What NASA landing on Mars means for business on Earth

NASA’s Perseverance rover just landed on Mars. Since the 1960s, missions like this have spurred disruptive innovation on Earth.


February 19, 2021

Image of Mars via NASA / JPL-CALTECH

Yesterday marked the end of the Perseverance rover’s 300m mile journey to Mars and the start of a 687-day mission to find aliens better understand whether the planet would make for a nice place to live.

Costs for development and operation of the rover will likely total $2.4B

… But the benefits on Earth are likely worth far more

Since the 1960s, NASA’s Mars programs have led to countless innovations, including materials for heart surgeries, methane-leak detectors, and — importantly — carbonating beer.

With Perseverance, it’s no different:

  • Honeybee Robotics developed drill bits for the rover’s robotic arm that were also commercialized for use with standard drills
  • Tempo Automation simulated designs for NASA’s circuit boards and then discovered the technology’s utility in the broader circuit manufacturing process
  • Tech in Photon Systems’ spectroscopy tool for Perseverance is being tested for use in pharmaceuticals, food processing, and wastewater management

More and more companies are building for space

For Perseverance, Maxar Technologies built a robotic arm to scoop samples, Northrop Grumman built navigational sensors, and drone company AeroVironment helped build the rover’s onboard helicopter.

Just this week, Axiom Space raised $130m to build the first commercial space station, while SpaceX raised $850m to fund future missions.

As space travel and exploration have become more popular, other companies have specialized in building anything from wrenches for astronauts to zero-gravity espresso machines for the ISS.

But most money is in the ‘space-for-earth’ business

Known as the space-for-earth economy, goods and services sent to space for use on Earth — including for telecommunications, Earth observation, and national security — made up 95% of the $366B in 2019 space sector revenues.

But as costs decrease and successful missions attract new entrants, expect both the space-for-earth and space-for-space economies to scale up.

For now, the Perseverance rover’s clearest immediate impact on Earth is, without a doubt, limited edition Krispy Kreme Mars doughnuts.

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