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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The space industry's tremendous year of huge investments, major human launches and hundreds of satellites sent to space also laid bare just how far the sector has to go before it fully matures.

Why it matters: Years like 2021 help bolster predictions the space industry could be worth more than $1 trillion by 2040.

What's happening: The industry has seen huge amounts of growth and investment this year, bouncing back from a low point during 2020, the first year of the pandemic.

  • Launch, satellite and analytics-oriented companies went public via SPAC and have shown that, at least initially, investors are interested in playing a part in the space industry.
  • Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin both launched their founders to space within weeks of one another, marking the culmination of decades of work, while SpaceX continued to launch crews for NASA and sent a private crew of astronauts to orbit for the first time.
  • NASA has awarded companies multimillion- and billion-dollar contracts to design and build private space stations and help the agency explore the Moon in the future.
  • Meanwhile, SpaceX has continued to build its mega-constellation of Starlink satellites, with other companies like Amazon not far behind.

Yes, but: This year has also exposed some of the industry's challenges as it grows.

  • A newly published essay from former SpaceX engineer Ashley Kosak claims the company didn't address multiple instances of harassment over her 3.5 years of employment, and she left the company in November.
  • Kosak contends the culture fostered by SpaceX has enabled harassment. (SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment on these allegations.)
  • It isn't limited to SpaceX. Twenty-one Blue Origin employees in September claimed cultural issues within the company — like harassment and chronic overwork — and said they question the safety of their systems.

The big picture: SpaceX and many others in the "new space" industry are beginning to move from being a disruption-focused new company on the scene to a more established player in a maturing industry.

  • "The way an iconoclastic, we're-breaking-the-rules, we're-doing-something-new organization works is really different from when that organization is a couple thousand people, subject to labor laws and worrying about continuity," Carissa Christensen, founder and CEO of BryceTech, told Axios.

Other risks to the growing industry are also being exposed.

  • The public is just at the beginning of being able to invest in many space companies as they go public, but most — including Wall Street analysts — don't yet understand the nuances of the growing industry.
  • Instead, Christensen thinks it's possible that all space companies get lumped into the same bucket and judged based on overall performance of that group.
  • "If some do well, then space companies are a good investment. If some do poorly, then space companies are a bad investment without noticing the differentiation and the relative performance," Christensen said.

The bottom line: The space industry has grown in recognition, popularity and size this year, but its growing pains need to be resolved.

Get smarter, faster on the modern space era with our free, three-video short course.

Go deeper

2021 was "landmark year" for video game dealmakers

Borderlands 3 from Gearbox, a studio purchased in February for $1.3 billion. Screenshot: Gearbox

There were more than 1,100 acquisitions, investments and other financial deals in the games industry in 2021, making it a “landmark year for gaming,” according to a new report by industry tracker Drake Star.

Why it matters: Gaming’s COVID-driven player boom in 2020 was followed by an investment boom a year later, resulting in an industry flush with people who want it to thrive.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

Pentagon: 8,500 troops on high alert for possible deployment to eastern Europe

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has placed 8,500 U.S. troops on "heightened preparedness to deploy" to eastern Europe in case NATO activates its rapid-response force over tensions with Russia, the Pentagon announced Monday.

Why it matters: No decisions have been made to actually deploy U.S. forces, but the heightened alert level will allow the military to rapidly shore up NATO's eastern flank in the event that Russia invades Ukraine. The Pentagon warned that Russia has shown "no signs of de-escalating," and continues to amass troops on Ukraine's borders.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden calls Fox News reporter a "stupid son of a b---h" on hot mic

President Biden blasted Fox News' Peter Doocy on Monday after the reporter asked if the nation's soaring inflation is a political liability, saying, "what a stupid son of a b----h."

The latest: The president called Doocy Monday evening, the reporter told Fox's Sean Hannity. "He cleared the air and I appreciated it. We had a nice call," Doocy said when asked whether the president apologized, adding: "I don't need anyone to apologize to me."

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