Astronaut Marc Garneau Says We Need Risk-Ready Deep Pockets To Fund Space Innovation

Space: The final frontier for startups. Or if not final, at least a huge one that’s ripe for exploration. Canadian astronaut and politician Marc Garneau took the stage at Startup Festival to talk about innovation, Canada, space and startups. Canada has been at the forefront of some key innovations in the space industry, but we need to do more, Garneau says, and we need to find people with deep pockets who aren’t afraid of risk to make that happen.

Garneau gave credit to the few brave individuals who are funnelling money into space innovation without necessarily seeing the possibility of immediate reward. Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos are all examples of people helping push this market forward, Garneau said, but they don’t have Canadian equivalents, and there aren’t enough people contributing to these efforts around the world in general.

“In some cases that money is going to pay off, but you have to have those deep pockets,” he said. “[You have to have] a strong commitment towards space and a willingness to take additional risk.” He said that things like SpaceX do look like they’ll eventually result in profitable business, but that we need more people who aren’t afraid of the possibility that these efforts won’t lead to immediately apparent revenue opportunities.

The reason for doing that is not necessarily about doing something that leads to immediate changes, but it is about effecting change for consumers and the everyday world, not just about reaching for the stars, Garneau said. There are lessons to be learned in terms of things that are very relevant to people in their everyday lives, like water and energy conservation. There’s also a huge opportunity for engineers and entrepreneurs to take the data that’s already been amassed from existing space exploration efforts. Garneau explained that there’s tons of data from space exploration efforts that the government owns and could theoretically make public for entrepreneurs to dig into, which could lead to some very interesting consumerization and product creation.

There are big benefits to be had in terms of environment and energy sectors, as well as exploiting limited resources to their maximum possible extent. Space has fallen out of favour among governments and budgetary concerns force focus elsewhere, Garneau said, but they can still incentivize private parties to do that work with things like tax credits and exemptions. Innovation in space sounds very sci-fi, but as Garneau explained, it’s actually very practical for startups to look to the skies for the next big idea.