Plus Ultra: our vision for outer space

Author: Carlos M. Entrena Utrilla – CEO

Adapted by: Alicia Vílchez Bedmar

Complete moon base with spaceports, lunar greenhouse and laser equipments.
Moon base illustration. Vanek, M. 2019, Planetary Defense: Global Collaboration for Defending Earth from Asteroids and Comets, Springer

Enabling the space economy

When I introduce Plus Ultra, I always start by saying that we are a “space infrastructure company”. Most people assume that this statement refers only to our first project, the Harmony constellation. However, there is much more meaning behind it than what we are able to convey in just three words.

Plus Ultra exists for a single purpose: to enable the space economy. This goes further beyond just a communications and navigation constellation. For us, the constellation is but a first step in a system of infrastructure services that create and sustain economic activity beyond Earth orbit.

Space needs infrastructure

That is precisely the future that we envision: a self-sustained economy beyond Earth orbit that enables permanent human presence and activities on the Moon and beyond. We believe that permanent human presence is the key driver for any economic activity. Humans create the ultimate demand of goods and services that drive most of our activities on Earth.

Lunar greenhouse prototype in 3D with trees inside.
Lunar greenhouse prototype. Vanek, M. 2019, Planetary Defense: Global Collaboration for Defending Earth from Asteroids and Comets, Springer

If we want to go to space and stay, we will need humans to stay there, permanently, living their lives and going about their business.

Humans being humans, there will be a strong need for a reason to be there. After all, no one leaves home without a good enough reason. If we want humans on the Moon (or anywhere else beyond low Earth orbit), they will require business and employment opportunities, new ways to make a living that were not available on Earth. We may see the occasional scientist, artist, or eccentric billionaire going to the Moon for the sake of it, but real economic activity is driven by companies and jobs.

And as we know from our experience on Earth, businesses will require infrastructure services for their operations, wherever they are. The Moon is missing all the basic services that we take for granted on Earth: electricity, water, roads, communications, navigation, (space)ports… For all intents and purposes, the Moon is still in the Paleolithic.

Why space needs Plus Ultra: our vision

These are all the services that Plus Ultra wants to provide. We will start with orbital infrastructure (communications and navigation) since there will be a market as soon as lunar missions start operating. We will then move on to the surface as commercial opportunities appear, expanding our orbital services and including roads, spaceports, power production, in situ resources, and any other services that lunar businesses may need to thrive. These businesses will be the reason for humans to stay on the Moon, and the driver for a sustainable space economy. Eventually, we will go further beyond and enable human presence elsewhere in the solar system. If everything goes well, Plus Ultra will be the backbone of this new economy.

That is our vision: to become the backbone of the space economy, empowering space businesses and facilitating space development to realize humanity's brightest future.

How to create an economy in space

At Plus Ultra, the vision came first. We are somewhat unusual in that respect: most space companies start from a new technology or capability, then try to find a business and define a vision. In contrast, we had a very clear vision that has driven all our decisions from Day 0. The only question was how to realize it.

Space is not the easiest market. Typical space projects are expensive and take a long time to reach the market, if there is a market to begin with. For a single new company to enable the whole of the space economy, that is a long shot. However, we decided to take it step by step.

Advanced lunar technology. Laser and nuclear reactor on the moon
Advanced lunar technology. Laser and nuclear reactor. Vanek, M. 2019, Planetary Defense: Global Collaboration for Defending Earth from Asteroids and Comets, Springer

Space will not be built in a day

Anyone aiming to develop, deploy, and operate a whole space economy on their own is either delusional or ignorant of reality. The space industry as a whole has realized this in recent years. Current space startups often focus on a single element of the future economy (landers, rovers, power, manufacturing) instead of building a complete lunar base. We know this too, and thus plan on taking things one by one.

Today’s lunar industry consists only of several lunar landers planning one-off missions to the Moon, potentially with the first exploration of resources. These early missions are designed to operate on their own without any infrastructure. However, they will have a key role in the development of the space economy: they will be the first customers of the first orbital infrastructure. This first infrastructure will consist of satellites in lunar orbit, providing any remote services they can for these landers.

Lunar rover vehicle model (LRV) on the moon surface
Lunar rover vehicle model (LRV). Vanek, M. 2019, Planetary Defense: Global Collaboration for Defending Earth from Asteroids and Comets, Springer

It is not a coincidence then that our first project is a communications and navigation constellation. However, just providing those services will not change much. It will be essential that this early infrastructure enables all the aspects needed to establish a presence on the Moon and to start using its resources. For example, new lunar services will have to enable better access to the Moon (poles, far side, inside of craters), better remote operations, or lower risk of operations. Just providing a slightly better capability than what we can provide from Earth will not catapult us into a bright future.

If the early lunar infrastructure plays this enabling role though, we will be in business. Orbital infrastructure will enable complex surface operations. These will in turn be the first customers for surface infrastructure, which will enable permanent human presence and use of in situ resources. Finally, continued human presence on the Moon will be the anchor of the space economy, generating a demand for services and products, while creating value for Space and Earth companies.

The roadmap to our future in space

So, it will not be enough to just deploy things step by step. We have to do it in a certain way that enables sustainability. This way will be commercial.

Only through commercial activities will we have a sustainable space economy.

Government budgets (scientific or military) can only go so far. Corporate budgets have an even shorter reach. Same as on Earth, the space economy will need people acting as consumers and anchoring the value chains that feed activities on the Moon.

This progressive path to develop markets is precisely our high-level roadmap, as you can see in the Figure below.

Inphographic about the industry space stages up to 15 years.
Roadmap to our future in space. Plus Ultra.

Our roadmap reaches far into the future (15+ years). If you have ever participated in fundraising before, this is not an ideal situation. Most investors (especially venture capital investors) will require shorter times to profitability, and much shorter times to market. As a company, we could not make a roadmap that had us just burning money for 15+ years if we wanted to have any hope to raise investment. This is the reality of the modern startup scene all over the Western world.

However, modern problems require modern solutions. The solution is, of course, to rely on new technologies as much as possible. If we were to develop our own satellites, our own manufacturing capabilities, and then deploy them, we would spend years burning cash to create new technologies. We would also not be a space infrastructure company anymore, we would be a satellite manufacturer (or a rover manufacturer, or a lunar mining company…). To minimize our time to market, and to stay true to our vision, we had to forgo any unnecessary technology development, and focus on providing the service.

Not coincidentally, current years have seen a strong development in technologies for small communications satellites, in all areas from structures and propulsion to antennas and computers.

Now we see the perfect timing to kickstart the lunar economy: both the technologies and the first markets are here.

Plus Ultra: a space infrastructure operator

Thus we created Plus Ultra, and we gave ourselves this company mission: to deploy and manage space infrastructure that provides business-enabling and market-creating services in all regions of space beyond Earth orbit.

Plus Ultra will progressively deploy new space infrastructure that relies on existing markets and, most importantly, enables new ones. We will be just an operator, leveraging existing commercial technologies, and focusing on providing services that empower new businesses and facilitate the creation of lunar markets.

Space ports, advance lunar technology and lunar vault in a moon base
Detail of a moon base design. Vanek, M. 2019, Planetary Defense: Global Collaboration for Defending Earth from Asteroids and Comets, Springer

All this to allow us to realize our vision of a sustainable space economy. We believe that there is no brighter future for humanity than one where we have gone beyond the limits of Earth, moving our heavy industries to space, leveraging the near-endless space resources, and securing a future for our species in new planets, while limiting the impact on our own.

This is the future that we want, and we will make it happen.

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