Transcript: Space4U podcast, Dylan Taylor

Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team

Hello, I’m Andrew de Naray with the Space Foundation and you’re listening to the Space4U podcast. Space4U is designed to tell the stories of the amazing people who make today’s space exploration possible. Today we are joined by Dylan Taylor, who is an active pioneer in the space exploration industry as a CEO, investor, thought leader, and futurist.


Currently Dylan serves as chairman and CEO of Voyager Space Holdings, a multinational space holding firm that acquires an integrates leading space exploration enterprises globally. He previously served as a director for Fortune 500 company UMB bank. And as the former global president of Colliers International, Dylan is also the founder of the nonprofit organization Space for Humanity and a co-founding patron of the Commercial Space Flight Federation.


He has been cited by Harvard university space news, the BBC, PitchBook, CNBC, CNN, and others as having played a seminal role in the growth of the private space industry. And that’s the abridged version. We thank you for joining us today, Dylan. Oh, thank you so much, Andrew. Appreciate it very much.


So your professional experience prior to starting Voyager was in finance and real estate, so what inspired you to focus on space? You know, it it’s sorta maybe the other way around. I think I heard, um, Jeff Bezos once remark that, you know, he got into the e-commerce business really as a means to create the resources, to sort of feed his space passion.


And, um, I certainly can relate to that. I mean, I, I, uh, appreciate business. I think business can be a force for good. It often isn’t, but I think it can be. And the thing I like about global business and the public markets is it’s sort of borderless it, really capital transcends nationality and borders. I like that element of it.


And I like having a platform to, to try to impact, uh, things that I believe are important in the world. Um, so I liked that element of it, but I would tell, you know, finance real estate, those kinds of industries, at least for my tastes aren’t as enlightened. If I can use that term. That’s what I see in the space industry.


And, you know, space is a really special industry with, I think really unique individual. So long story short, I really approached my business career, uh, as a means to an end. Uh, and by that I need, I wanted to create the skills and the platform and the resources to do great things and things that I really believe in and space has always been a lifelong passion and I’m in my forties, late forties now.


But about, I would say, you know, seven, eight years ago really started turning my attention more and more to space. And now of course I’m, full-time focused on it, uh, which is very, uh, enjoyable and, and, uh, just very fortunate to be in a position to focus on what I love. Space was formerly dominated by government agencies, but increasingly has become the domain of commercial businesses.


How do you think commercial space and government agencies harmoniously contrast and compliment each other? Yeah, that’s a, that’s a great question. I think, you know, obviously the governments of the world, us being the most dominant, but. JAXA in Japan and ESA in Europe, they’ve really been the main client base for the space industry.


Historically, obviously that’s changing with the advent of commercial space and, uh, it’s also, I would say, changing with the advent of how space is being looked at from from nation-state points of view as well. I mean, I’m really happy to see the announcement recently with the Artemis Accords, uh, with more sort of global cooperation around, uh, the upcoming Moon mission.


Uh, so I think it’s evolving, but I think that the government as a client has been and will continue to be, you know, probably the most important influence on space from an economic standpoint. But I think over time, you know, let’s say 80% of the market is government/20% commercial at this point. Uh, I think over time that, you know, that’ll get close to an a 50/50, but, uh, but obviously it plays a critical role.


Yeah, commercial space. I suppose it’s serving some different purposes as well. Kind of like with satellites and things like that. Small SATs, you know, there’s a lot of other purposes as well. Now, as far as there’s also, you know, commercial space travel, are there on the horizon, would you liken today’s commercial space sector to a modern-day space race, uh, with companies competing and driving each other to achieve goals more quickly.


I would, yeah, I would. I mean, I think there is some, some friendly competition and maybe some unfriendly competition here and there as well, but, you know, I think, um, look, I think the new space phenomenon, the commercial space focus. Uh, that I, I believe very strongly in, I think is built on this notion that, um, everything should be looked at from first principles, you know, take rocket reusability.


You know, I, I’ve got some very dear friends in the space industry that run large space companies that, you know, we’re saying up until maybe even six months before a SpaceX demonstrated rocket reusability, that it was full already and it would never happen. You know, so I think what new space is hopefully demonstrated or commercial space demonstrated that some of these concepts are possible when you look at it with a fresh perspective.


