Step aside, space barons. Steve Wozniak has announced space plans.
On Sunday night, Wozniak tweeted a cryptic announcement: “A Private space company is starting up, unlike the others.” The embedded video ad for the company, Privateer, deceptively resembles most other billionaires’ space announcements with platitudes like “together, we’ll go far,” over what appears to be stock footage of space milestones. Cut to footage from a climate march and the statement, “this isn’t a race”—an obvious reference to the original “space race” of the Cold War era, and possibly a nod to stuff like Blue Origins picking a Twitter fight with Richard Branson over who gets to call himself a real astronaut.
Woz didn’t share any additional detail beyond the video (watch it below), which somewhat confusingly mingles a wildfire, clouds of smoke billowing from fossil fuel power stations, people reaching to the skies, a child in an astronaut suit, and a close-up of an iris. “Here’s to taking care of what we have so the next generation can be better together,” the voiceover says.
The Privateer website is in stealth mode but says more details about the company will be announced at the AMOS Tech 2021 conference, which begins on Tuesday in Maui, Hawaii, and runs through the end of the week.
According to the YouTube video description, Woz co-founded Privateer with Alex Fielding, a member of the first iMac team. The two co-founded Wheels of Zeus (“WoZ”), a now-shuttered start-up that created GPS location tags attachable to commonly lost objects.
The Privateer website contains no contact information, and the contact form isn’t processing requests, as of publication. We’ve reached out to Wozniak for comment and will update when we hear back.
If your knee-jerk reaction is whyyy, Woz??!?!?, it looks like he’s not jockeying for space rule alongside Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and Jeff Bezos. It seems, instead, that he plans to take out space trash; an August press release for an unrelated 3D titanium alloy printer described Privateer as a “new satellite company focused on monitoring and cleaning up objects in space.”
Woz would be doing those guys a favor. Space has become a dumping ground for dead satellites and launch vehicle rockets, so much so that in 2019, NASA called low Earth orbit “the World’s largest garbage dump,” with nearly 6,000 tons of waste. NASA has warned that space junk threatens space-goers with garbage hurtling up to seven times faster than a bullet and reports that even paint flecks have smashed shuttle windows. The agency is currently monitoring 27,000 pieces of larger space junk.
Cleanup will cost money that the U.S. government isn’t allocating. Last year, former NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine urged Congress to fund a $15 million cleanup mission, tweeting: “In the last 2 weeks, there have been 3 high concern potential conjunctions. Debris is getting worse!” The most recent space funding bill, which has passed the Senate, hasn’t set aside those funds but directs the Office of Science and Technology Policy to evaluate the situation. (Conversation around that bill predominantly focused on Blue Origin’s campaign to write itself a $10 billion check for government contracts to compete with SpaceX.)
Surprising delights fill the space junk waste management space. Lasers! Space claws! Tentacles! The UK and Japan government-funded space company Astroscale has already begun testing magnetic docking systems that would tow future space junk and use the Earth’s atmosphere as an incinerator. (Although clients would need to build in corresponding docking plates before launching crafts.)
Former NASA scientist Donald Kessler famously predicted in 1978 that the densifying minefield will grow exponentially more dangerous for decades to come, as future collisions erupt in more junk. Last year, he told Scientific American that space is “long overdue” for catastrophe.