Astra CEO says space will be the next big platform as more satellites take orbit, but we need some regulations to avoid chaos

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Astra CEO says space will be the next big platform as more satellites take orbit, but we need some regulations to avoid chaos
Chris Kemp, founder and CEO of Astra, speaks during the Skybridge Capital SALT New York 2021 conference in New YorkREUTERS/Brendan McDermid
  • Astra CEO Chris Kemp said the space industry will enable new technologies on Earth.
  • Kemp compared the growing industry to the internet boom in the '90s.
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Astra CEO Chris Kemp said the space industry is on the verge of becoming as ubiquitous as the internet.

"Space will be the next big platform," Kemp told Insider in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "There is a tremendous amount of opportunity to solve problems here on Earth in space," he added.

Kemp, who cofounded the aerospace company in 2016, highlighted several practical uses for space technology, like satellites, including tracking anything from water levels and energy to weather on Earth.

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As space travel in the US has become more privatized, thousands of companies have stepped into the sector. The Astra CEO compared the recent interest in the space industry to the internet boom in the 90s.

In December, Space Tech Analytics found that there are over 10,000 private space tech companies collectively valued at over $4 trillion in the world. Earlier this month, Citigroup reported the space industry should reach $1 trillion in annual revenue by 2040.

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Space exploration isn't just about colonizing Mars or putting boots back on the Moon. Tech entrepreneurs like SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos have long presented space travel as a solution to climate change by moving people or industrial work off Earth, but Kemp sees its potential for everyday commercial use.

"The thing about Astra is we are a space tech company, we aren't a space travel company, space tourism, space solutions company," he said. "There are a bunch of companies out there that are focused on rockets. We are focused on space services that can be consumed by our customers."

Astra is breaking into the satellite launch market and competing for contracts with companies building broadband satellite constellations like OneWeb and Amazon's Kuiper — competitors to SpaceX's Starlink service. In March, Astra successfully deployed its first group of satellites after failing its very first operational payload launch the month before, Space.com reported.

But as interest in space continues to grow, Kemp said it cannot go unregulated, pointing to laws like the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 which have gone decades without scrutiny. The CEO said satellite data could quickly raise ethical concerns or issues related to national security.

Over the past few years, the number of satellites that have been launched into Earth's lower orbit (LEO) have skyrocketed. In 2021, there were over 7,000 satellites in LEO, according to the United Nation's Outer Space Objects Index.

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And the number is expected to grow exponentially in coming years. SpaceX has said it plans to create a megaconstellation of over 42,000 Starlink satellites. NASA and astronomers have expressed concern over the growing number of satellites.

In February, the federal agency said the satellites could increase the potential for collisions in outer space and potentially interfere with future NASA missions. Astronomers have said the satellites could negatively impact astronomical research.

"We are trying to find this balance," Kemp said, speaking of regulations. "It could be chaos, but with the appropriate level of governance we could have a global network of networks that connects every single billions devices on the planet."

"We have to create an economy that in order to participate you have to conform to the norms and somebody has to find the norms," Kemp added.

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