And now that all being said, there is a role for, you know, more pragmatic, uh, more traditional space. You know, I look at ULA, they’ve had 139 launches in a row without a failure. That’s amazing. And you’re not going to, you’re not going to get that out of your garage, right?


You’re you’re, you’re just not, so there’s a role, I think, for each perspective in the industry. And I think ideally a sort of commercial space would be pushing the envelope on, on innovation and, and sort of the, the visionary part of the industry and traditional space would be reigning that in a bit to say, okay, well, that’s great.


How do we make it work? In your opinion, what are the most exciting things happening right now? Like, you know, what, what initiatives do you think have the best chance of being realized in the near future? I think a couple things, obviously, um, commercial space travel, I think, is, is something that is going to happen.


Obviously we’re going to have the commercial crew launch on May 27th SpaceX sending NASA astronauts to the ISS. But I think also elements to space work should be realized later this year in 2020, whether that’s Virgin Galactic or Blue Origin. Uh, the thing that I’m most excited about with respect to that is I think it will be very exciting and energizing for people outside the industry, kind of everyday citizens to see, you know, non-NASA trained astronauts going to space on a regular basis.


Uh, so I think that’s great. Obviously continue to, to reusability is critical for the industry. We should get a Starship launch at a SpaceX, hopefully within the next 12 months or less. Uh, which could demonstrate some really interesting reusable technology, so I’m excited about all of that. You know, there’s some things that are a little bit edgier things like space manufacturing during the Archinaut mission that Made in Space did is an important part of demonstrating the ability to manufacture and assemble things like satellites in space.


I think that’s super interesting. Yeah. You know, one of the things that people I don’t think are aware of is the infrastructure bill. Which is likely to be passed in the U.S. later this year. Uh, and I say likely because it seems to be a bipartisan issue that folks can agree on, you know, round numbers. If that’s $3 trillion, you know, space has been identified as an infrastructure category.


And you know, what I’m hearing is somewhere between, you know, 15 and 20% of that infrastructure bill could be space. And if that’s the case, that could be really interesting cause, uh, there’s some really interesting space infrastructure projects that could be funded well, that’s, that’s great. So, and you’d mentioned, Made in Space — in 2017, you codesigned a gravity meter with that company Made in Space that was 3D-printed on the International Space Station.


It was a fairly basic instrument to cue astronauts that they’ve left gravitational environment, but would you say there was a greater symbolic value to that achievement? Oh, yeah, no for sure. And that was the reason we were doing it. Uh, I knew the Made in Space founders, terrific entrepreneurs, and, and really were, uh, you know, just had great energy and I loved what they were doing.


And so I was acting sort of as an informal mentor to them and I said, well, look, how can I help? And they said, well, we’re looking to demonstrate sort of commercial demand for this. Do you have any ideas? And then of course, I thought to myself, wow, it’d be great to actually commission something. And the way I was thinking about it is how can we create something symbolic, as you’ve mentioned, that would create, you know, I call them dinner table conversations.


And again, you want, you know, the 12-year-old around the dinner table with the family to say, did you know that they actually. Manufactured or 3D-printed an object in space. And I remember doing the so-called print ceremony. That’s when you actually transmit the ones and zeros to the ISS. And I did that in front of a middle school.


And, you know, I’m trying to explain to them that, okay, I’m going to hit this button and ones and zeros are going to be transmitted through, you know, through the ether, so to speak, uh, be received at the Space Station and out the other side is going to be an item that we’re manufacturing. And their minds were just blown, just totally blown.


And, you know, within hours you had a video of the NASA astronauts spinning the object in zero gravity on the Space Station. So I just think those are the kinds of things that lend inspiration and really, you know, engage people in the community. Right. Yeah. It’s relatable and brings space down to Earth, actually.


So you, uh, you launched Voyager Holdings in fall 2019. What advantages does Voyager offer to the space startups that it acquires? Yeah. So startups is probably not exactly the right term because we’re only acquiring companies that are uh, mature enough to have, you know, substantial revenue and profit and cashflow.


So we’re we’re, these are companies typically past the startup stage, but the fundamental premise is that the industry has done a reasonably good job of funding, early stage companies that used to be, I think, a blockage within our industry. And twice I spend a lot of my time trying to focus on early stage, uh, angel capital.


