for quite some time and he’s not as bullish as you are on the Moon and Mars. He’s very bullish on the Lagrangian points or these different gravity-specific areas around the Earth that allow us to have things like the International Space Station and stuff like that. How do you feel about that? I feel like the International Space Station is on its way out. I do hope that we invest more in these points because that’s going to be something that’s important for humanity. I’d love to hear your insight on that.

We could pick other places as well. Lagrangian points are special because they cancel out gravity, for a lack of trivializing it. They may be very interesting strategically as well. Taking a step back, I hope we’re going to put the possibilities in place so people can go to many places in a reasonable way. With commercial viability, whatever investment and cost will still be required if they think of something that’s good enough to justify. We’re well into the process of doing that.

I hope that we’re bringing down the cost from the astronomical levels they were to something where a good business can justify the investment and the ongoing operating cost. Whatever it is, the Moon, Mars, asteroid belt, Lagrangian points, or Venus. I want to have the basic infrastructure and capability in place so that people can go and unleash their entrepreneurial creativity in these places.

The space stations are very interesting. We’re saying 2030 is the final year of the Space Station. Certainly, there are plans for after the Space Station already. One of the other NASA programs that was put in place is called the CLD. We always use a lot of acronyms in space. CLD stands for Commercial LEO Destination. It’s an acronym within an acronym. LEO stands for Low Earth Orbit. The plans for replacement space stations are also in low Earth orbit. 

Low Earth orbit is something that’s between 200 and 2,000 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. That is where a lot of our commercial activity is going on. Some of it also goes on much further away in what we call geosynchronous and geostationary orbits. That’s much further away. It is 36,000 kilometers away. For example, The International Space Station sits about 408 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. A lot of the replacement space stations would also be somewhere around this altitude. Why is that? It’s because we don’t have to go any further away.

The reason the International Space Station is so interesting and the reason why replacement space stations, and I’ll give you some examples in a minute, are so interesting is that you want to use the special conditions in space to do something. At the moment, to do something pretty much means experiment, or it has meant experiments since we had the space stations. In the future, it could also mean commercial production.

The enabler for both efforts, the experiment scale and commercial production scale, is the special conditions in space. What are special conditions we can find in space that we can’t find on Earth? By far, the most important one for most use cases is what we call microgravity. You don’t have this one g gravity that we all experience here on Earth. You don’t have that International Space Station, not because there is an absence. There is still gravity around because you’re still on Earth’s gravity field. The International Space Station is orbiting Earth. It’s in a continuous free fall. This is the same kind of free fall that if you were in an elevator and then, God forbid, the cable broke. You’d be free-floating in the elevator, which would not be great, and die.

The International Space Station is in a continuous free fall. Things there don’t experience gravity. That’s why the astronauts float around. That’s why you also sometimes see other fun videos when you get videos from the International Space Station. You can have really big blobs of water. Here on Earth, we can have tiny drops of water. Anything that’s a little bit bigger, the gravity vector will collapse the surface tension and there won’t be a droplet anymore. In space, you can have a big blob of water.

Another thing, and some of the audience may have seen this, is if you have a flame in microgravity, it’s a sphere. It’s wrong. This is because there’s no what we call convection in microgravity. Moving on from the fun, microgravity is so interesting because there are certain column physics follow-on effects. One is that you don’t have what’s called buoyancy and sedimentation, where heavy stuff drops towards the gravity and lighter stuff goes up. For example, the lack of buoyancy and sedimentation suddenly means you can mix things very homogenously, which you can’t do enough because you have buoyancy and sedimentation. There are positive examples of the lack of convection.

I also mentioned already positive examples of the fact that if there is no gravity vector, you can grow things very cleanly in three dimensions. I was talking about doing this with organ tissues, but for example, you can also do it with crystals. Coming back to a life sciences use case, you can do it with protein crystals. There are people working on producing better versions of protein-based drugs in microgravity. We’re talking about protein-based drugs. There are many of those, but we’re talking about high-end protein-based drugs, like monoclonal antibodies. We’re not talking about insulin. That doesn’t make any sense space-wise.

Microgravity is by far the most important special space condition we go to space to exploit for experimentation or production. Other examples would be having a hard vacuum or even having a high degree of certain types of radiation. Microgravity is the most important one, and I have already mentioned several potential commercial use cases.

Microgravity is by far the most important special space condition that we go to space for to exploit.

The space stations that are slated to replace the International Space Station potentially, and then within this, the NASA CLD program, have already been first awarded. There’s a consortium led by Blue Origins, Jeff Bezos’ space company. There’s one that’s called Orbital Reef Space Station. There’s another one called Starlab, a consortium led by a company called Voyager Space.

You have people outside of the CLD program who are also working on space stations. There’s one that’s called Vast and is financed by a crypto billionaire. There’s another one called Gravitics. There are probably at least a couple or so still under stealth, one of which we’re invested in. They all have the same dream. They think, “There’s going to be some value in having these space stations up there.” One part is going to be commercial production, exploiting the special conditions and principally microgravity. The other one is tourism.

