Cities in space with anthea Foyer: Regulating the race for profits
Joe Kornik: Welcome to the VISION by Protiviti podcast. I’m Joe Kornik, Director of Brand Publishing and Editor-in-Chief of VISION by Protiviti, our quarterly content initiative where we put megatrends under the microscope and look far into the future to examine the strategic implications of big topics that will impact the C-suite and executive boardrooms worldwide. In this, our first topic, “The Future of Cities,” we’re exploring the evolution urban areas are undergoing post-COVID and how those changes will alter cities over the next decade and beyond. Today we’re in for a treat as we’re boldly going where this podcast hasn’t gone before, outer space, to discuss the cities that will soon be there. As we’ve all been so focused on life down here coming to a standstill during COVID, quite the opposite was happening up in space as development seem to be accelerating faster than I realized. With major players now involved in the space race and lots of money to be made, it’s no surprise that’s where a lot of attention has shifted, and why not? A study by Bank of America and Merrill Lynch predicted the market would grow to some $2.7 trillion by 2040; not that far away. Others have predicted lunar colonies and even space hotels sooner than that. The implications of all of this are pretty interesting, to say the least.
Today, I’m joined by Anthea Foyer, Sector Development Officer with the City of Toronto, who has been following this race to space closely. Not really in an official capacity for the City of Toronto, but more as a passionate enthusiast of cities and space. She’s published articles on the topic and joins me now to discuss it. Hi, Anthea, and welcome. Thanks for joining us today.
Anthea Foyer: Thanks for having me. I’m looking forward to it.
Joe Kornik: You described yourself as an idea junkie obsessed with cities and people, art and words, entertainment, digital culture and outer space, which I just love. That’s such a great description. I was fascinated by your article a few months back titled, “City Life on Mars? Creating human-centered communities in space and beyond.” I can tell you I learned a lot from that article and there were a lot of jaw-dropping revelations in it, including how far we’ve already come in this area, which sort of shocked me. You don’t think cities and space or space communities, if you want to call them that, are that far off, do you?
Anthea Foyer: I don’t. I was surprised myself. I’m not an expert in space but I do have a strong background in cities, and smart cities in particular, and sort of social life in cities. I’m part of a global advisory board for Smart Cities World and they asked us to do a write-up. I started thinking about what would be interesting and what would kind of really look at what a smart city is, and I started to think about space. I started to think, “What does it look like when we have smart cities in space?” It felt like it would be so far off. When I started to do the research and I started to think about it, I realized it’s not that far off. There’s so much happening in space that I didn’t have any idea about and I don’t think the general population does. I feel like we’re still questioning should we go to space…
Joe Kornik: Right.
Anthea Foyer: …but I think that ship has already sailed. [Laughter] So, there’s a ton of various countries up there. There are definitely a lot of companies that are starting to work in space much more than I thought, whether it’s for satellites or mining or sort of other scientific exploration. There’s a lot happening up there.
Joe Kornik: Yes, it’s crazy. I’m not even sure people realize that there are already two existing UN treaties dealing with space. There’s the Outer Space Treaty, which is aptly named I guess, and the Moon Treaty. These things sound like something out of a sci-fi movie, but the United States recently led a third treaty called the Artemis Accord. Can you explain to us a little bit about those treaties as existing treaties and what this new Artemis Accord could mean and what it’s all about?
Anthea Foyer: Sure, and I’m with you. Whenever I just talk about this I think, “[Laughter] Am I talking about like—am I in a science fiction novel?” Because reading them very much feels in that vein and so the first one was from around like the 1960s and that was the International Space Treaty. When you read it, it’s very aspirational. It talks very strongly about peace. It talks very strongly about not having weapons of mass destruction in space, of working together. It very much feels like a UN treaty in that time and era where I think a lot of countries were really trying to come together and do things internationally.
Then the Moon Treaty was about 10 years later. It’s like 1979 I want to say, and that one was, again, a UN treaty that talked about the use on the moon and, again, the moon being a cooperative space. Whenever we do anything there together, it needs to be in peace, and together, and as a united kind of group; and then the third one that’s come out recently which surprised me. I know there’s a lot going on in the world right now so I think it kind of slipped under the radar, but the Artemis Agreement, which, I think, about seven or eight countries have now signed on to. That one is lead by the US which is a bit unusual for the space treaties as they used to be from the UN. Canada, which is I’m from, has also signed on to it as well.
It’s very simple. It’s only about an eight-page document. I was quite surprised how simple it was, and it has sort of some of the same idea. It has this idea that we’ll work together there in peace. There’s a lot about business. There’s a lot of starting to be kind of the idea of the moon either as a stopping point or as actually a place to do R&D or to mine as well.
There’s already a company, I believe it’s from the UK, that has a 4G mobile network up there so that when everyone’s up there, they can easily work and communicate with each other. There’s also a couple of interesting clauses in that one. There is one that I like which is around the heritage of space. The same way that we have kind of heritage sites on Earth that we’re really protective of, they’ve started out with that. There’s already kind of heritage locations on the moon which, again, is kind of quite magical and lovely to think about.