But I think where the industry is stuck now is really a lot of companies lack scale. We really, as an industry, lack scale, we have the very large companies at the top. We have the startups, as you’ve mentioned, but really not medium- to large-size companies in between. So fundamentally Voyager’s about creating an ecosystem by acquiring a majority control or we’re acquiring more than 51% of the equity of highly capable companies, and then helping scale them to the next level, uh, within a larger framework.


So for example, if you had a, you know, the first acquisition was Altius Space Machines, I think you probably know John Goff, who’s a billionaire. But, you know, a visionary within, on orbit servicing, uh, but imagine acquiring other companies related to on orbit servicing and creating a highly capable on orbit capability.


Uh, and then you marry that with a launch capability and then marry that with a ground station capability. Uh, and we do intend to take the company public. We we’ve told folks that we intend to do that in late ‘20, ‘21 or early ‘22. And I think that’s a really exciting format as well, because then people can kind of own a, uh, a piece of the space race, so to speak, which is really, you know, it’s really Virgin Galactic is the only game in town right now if you want to own a piece of commercial space.

Oh, so it’s kind of like creating almost a commercial space agency unto itself. Exactly. And, and, you know, the thing I love about it is the entrepreneurs could still be entrepreneurs. So they get all the benefits of having large company back office, you know, having a national security apparatus and the D.C. presence and you know, all the things that the big companies have, but yet they can still be entrepreneurs and innovate and, and not be a badge employee.


But being an equity older, and I think that creates, uh, you know, the right kind of incentives. So, um, if you’re, you know, ethos for acquisitions is to have companies in your portfolio that are kind of mutually beneficial and synergistic. What other types of companies would you like to get in there to kind of create that greater whole.


Yeah, one area we’re really interested in right now is I’ll call it planetary science for lack of a better word, but this is IP and first principles technology around. What do you do? And when you, when you get to the Moon, how do you, um, manipulate the resources on the Moon? Uh, how do you extract the right resources from, uh, the Moon, Mars, elsewhere?


Because if you look at Artemis and you look at a lot of the missions that are planned, uh, we’re really focused on the transportation. You know, the human-rated life support all of the things, which is critical. Uh, but we, I don’t think spend enough time thinking about what are the technologies to actually make those missions useful.


And so I’m really excited about, you know, planetary resource, planetary science, you know, this isn’t lassoing a, you know, a platinum asteroid, uh, that’s not what I’m referring to. I’m talking about very practical. What do you do when you get to the Moon? So I would say that’s an area I’m really excited about and then a space-based manufacturing.


I still think that has legs. Uh, and I still think that’s a really important part. And of course, on orbit servicing enables your ability to, you know, create sustainable, uh, space manufacturing capability as well. So I think those, those are very much complimentary you’ve mentioned before a concept of having industry and utilities to supply space travelers, essentially being established in free space.


Can you explain that for our listeners? Yeah. It’s sort of a, you know, O’Neill-ian concept, uh, named after Gerard K O’Neill, who was a Princeton professor, sort of wrote the book literally, uh, on this called The High Frontier, a book, by the way that it inspired Jeff Bezos. As I understand it, he, he cited that in his high school valedictorian speech as being, uh, a book that changed his life and his outlook, but a fundamental concept is why would you climb out of a gravity?


Well, Yeah, just to climb back into another gravity. Well, it’s a fair question. Obviously we need a permanent presence on the Moon. Obviously Elon is very focused on Mars and I think that’s, I think that’s great. But if we’re talking about heavy infrastructure, we’re talking about, you know, colonies or we’re talking about space-based power or space-based manufacturing, the most logical place to put that is outside of the gravity well, uh, and, and do that in free space. And so there’s a lot of, uh, stable orbits, uh, called Legrangian points. If people research those, they’ll see there’s L3 and L5 and other uh, stable orbits, um, you know, in our Earth-luna, uh, system here that you can actually put infrastructure and, uh, you know, keep it in a stable orbit.


And then once you’re creating infrastructure and you’re creating resources at those orbits, then it’s becomes more of a distribution problem to get those resources where you want them as opposed to a rocket problem, because even on the Moon, you know, Moon has gravity. Obviously you’ve got to overcome that. Uh, it’s less than Earth and it’s less than Mars, but it’s still, it’s still substantial.


