As a science-fiction-obsessed teenager in the 1980s, “outer space” conjured up images for me of astronauts, rockets, aliens and the novels of Arthur C Clarke. Now the phrase is associated with something else: sovereign wealth funds, venture capital firms and Wall Street giants such as Goldman Sachs. Yes, you read that right. This month, Washington’s commerce department held a flagship conference to discuss space exploration and development. Between debates about space debris, rocket launches and global positioning systems, there were also lively discussions about how to encourage pension funds to invest in space-related companies. Analysts estimate that by 2040 the global space industry will swell from about $400bn to more than $1-trillion. While it has historically been the government that has propelled adventures in space, commerce secretary Wilbur Ross has said it is now time for the private sector to provide the engine of growth. So the department is trying to deregulate the ind...

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