“It thinks it’s flying right now but it’s not, not really.” I’m speaking with Kliment[1], an avionics expert at XYZ Industries[2], an American company that manufactures small-lift launch vehicles for lofting satellites into orbit. We’re standing in one of the company’s warehouses in southern Los Angeles. In front of us is the Loop, a tangled mess of cables and cords spread out across a table and plugged into dual human-sized server racks.


Kliment gestures toward a black box among the wires, “That’s the flight computer. It’s hooked up to software that simulates the conditions of an actual launch… so it gets fake IMU data, fake altitude data, fake pressure data.” He points toward racks, “and over here are fake valves that it controls. So, when we run the sim, the computer reacts as if it were actually flying and we can see if the payload makes it successfully to orbit.” We watch as an array of red LEDs flicker on and off on the rack, the computer dutifully making adjustments to its imagined flight through the troposphere. “Like it’s plugged into the Matrix?” I ask. “Yeah, kind of.”


In reality, XYZ Industries has yet to launch an actual rocket. But, in the Loop it’s launched hundreds, each with different flight conditions. The simulations systematically vary every important metric from air resistance to engine malfunctions. The goal is to continually refine the avionics’ programming so that it may be prepared for anything. This way, when the real rocket is ignited in a few weeks, there are no surprises. This rigorous testing is one reason Kliment and others I’ve talked to at XYZ feel confident about their future missions. Success feels almost inevitable.


This sense of inevitability surfaces throughout the new space economy, its textures varying across scales. At XYZ, there’s confidence about the upcoming launch, however the sense of inevitability doesn’t solely concern the fate of a single piece of machinery—as people are quick to point out, anomalies occur and most launch companies don’t succeed on their first attempt. Instead, there is a steady belief that the enterprise as a whole has a secure future, that is nimble and talented enough to navigate whatever future the space economy brings.


This feeling stems from a variety of sources. First, the company’s founders project an unwavering conviction that business won’t falter, a common trait for technologically intensive organizations in new and changing industries (Hilgartner, 2015). There’s also the shared experience of working as a team—nearly everyone I’ve spoken to at XYZ finds inspiration in the competence and dedication of their colleagues. And finally, there’s the infrastructure the company has built, especially a robust system for tracking and managing every minute component and procedure for building its rockets.


As Kliment puts it, these elements made success feel like a mere matter of time even from the start, “We were being thrust into things that were like 100 times more complicated and more important, anything we’d ever done… but we always thought it’d be super successful. And every month was just like, man, I wish I could just kind of jump forward. I know it’s gonna happen.”


🌑    🌔   🌕


A week before I met Kliment, I drove across the Mojave basin toward Las Vegas to attend ASCEND 2022, a space industry event put on by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. In conference rooms tucked away behind the neon lights of the Strip, representatives from leading space firms and United States government agencies discussed the coming space economy. The tone was not speculative, but definitive.


“This train is moving incredibly fast,” says Steve Nixon. He’s addressing the audience at a Tuesday morning session titled Near-Earth Commercialization, “this is something that could take generations, but it will come in a couple of years.” Nixon is the president of the SmallSat Alliance, an industry group that champions commercial satellite services. He’s also the former Director of Science and Technology for the United States Intelligence Community. On the stage with him are representatives from the Department of Defense’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) and the White House’s National Space Council. The panel is moderated by Russ Teehan, a former Air Force director; he now works at Amazon. Everyone appears very chummy.


The conversation continues, each panelist speaking on the exciting ways US agencies and commercial interests can collaborate on new space infrastructure. The main topic is Hybrid Space Architecture, a framework wherein the state and private companies work together on integrating interoperable satellite networks—a system they call an “outer net.” The comparison to the internet is apt. According to the panel, the development mirrors the early origins of the infrastructural networks we use today; the government spends money on fundamentals while contracting with more and more private companies until the whole system can be picked up and made profitable by private enterprise. “It needs to be monetized,” says Steve “Bucky” Butow of the DIU. Everyone nods. Later, this board amity about the future of LEO is addressed directly, “it’s happening, and we don’t even have to convince anyone.”


I’m reminded of Susi Geiger’s work on high-tech narratives. She suggests that on some level, projections about the future take on an eschatological quality, “they portray the future as simply becoming; it is both inescapable and inevitable,” (2020). Watching this panel, the future of space does feel inevitable—it will be a version of space designed by the interests represented on this stage. How could it be otherwise?


This isn’t a capitulation to “capitalist realism,” either—there’s no lack of imagination when it comes to the extraterrestrial (Fisher, 2009). Over the past year, I’ve seen ample presentations and papers on the radical potentials of off-world activity. Like the Loop humming away in that southbay warehouse, these discussions conjure up potential trajectories for space, different conditions, different outcomes; futures where it’s liberatory, democratizing, and accessible. Though, at the ASCEND conference, these alternatives seem similarly walled off and sandboxed. The macro-structure of space is already being built, scaffolded by existing power. When the most influential companies and the most wealthy governments on Earth share the same vision—and often, the same personnel—the path forward seems preordained; there won’t be any surprises.




Fisher, M. (2009). Capitalist realism: Is there no alternative?. John Hunt Publishing.


Geiger, S. (2020). Silicon Valley, disruption, and the end of uncertainty. Journal of cultural economy, 13(2), 169-184.


Hilgartner, S. (2015). Capturing the imaginary: Vanguards, visions and the synthetic biology revolution. In Science and democracy (pp. 33-55). Routledge.

[1] Not his real name.

[2] Also an alias.

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