In my experience, you know, when something’s really difficult and you’re, you’re kind of banging your head against the wall and it seems insurmountable. And then all of a sudden you get this breakthrough, like this aha moment, you know, and everything becomes easier and there’s more possibilities. In your opinion, does that sort of breakthrough exist for these initiatives, like going to Mars and returning to the Moon? And if so, what’s that hurdle. And what do you think the solution is?


That’s a great question. I mean, I think that the primary aha has been reusability, uh, cause with reusability, you can do things interesting things like getting propellant to space, uh, cheaper and easier.


And if we can build a fuel depot in space, then you know, getting into deep space becomes much more practical. So I think that’s all interesting, you know, I think we’re still lacking infrastructure. Uh, space-based power, space-based communication, you know, all the things. Uh, when you think about the infrastructure we have here on Earth, you know, that’s still, in my opinion, lagging, uh, our ambitions, uh, for space.


So I think those are, those are key things. And then, you know, Buzz Aldrin, I think has said this and others, you know, I think we need to reassess our tolerance for risk. You know, w when we opened up the beginnning of the Western frontier and other frontiers as, as humans, I don’t think we had sort of a Zero Six Sigma, zero fatality mindset and had, had we had that, I’m not sure we would have, uh, expanded, you know, as, as we have.


So I think, you know, part of it has to be, everything needs to be human rated. Everything needs to be as safe as possible, but you know, you take commercial air flight. Uh, as an example, there are accidents. And when there are accidents, we know it’s shut the commercial aviation system down for years.


Uh, so I think that’s an important part of it. Honestly, I think that’s held us back a bit. Um, it certainly has increased the costs dramatically because if you, if you insist on Six Sigma reliability, You know, it probably quintuples the cost, you know, the difference between Four Sigma and Six Sigmas is probably a, it’s probably a five X cost multiplier.


That’s a good point. What do you think, would you say is a realistic timeline for humans returning to the Moon? Well, 2024 is, is a heavy lift. No, no pun intended. I think it’s unrealistic, frankly. And it doesn’t mean that the people who were saying 2024 are being disingenuous or don’t know what they’re talking about.


That’s not, that’s not what I mean when I say that, but I just think realistically it’s a very difficult, so we’ll see. Yes, SIS lunar missions, you know, missions going around the Moon and interesting things. But humans on the Moon I think is probably 2026, a fighting chance for 2025. But I think 2024 is, is not going to happen.


Obviously Mars is a lot further. And as you mentioned, there’s the question of resources going those kinds of distances, any guesses on when humans might be on Mars? Well, I have it as 2032, and that’s kind of where I’m predicting, but you know, Elon is, he’s very focused on this. It’s his life’s work among, you know, other projects, but I would say, I bet I’ve been wrong before about Elon’s ability to get things done.


You know, he he’s also been wrong and, you know, he used, I think somewhere between what Elon thinks he can do and what others thinks he can’t do has been the truth. If that makes sense. So, you know, I think 2032 is, is realistic. So that’s 12 years from now, but I I’m in the camp that says Elon probably does it before a nation-state does.


And I know a lot of people disagree with that, but I I’m I’m in that camp. Hmm. I could see that, you know, he’s, he seems to be pretty willing to take risks, like you had mentioned before. Yes. Yeah. He’s crazy about taking risk. I, I don’t know if I admire it because to me it’s, it’s too much risk, but so far it’s really, it’s really paid off for him.


True. So in 2017, you founded Space for Humanity, which is a nonprofit organization with the goal of democratizing space. To achieve this, the organization plans to send a diverse group of thousands of citizen astronauts to space in the coming years. Could you define your vision of democratized space for us?


Sure. I mean, really the, the impetus for that was commercial space is going to happen. Space tourism is going to happen, whether we like it or not, that’s going to occur. But I’m, I’m very fearful that if the first, you know, thousand people on those flights or, you know, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, you know, not to pick on them, but if that’s the, the cohort, I think we’re going to lose an entire generation of, of citizens who just see that as the, you know, billionaire club and, and not for them.


