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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The new era of space exploration is faster-moving, more international and open to far more players than ever before — all of whom stand to determine who can access and profit from space.

The big picture: Today's space age looks very little like the one that began 50 years ago. Space is now a consequential part of our daily lives. Our ability to consume media, navigate our commutes, predict weather and monitor developments on battlefields hinges on satellites orbiting the planet.

The commercial and state entities driving space exploration will shape geopolitics and national security on Earth — and determine whether we become a multi-planetary species.
"Space is going to look a lot like air, land, sea — for better and worse. That means more innovation, more participation and increased benefits for everyone. But it also means more congestion, more uncertainty, more competition and even the risk of conflict."
Brian Weeden, Secure World Foundation, tells Axios

What's happening: NASA is working toward landing people back on the moon by 2024, with an eye toward reaching Mars in the 2030s.

  • China's Chang'e 4 mission is exploring the far side of the moon as part of the country's strategy for establishing a long-term presence on the lunar surface.
  • Russia is pursuing a heavy-lift rocket, while Japan continues to use robotic spacecraft to explore the solar system.
  • India just tested an anti-satellite missile, which the nation hailed as a major defense achievement, but was seen by other nations as a reckless move that produced hundreds of pieces of space junk.

Between the lines: Private companies are equally powerful players today, transforming space into a realm that can be accessed by wealthy, motivated individuals, not just a handful of nations. The space industry is projected to be a $1.1 trillion market by the 2040s.

  • Boeing and SpaceX are racing to launch American astronauts to space from U.S. soil for the first time since the space shuttle program ended in 2011.
  • With its fleet of reusable Falcon 9 rocket boosters and the Falcon Heavy rocket that lifts huge payloads to space, Elon Musk's SpaceX has dominated the launch business over the past few years, despite delays in delivering on contracts worth millions (the next Falcon Heavy launch is slated for Wednesday at 6:35 pm ET).
  • Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, also headed by billionaires, are working toward launching paying tourists to suborbital space. Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin also has SpaceX in its sights, as it aims to deploy payloads and send humans into deep space on reusable rockets.
  • Smaller outfits like Rocket Lab are sending small satellites to orbit, with other launchers — like Virgin Orbit — expected to come online soon.

Yes, but: While rocket companies seem to be a dime a dozen at the moment, it's unclear who will survive in an increasingly crowded industry.

The bottom line: The new space age is about more than just a few nations making it to orbit and beyond. Private industry is leading the way, too.

  • And yet, without the money funneled into the private sector by government agencies like NASA, those companies wouldn't exist, creating a tenuous, symbiotic relationship that will likely define our future in space.

Go deeper

Woman who allegedly stole laptop from Pelosi's office to sell to Russia is arrested

Photo: FBI

A woman accused of breaching the Capitol and planning to sell to Russia a laptop or hard drive she allegedly stole from Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office was arrested in Pennsylvania's Middle District Monday, the Department of Justice said.

Driving the news: Riley June Williams, 22, is charged with illegally entering the Capitol as well as violent entry and disorderly conduct. She has not been charged over the laptop allegation and the case remains under investigation, per the DOJ.

Biden will reverse Trump's attempt to lift COVID-related travel restrictions

Photo: Tasos Katopodis via Getty

The incoming Biden administration will reverse President Trump's last-minute order to lift COVID-19 related travel restrictions, Jen Psaki, the incoming White House press secretary, tweeted.

Why it matters: President Trump ordered entry bans lifted for travelers from the U.K., Ireland, Brazil and much of Europe to go into effect Jan. 26, but the Biden administration will "strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19," Jen Psaki said. Biden will be inaugurated on Wednesday, Jan. 20 and Trump will no longer be president by the time the order is set to go into effect.

Dominion sends cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell

Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Dominion Voting Systems on Monday sent a cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell over his spread of misinformation related to the 2020 election.

Why it matters: Trump and several of his allies have pushed false conspiracy theories about the company, leading Dominion to take legal action. It's suing pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell for defamation and $1.3 billion in damages, and a Dominion employee has sued Trump himself, OANN and Newsmax.