All of those use cases are really interesting. I would be remiss if I didn’t transition and ask you what’s been such a popular topic online and in the news, which is aliens. I want your view on that. I asked other people in the space industry about this, and they’re very dismissive. How do you feel about all of this stuff that’s coming out in the news?

Let me take a step back. The first thing I want to say and also to be quite clear is I don’t have any level of security clearance.

What do you feel about it?

I’m not privy to any information that I’ve seen. This is conclusive evidence that there’s something there. There are other people out there who you ask them and they say, “I have seen what I consider conclusive evidence. There’s something there.” I have personally not seen it. I will quote something because when I heard it, it struck a chord with me.

I have a podcast as well, the Space Business Podcast. A few years ago, we had Dr. Pippa Malgren, who is a relatively well-known macroeconomics analyst and presidential advisor. Her father was a presidential advisor as well. One of her thoughts was that isn’t it interesting that after decades of declaring anybody who talks about aliens immediately as crazy, a crook, or something, which, by and large, is true, suddenly, we have congressional commissions and other official stuff.

The question is, why is this happening? Why is it suddenly becoming more accepted in higher government circles? Are we being prepped for something? I don’t know. I’m not trying to be a conspiracy theorist, but I do agree with Pippa. When she said that, I agreed with it. I was like, “That is interesting. Why now? Why is this happening now?”

I try to keep an open mind but follow the evidence. I don’t think that a significant amount of evidence makes me say this is the answer. I watched that tic-tac video. Have you seen that?


It is where the craft is able to move without any sort of propulsion. How great would that be for the space industry? I feel like the ability to move in that kind of dimension without having any sort of propulsion would be really interesting.

I have a couple of comments on that. Your fellow Cambridge podcaster, Lex Fridman, had one of the fighter pilots.

David Fravor. They went into deep detail.

There’s no tangible evidence, even if you take the guy by his word or not. Some of the descriptions were so visual. The one that stuck with me was when I was like, “At the exact point where we were supposed to enter into the training zone, there was a transparent sphere with a cube inside.” I was like, “Do you really make this stuff up?” It was very interesting. That’s the one comment. The other comment is only half joking. My chief technical advisor, who probably has much more insight and clearance with all of this half-jokingly, said several times, “Whenever the time is right and we do have this contact, let’s make sure we’ll try to license some of the techs.”

That’s what I’m most interested in because how great would it be to be able to traverse the Earth in seconds or to go and visit my family in India in a few minutes? That would be something that would be interesting. The ability to go to the Moon or Mars at a much more rapid pace and not be affected by things like gravity and stuff would also be really interesting for your industry.

We’re getting to the end of our time. There are so many things that I wanted to talk to you about that I didn’t get to. I wanted to talk with you about Venus and its applications because I know a lot of people are talking about that. I wanted to talk about Mars. I wanted to talk about cosmic rays and everything that has a potential deleterious effect on our health. I would really love to have you on the show again. If you are ever in Boston, we also have an in-person show.

I’d love to. In case you don’t know, there’s the MIT space conference every year, typically at the end of March or beginning of April. You should go. It’s usually very good. There’s a lot of space activity around MIT. They have the aero astro department. They also have space activities within the Media Lab led by Ariel Ekblaw. She’s setting up a space fund as well. There’s a lot going on. I plan to be there for the conference at the end of March 2024.

That’s awesome. We’d love to have you. I end my episodes with three questions I ask all my guests. They’re very general questions, but they give us insight into how people think about the future. The first of which is where you get your inspiration from. You started out in Wall Street, and then you made this huge transition into something that’s niche, good for humanity, and really interesting.

For me, I can tell you that the reason I started this show was science fiction. When I was talking with a lot of my friends and family members, they were looking at the future with a very pessimistic view. I look at it in optimistic terms. Science fiction, like Star Trek and Isaac Asimov, is the type of future that I want to live in. I can’t wait until we have robot butlers and the ability to hear people in all their different languages. That’s an interesting future for me. What do you draw your inspiration from?

It’s very similar. I love science fiction as well. The future I want to live in is dystopian novels as well. It’s like you said, Star Trek, replicators, beaming yourself, and all of this. Coming back to the carrot and stick thing, humanity, for all of its flaws, some of which are, unfortunately, very visible, has an amazing track record of improving its fate via technology, especially over the last couple of hundred years or so. You could find times earlier in history when we had already good phases. There are so many problems we have overcome.

For all its flaws, humanity has an absolutely amazing track record of improving its fate.

People don’t notice this anymore, but at various points in history, people were freaking out over certain problems. There’s an entire book about this. I forgot the title. You can look it up. It is crises that people saw on the horizon and then we solved them. One example is that COVID looked really scary for a while, and then we identified and sequenced this virus in a matter of days. We constructed the RNA-based vaccine in a matter of months. That’s amazing.