And I think that would be really unfortunate. So what I really am committed to doing is making sure… And Space for Humanity, just to be clear, it’s a nonprofit, but they’re, they’re paying full freight for these flights. So they’re not looking for free flights.


I believe in, in the, you know, free market system and we want to pay full freight, but what I do want and what I am asking for us to be early in the queue. Not necessarily the first flight, but within the first couple of flights. So that that narrative can be, you know, look at these amazing kind-of everyday citizens that are committed to going to space.


Coming back, in the covenant is we’ll send you, you know, no cost to you, but when you come back, you need to impact the world in a, in a positive way. So it’s sort of a, uh, a fellowship, if you will. And we also want to select people from different countries and different backgrounds and really demonstrate that this space is for everybody.


In addition to the human spaceflight piece of the organization and Rachel Lyons, the executive director, I’ve just now have a role on the board, but she’s really running it. And she’s, she’s amazing, just an amazing, uh, young leader in the industry. But what she’s really focused on is creating more of a movement around democratizing space and they’ve crushed it because not everyone’s going to be able to go to space, but everyone can kind of get behind uh, the notion of space for everybody.


And just the last point is, you know, they’re really focused on the message. That’s the webinar series that they’re focused on right now is called To Space for Earth. And I think that’s a really important message is that, you know, space benefits Earth in by virtue of kind of, re-imagining what it means to be human.


We can make, you know, our experience here on Earth, even better. And I think in times of COVID and, and other challenges we have. I think that’s an important message. Um, so that organization is just doing amazing work. They’re getting literally over a million people engaged on Facebook and their social postings and Instagram and everything else.


So it really has become a, I’m proud to say, uh, very much a social movement. That’s excellent. I think it’s really cool. Have any of the citizen astronauts been chosen yet? No, we haven’t chosen our first crew. We’ve gotten several thousand applicants from, I think at last count 82 countries. Oh, but the selection process, we want to make sure when we select the first crew, we can say that we’re flying on this date, on this platform.


And unfortunately, no one’s flying right now. Of course, and we don’t have a date certain, and we don’t have a spacecraft certain. And so we want that announcement to be highly credible. You can say here’s our first crew is here’s when they’re going. And here’s the vehicle that they’re flying on. So I’m hoping that’s going to be later this year.


You know, assuming that COVID, doesn’t get in the way of either Virgin or Blue announcing commercial flights. Yeah. When you were talking about the diversity, uh, space occupations are traditionally pretty hard to obtain. Does the democratization of space include people, not in traditional STEM roles? And if so, uh, what other kinds of nontraditional skillsets that Space for Humanity is looking for?


And citizen astronauts? Oh, yeah, for sure. No. Thanks for asking that. No, it’s all different types. So artists, poets, writers, um, teachers, musicians, you name it. Uh, all we asked to have to tie back to one of the UN sustainable development goals of which there are 17, I believe. So they need to say how they’re going to their project when they come back is going to impact one of those metrics.


Uh, but yeah, we’ve got. I think our latest one, I just saw it yesterday was a Ugandan taxi driver who actually drove one of the space celebrities. I don’t know who that would have been, but he cited that and said he was so inspired by about their conversation. And he had heard about Space for Humanity, that he wanted to be part of that.


And so he applied, you know, and so those are the kinds of things and that’s what we want. Right. Andrew, we want that kind of engagement from the world around space. And, um, so I think that’s, if we do nothing else, but just get, you know, Uganda and, uh, everyday citizens excited about space, you know, I think, I think that’s a win.


Absolutely. I mean, come back and talk of the wonders and yeah. That, that, you know, it really does bring it down to Earth for everybody, you know, literally and metaphorically, you know, you mentioned coronavirus previously there. Um, there’s been a lot of increased interest and investment in space in recent years, both in government and commercial sectors, how much, and in which ways do you foresee coronavirus impacting those aspirations that have been building momentum.


Yeah, it’s a great question. I’ll give you two answers. If we’re on the path of recovery now, I think it’s going to be more fiscal impact, more delay to some of the contracting. Maybe ‘cause obviously some of the government agencies are less adroit at working from home. Because they’re not set up to do that as effectively.