Joe Kornik: Yes, it sure is. You mentioned mining and some R&D. What are the main activities? What do you think the outer space will mainly be used for in terms of the moneymaking proposition?
Anthea Foyer: From what I can see, it looks like it’s a mixture of—mining is huge whether it’s on moon, Mars, Titan which is one of the moons of Saturn, or asteroids. That seems to be a huge, huge moneymaker. There’s this idea that the first trillionaires are going to be people that are working in space.
Joe Kornik: Wow.
Anthea Foyer: It’s expensive to work up there, incredibly expensive, but the payoffs are also very, very good in terms of monetary rewards. I also think there are some interesting things in terms of entertainment or in terms of hotels or socializing that are within the near-Earth orbit. Because I think sometimes we think of being on the moon or another planet or somewhere else, but even now there’s a ton of—I think half the satellites in space right now belong to Elon Musk’s company, so SpaceX. There’s a ton of just sort of near-Earth activity that I think will happen, like the space hotels.
Joe Kornik: Yes, very interesting. You mentioned earlier sort of just the multiple countries and sort of the cooperation that’s needing to be happening up there, which could be a challenge. You pointed out the three countries, really the US, China, and the UAE in that article—United Arab Emirates—are already sort of active there. You pointed out that we’re sort of at a tipping point in space where nations are going to have to cooperate with each other as we start to settle space, and you mentioned Elon Musk. He’s already said, essentially, that Earth laws won’t apply in space. That once we’re on Mars, we’ll create new legislation. That sounds like, again, some sci-fi movie stuff there. This seems a little messy to me. How do you see this all sort of sorting itself out?
Anthea Foyer: I think for me this is the area that’s the most interesting because I think this is where we need to decide as a human people what we believe in, and what our values are, and how does that translate. I think we either think of humanity as a group or not. We don’t become non-human once we leave our beautiful little planet, but I think that we’re going to have to kind of get on top of it. I think if we look in the last few years around technology and the power of, say, social media on our democratic systems, these have been—I think it surprised a lot of us how deep it was and how much power it has. I think that space is kind of that same place where we’re at where we can’t just ignore that it’s there. We need to be sort of thoughtful and not think of it as this kind of ridiculous thing that may happen in the future because it’s already happening now.
As soon as you have people who are working in space, there’s the opportunity for exploitation of those workers. Once you start having any kind of business opportunities in space that changes things as well. We all want to be safe whether it’s in our personal being, whether it’s within our communication structures, whether it’s in our businesses. We want to feel as though there is some support for us and not just a kind of wild-and-free, anything for anyone. I think we’re currently in a time where we can see the effects of colonialism, which was the last big kind of push, and we’re realizing there was a lot of damage done. We do have places to learn from that we can do better as we move into space, but I think we have to be able to be thoughtful about what that looks like and what it means, which is hard because it does sound very flighty to talk about. I think it’s really important because, as I said, it is happening. It’s not it will happen. It’s, “It is happening.”
Joe Kornik: Yes, and I think that’s important to remember. When you start thinking about the implications, it’s just your mind can just run away. There are so many things to consider how that would work. You mentioned exploitation of workers. That’s something that never even crossed my mind, right? Here, we are defined by country and geography, and labor laws, and whatnot. If we’re in this place where there are no laws, it’s sort of the Wild West all over again, which is just a crazy thing to think about. You mentioned hotels earlier and, obviously, people are going to need somewhere to stay when they’re in space, right? I’ve read that a company called Orbital Assembly is actually building a hotel and resort on Voyager Station. I think they’re going to break ground, or I guess I would say break space, some time in 2025 with an eye toward opening that property in 2027. That’s not that far-off so what’s the future of real estate, hotels, and resorts in space? Are we embarking on a new sort of space race for rooms? How do you see that playing out?
Anthea Foyer: I think Virgin is also looking into it as well. I think that’s quite an ambitious timeline for getting up there but I don’t think it’s that far-off. I think as soon as we can safely get people back and forth to space, as soon as we’re comfortable with that and obviously with the new SpaceX, it’s kind of the first journeys outside of places like NASA or other governmental organizations. I think once that’s kind of down pat, I think that there’ll be a lot that happens. Who wouldn’t want to go to space? We’re such travelers as humans and so the idea of going into space I think would be wonderful for a lot of us. Just going up and doing an orbit around would be much more feasible than taking years out of our lives to go anywhere else. You know what I mean?
It’s such a fascinating idea to start thinking about a hotel in space because then that really is a smart city or a city in space. It’s a community. You start having workers up there. The workers start having their lives up there. They start needing all the kind of services, and medical services, and social services. Suddenly, you have a little village up there. So, I think that it’s quite fascinating because I think suddenly we’ll realize we’re living in space where we don’t think of hotels as a place that we live but it can’t be all over. Everyone doesn’t want a robot checking them in, and then you’ll want things like entertainment in space.