There are funnier examples in history. Apparently, many years ago, people were worried that there was so much horse dung from the carriages on the streets in London that, at some point in time, the streets would be full of shit. All went away. Many years ago, in the UK, people got really worried about the smog because it was ridiculous. The point is that humanity has an amazing track record of improving ourselves with technology. I have faith that we can continue that as long as we keep an optimistic outlook and as long as we inspire people to pursue these careers, which is why I’m doing what I’m doing.

I applaud you for doing that. This is the second question. What do you see the space industry looking like in ten years?

One of the things I would like to see is that the space industry will, for lack of a better expression, be abstracted in a way in the sense that it will be omnipresent or some aspect of the space industry will be omnipresent everywhere. We have made space products and space services so easy to access, taking so much friction out. To some extent already, some of that, we have. Satellite navigation is the obvious example. People don’t think that this could require a consolation, but there’s so much more.

We’re still at the very early stage. Some of the examples that we mentioned in the show are the in-space manufacturing of advanced materials that we haven’t even talked about or biological products. If you go to the pharma industry and try to talk to them about it, that’s still a struggle. Ten years down sounds very soon, but we can do it ten years down the road where we go and it will be a normal thing.

We are like, “We do something in space because it makes sense.” It’s easy enough to access space because there are various stations we can use or free-flying space crafts. There are other companies that can bring this stuff up and down. Over the last couple of years, a lot of AI has started to pervade pretty much all of the economy. This will happen with space as well. Suddenly, you have the products, services, and the positive effects of space everywhere. 

I hope so. That sounds like a future that I want to live in, for sure. This is the last question. You are privy to so many different technologies that are coming through your venture capital fund. There are so many different things that you have probably been reading about to get ready for the different presentations that are given to you on a regular basis. What most excites you? What technology are you most excited about that’s coming down the pipeline?

There are probably a few examples. Let me not give the two obvious ones. I could say we have invested in a nuclear fusion company that’s taking a slightly different approach. If that works, that’s going to be tremendously game-changing. It’s exciting. One thing that I’ve touched upon several times already and that’s close to your world, the intersection of space and biotech is potentially going to be amazing. We’re only scratching the surface of that.

The intersection of space and biotech is potentially going to be amazing.

Speaking of scientists, we have scientists do varied experiments in almost every variable we can think of. We’ve been so constrained in varying one of the most obvious variables there is, which is gravity. We’re seeing, “What can gravity do to certain cellular processes in our bodies? How could we exploit that to benefit ourselves?” We’re really scratching the surface on that.

What people may not know is we have done 700 bio experiments on the space stations. That’s an opportunity because that means there’s a lot of knowledge out there. It already exists as knowledge, but it hasn’t been commercially exploited because it was too expensive. That is one opportunity. The second opportunity is to do much more research out there and use that in a beneficial way.

One of the interesting things that I liked about what you said is you start with nuclear fusion. I asked that same question to probably hundreds of people at this point. Not very many people say that. That’s something that would be such a game-changer for humanity. Fusion is a tangible step for someone like you who’s in the industry. A lot of people think that this is going to be the technology that allows us to have clean, efficient fuel for us to get around the solar system. For somebody like you, that might be low-hanging fruit, whereas biotechnology is the more distant stuff that people might not know about.

Anything that you’ve said in this episode has been really illuminating. I appreciate your insight and perspective. This is an interesting conversation. We’d love to have you do the in-person episode when you’re coming down for the space conference. For all of our audience, thank you so much for joining us. That’s it for Raphael, but feel free to follow him on his podcast. Do you want us to tell them a little bit more about that so that they know a little bit more about it?

Yeah. It’s called the Space Business Podcast. Most of the time, I bring in space entrepreneurs. They talk about the businesses, why they’re doing them, and how they’re doing them. This all started because I wanted to bring the space, the space sector, and what’s going on to people outside the space sector so they know what’s going on.

Even though I’m a business guy, I got bored of only having space entrepreneurs, so sometimes, we have other fun people from the space sector. Astronauts like Chris Hadfield were on. We had Avi Loeb from Harvard talking about aliens and everything. Avi Loeb was on and some other people. Space Business Podcast is on every platform out there.

Thanks, everybody, for joining us. Please like and subscribe. For our regular readers, we will see you in the future.

Thanks so much.

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About Raphael Roettgen

The Futurist Society Podcast | Raphael Roettgen | Future Space IndustryRaphael Roettgen is the founder of E2MC Ventures, a space-focused early-stage venture capital firm. He is also the co-founder of Prometheus Life Technologies, a space biotech startup that was the first startup to win the Orbital Reef innovation challenge.

He lectures on space entrepreneurship and finance at several universities including the International Space University (ISU) and the Swiss Institute of Technology at Lausanne (EPFL), hosts the popular Space Business Podcast, and is the author of “To Infinity”, an introductory book on the space economy.

Previously, Mr. Roettgen held senior roles at global investment banks and hedge funds and was also a fintech entrepreneur in Brazil.

He holds degrees in finance from Wharton, machine learning from PUC-Rio and space studies from the International Space University, where he also serves as a governing member.


By: The Futurist Society