So I think it’s more delay under this current situation. However, if we get another fall flare-up, which you know, many people think is likely, and we get another shutdown. I’m worried about that because I think the economy is just barely hanging on as it is with what’s happened. I think if we get a second body blow then i think all bets are off because at that point you have to prioritize and you know, as passionate as you and I are about space, it’s pretty low hanging fruit, uh, in a budgetary cycle when there’s not enough money to go around.


Um, so I do worry about that. And then of course, in kind of the venture capital world, pretty much everything is frozen right now. Uh, Voyager’s really not, our model’s different because we’re, as I said, doing majority control.


So we’ll actually announce another acquisition and probably, uh, probably here in a couple of weeks or so for most, most traditional venture capital that’s, you know, that’s really essentially shut down right now. And I think we need, you know, more stability in the economy before that’s going to open back up.


So do you think that commercial space is. Possibly more insulated from economic downturns and government agencies, or is it kind of all, all pain, all around kind of, I think it’s probably more vulnerable actually. Um, just because their capital sources are a bit more fickle and by that, I mean, it, you know, it’s really the VC community.


But yeah, I think, I think there’s a risk all around. Uh, I am optimistic about this infrastructure bill that we talked about a little bit ago. You know, infrastructure is a little bit different than programs, right? That’s more, hey, we need space-based power as an example. So that’s more of a long-term view, but I think.


I think there’s some risk Andrew. I really do. And I’m an optimist. I’d like to think that, you know, we’re out of the woods, but it’s kind of hard to make that argument just looking at the practicality of, of where we are. I don’t know what state you live in. I live in Colorado. Same. Yeah. I mean, it’s, it’s open for business right now.


No one’s wearing masks. The parks are packed, so you know, the, the scientist and he says that that’s, you know, that’s not gonna end well, but, uh, but we’ll, we’ll have to wait and see. That’s a good point. Well, um, you were talking about infrastructure and, uh, just last month, the President signed an executive order regarding kind of mineral rights, I guess, on the Moon.


And I was curious as that seems to conflict a little bit with the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. How does that, that jibe do you think? You know, space is kind of seen as this borderless thing and we’re talking about democratization. Do you think there’s any potential conflict? Yeah, I do. You know, it’s interesting.


I, first of all, I think the policy, the space-based policy traditionally has been emerging from the Cold War. And it, it, uh, it was written 40, 50 years ago in many cases and it isn’t very practical. It doesn’t meet our needs today. So I think universally people think space policy and, uh, treaties and things like that need to be reformed.


But, you know, I was involved with, with many others in the space act that was passed, I guess now four years ago now. And you know, China, wasn’t a party to that agreement obviously. And so you have to ask yourself. If not all of the key players in the world are a party to, uh, an agreement. Does you know … w what does that mean exactly?


Right? Is it isn’t enforceable or is it, are you just setting yourself up for conflict? So, you know, I applaud the administration in terms of focusing on it as an issue, but I’m, you know, I just go back to the ISS and, and granted China’s not part of the ISS, but I think the ISS is one of the best things humans have ever done.


You know, and, uh, w you know, we’re flying to the ISS. We meaning Americans on Russian rockets, you know, at least until, uh, May 27th. So, so I think it transcends politics in many respects. And I think we need to, in my opinion, make sure that the sort of commercial elements of space are more collaborative because otherwise what’s going to end up happening is one group of people are going to say this document governs. Another group of people are going to say this document governs, and there are no courts in space, right? So that’s just going to lead to, you know, some kind of military conflict. So I think it’s important to, to really focus on, uh, trying to get all parties to the table. And that’s why, again, I really commend the Artemis Accords. I think those are the right kinds of frameworks to, uh, to try to address these issues.


Excellent. Well, um, I think that’s about the questions I had. Um, but you know, I’ll offer the podium to you. Is there anything in particular that, you know, I didn’t ask that I should have no, I think Andrew, amazing job. I think we covered everything.


Thank you so much. This has been great. All right. Well, thank you for your time today, Dylan. It’s, it’s been a real pleasure and that concludes this episode of the Space Foundation’s Space4U podcast. You can subscribe to this podcast and leave us a review on Podbean, Apple Podcasts, and on Google Play.


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Space4U Podcast: Dylan Taylor – Voyager Space Holdings & Space for Humanity