I can imagine someone like Beyonce wanting to be the first person to play a space show. How fabulous would that be? An amazing experience for the people at the resort and then also from Earth to be able to watch that. I think that that will be kind of—once that safety has been placed I think it could just explode very quickly. Maybe not become affordable for most of us but become more affordable than I think it is in the current state.
Joe Kornik: Right. Do you envision space cities looking a lot like Earth cities? Do you think we would make radical changes to the way they’re laid out or the way they function? Or do you think that we’ll follow a lot of the similar patterns and similar planning strategies we’ve had on Earth here for hundreds of years?
Anthea Foyer: I would hope that we would think differently. We would learn, but I feel like we’re not very good at it. There’s this sort of great story about why the Space Shuttle is the size it is and it’s essentially built the same size as two horses’ butts which is really bizarre. [Laughter] Essentially, Roman roads were made a million years ago to be able to fit the size of two horses because that’s the size of their chariots. Then as we’ve sort of developed roads then we kept that size. Then we built cars that size and we have transport trucks that size. When they were building the Space Shuttle, they have to build it so that it could be transported across these roads that were built the same size as two horses’ butts. We won’t change that quickly but at the same time I think we’re going through kind of like both technology and cultural—I don’t know if renaissance is the right word but we’re definitely much more aware of how cities are built and what that means for the people that live there. I would hope that we would at least be able to take some of that knowledge and do something differently and also just with the opportunities that are different in space. Earth has very specific things like gravity or like certain kinds of views. Maybe there’s just a possibility to really rethink what that looks like and take advantage of peculiarities of being in space and incorporate that into the way that people live there, which be wonderful. We don’t need everything to be same. [Laughter]
Joe Kornik: Right, right. Where we’re going, we don’t need roads, to quote a [Laughter] 45-year-old movie at this point. [Laughter] From a business perspective, how should CEOs be sort of strategizing around this or looking at this? Do you see this as an opportunity for sort of a niche? Just a select sort of high-tech firms and first movers, or do you think there’s sort of a mainstream, more down-to-earth opportunity here? Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Opportunity here for some more traditional companies?
Anthea Foyer: Sure. I think, yes, there are the obvious ones around kind of mining, engineering, that kind of thing. I think there are quite clear opportunities there, but I also think that there’s—it’s again this idea of not thinking of it as this space versus that space, but kind of connected, all connected. Even now, a lot of what’s happening in space has a lot of effect on how we’re behaving here. In Canada, because we’re so big and it’s really difficult to get things like broadband to the north, one of the things that’s been amazing with the new satellites that are up there is they’re actually being able to bridge that gap and bridge that digital divide into those areas of our country that are really hard to reach. I think that there’s a lot that can kind of connect there with here. I do think some of the things around art and entertainment could be really interesting areas to look at. I think that those kind of social/cultural contexts we sometimes take for granted although, hopefully, after COVID when we realize how much of a support all of the arts have been to us through this. I think they’re also bridge to space as well in terms of getting people used to the idea of space, to get them thinking about it, to get their comfort in it and to get people excited about it.
Joe Kornik: One more question from me and it’s sort of prediction time. What will the moon, Mars, outer space in general look like, do you think, in let’s say 2030? Will there be functioning cities with sort of residents, semi-permanent residents? Will companies be up there actually conducting business? Will it be mainstream enough that a decent chunk of the population will have gotten there? What do you see sort of a decade out or even beyond? If you want to look really far into the future, be my guest.
Anthea Foyer: I think that we will have populations up there without thinking of them as cities for a long time. We already have the International Space Station which is essentially a small community. Then with the work that’s being done on the moon, I think that’s going to happen very quickly. Even the sort of foresight of having the 4G network put up there I think just speaks to this idea that it may not be people staying there for a long time, but kind of coming together in community for various projects. I think that those are going to happen more quickly than we think.
I think that the hotels will happen as soon as that space flight is comfortable to get people there and back. I think it’s going to be quite a while before it’s affordable for most of us. I think it will still either be luxury or big business for a while. Until some of the costs come down, I think it’s going to take a bit of time. There are ideas that the first trillionaire will come from someone who’s working in space. As soon as that happens, I’m sure [Laughter] they will get very excited and there’ll be a lot of movement that way. Yes, so I think that there will be things that happen that we maybe don’t call cities or don’t call communities but really are quite quickly, but then it will take a long time for it to really become established and particularly for anywhere that’s further out. Somewhere like Mars just takes so long to get to in general that the timelines on that just become much, much longer.
Joe Kornik: Yes. We’ve got some of the best minds on this planet thinking about it, I know that. If there’s money to be made, I can only imagine that, as you suggested, it’s a matter of time. Matter of when, not if. It’s happening. Since we’re looking at the future of cities in this project, I wanted to just make sure that that we cover all of our bases. We’re going to look to the future of potentially outer space cities. Thank you so much for your time today, Anthea. I really appreciate it.
Anthea Foyer: Thank you. That was really fun.
Joe Kornik: Thanks for listening to the VISION by Protiviti podcast. Please rate and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts and visit us at Vision.Protiviti.com.