We are living, in what I would argue, is the second Elizabethan Age. An age of commerce, exploration and discovery in Space driven by geopolitical, commercial, and cultural factors so incredibly similar to those of the first Elizabethan Age that is it worth noting. With this new Golden Age of exploration history is repeating itself and as there is much we can learn from the parallels.
The standard view of the first Elizabethan age was that it was an epoch in world history marked by the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603) which laid the stage for the rise of England as a global power by harnessing the power of the renaissance, reformation and commerce that in turn transformed its age and all ages to come, giving birth to the British Empire and all that entailed: education, law, global commerce, and more. The basis of the very law that enables our activities and commerce in space today is of course based upon Maritime Law which in turn is based upon British Admiralty Law which finds it routes in the first Elizabethan Age.
Like today, the late 1500’s was a time of great social disruption, of religious strife, of the reformation, of new ideas and technological change flourishing with the coming of the renaissance and of commerce. England was near bankrupt. Other states had utilized the strength of their Treasuries to explore and to exploit the ‘new world’, both East and West Indies, to great success, enriching themselves with gold and spices from around the world. The English Queen, Elizabeth I, could not hope to match either the investments of her fellow Monarchs in the new world, nor the fleets of her ‘cousins’ in Spain, Portugal, and Holland, but she did have one great strength: she had commerce.
Her fleets were privateers and to enable their growth, and the growth of commerce, Elizabeth I signed into law the ability to create the first joint stock companies. This democratization of trade and investment under the Rule of Law with the provisions for joint stock and returns and sharing risks to explore and exploit the New World…or occasionally to ‘liberate’ a Spanish galleon or Dutch ship returning from the East Indies with a cargo of spices and more... laid the regulatory framework for the rapid growth of the British Empire and for global trade today.
Elizabeth I created a legal framework out of necessity that is still with us today and guides the concept behind modern investment, risk, markets, and more and is again finding itself at the forefront of exploration and trade as we continue to expand new markets in Space. Which brings us to this new Golden Age, this second Elizabethan age.
Again, we find ourselves living in a time of religious strife and a time of technological change being driven this time by a new renaissance, a digital renaissance, and also by a time of the exploration of new worlds and boundless opportunities in Space.
A Queen Elizabeth is again on the throne, Elizabeth II, though this time not of England, but of Britain and the larger, and growing, British Commonwealth.
Yet again, Britain is using its focus on commerce to take a lead from those who have invested their Treasuries in exploration.
According to a recent study by Northern Sky Research, Britain is now the home to the largest number of satellite communications companies in the world. From the Isle of Man to Bermuda, to Gibraltar and on to London itself, more satellite communications companies are incorporated in the British Isles, aka the British Space Sphere, accessing spectrum, finance, insurance, investing in infrastructure, powering the City of London and powered by it than anywhere else on Earth. Again, Lloyds of London is insuring the investments of a new era of exploration.
The satellite companies are in the Britain Space Sphere not because of Government largesse, but rather because of the rule of law, solid regulation and the commerce it enables allowing them the freedom to flourish.
Adam Smith’s invisible hand of the market is making its presence firmly known.
This is all also really quite fitting when you remember that it was author, engineer, scientist and visionary, Briton Sir Arthur C Clarke who first postulated the concept of Telecommunications Satellites and the Geostationary Orbit… and who was of course ennobled by Queen Elizabeth II.
Space commerce is thriving in the British Space Sphere as a result of this new found vitality in space commerce. ESA’s new European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT) focused on innovation with the UK Satellite Applications Catapult is based in the UK for the same good reasons. As is the ISU’s International Institute of Space Commerce and the Space Data Association and Satellite Interference Reduction Group on the Isle of Man.
Further, London has been chosen by the Society of Satellite Professionals International, the largest professional association in the global space and satellite industry, as the home of the new annual Better Satellite World Awards as a reflection of Britain’s leading role as the global home of satellite communications.
As I write Britain’s first ESA astronaut, Major Tim Peake, is readying himself to follow in the footsteps of many British explorers before him from Helen Sharman and Mark Shuttleworth to Michael Foale, Nick Patrick, and Piers Sellers. A modern Drake no less?
Much like in the time of Elizabeth I, the application of law has allowed commerce to flourish in this new frontier of Space this time under Elizabeth II.
Think of the International Space Station as the metaphorical equivalent of a Spanish Treasure Fleet. Go on, it’s fun and thought provoking. While the International Space Station partners have worked tirelessly to create this amazing $100 billion orbital facility, I would predict that though its utilization will be driven my many uses, it’s value will come as an exploration platform and new frontier for commerce.
After all, it must never be forgotten that in effect taxpayers are both investors and shareholders in their Governments’ investments in Space and that these Governments have a sacred trust in realizing a return on these investments. As history has shown us, the commercial utilization of the International Space Station and further, the exploration of Space for new knowledge, resources and more is the ultimate return on investment for the economies and citizens today’s Governments represent.
In the same way individuals invested in the first Joint Stock Companies of the 1600s and thus fueled commerce around the globe, today’s taxpayers are investing both in the space programs of their governments and again on top of this as investors and shareholders in the commerce that drives their economies forward in Space. Success in both leads to a virtuous circle in economic activity further fueling both. Multiple quotes from Adam Smith come to mind again…
In this second Elizabethan Age, I would predict that, like satellite communications today, that tomorrow a growing number of the new companies formed to utilize the ISS and beyond will also be based in the British Space Sphere: the Isle of Man, Bermuda, Gibraltar, and London.
In so doing they will simply be following the same commercial and legal logic of their contemporaries in the global satellite industry, choosing to work from the British Space Sphere for the political stability, economic stability, access to capital, and most importantly access to enabling regulation and the stability of the Rule of Law that is offers. Thought provoking, yes?
The similarities and historical comparisons are many between these two Golden Ages, these two ages of Elizabeth, especially with the role of commerce, but this time the difference is that today in this second Elizabethan Age it is this new Golden Age of space commerce that is driving value for all humanity, with global commerce quite rightly leveraging the investments of governments to return the wealth of these new worlds and new frontiers back to all of humanity. The British Space Sphere is acting as a crucial enabler of global space commerce.
In this second Elizabethan Age, the International Space Station is not perhaps the equivalent of a Spanish Treasure Fleet and the new frontiers of Space are not perhaps the same as the East and West Indies and the New World. Yet, the opportunities they represent are also perhaps not far from it. There is much we can learn and benefit from history repeating itself.