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Cooperation on Earth for Space: The Karman Project & Oxford Space Initiative Launch Partnership

16 November 2021By Hannah Ashford

By Hannah Ashford

Contemporary changes in the forms and volume of commercial activity in the global space sector bring fresh complexities, challenges and opportunities for the international space community.  The commercial activity, coupled with ongoing governance questions, invite a new era of participation from social science researchers, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and diplomats alike.  These developments frame the need for cooperation at both the macro and the micro level, for new innovative rules of the game, and for novel collaborations that transcend disciplines and borders.

The Karman Project and the Oxford Space Initiative are pleased to announce the successful completion of ‘Chapter 1’ of such a cooperation, with the official launch of our partnership to foster the development of new relationships and initiatives critical to meet the changed world of 21st century space commerce and governance. The Karman Project is a non-profit foundation dedicated to fostering trust, independent dialogue and cooperation between global leaders from the fields of science, technology, business, politics and the arts who are shaping the future of space. The Oxford Space Initiative is a social sciences-based research group at the University of Oxford. The Initiative forms part of Space @ Oxford , a research network comprising researchers from all parts of the University of Oxford who study pioneering developments in space technologies, innovation and governance. Linked are the Karman Project and the Oxford Space Initiative in their shared belief that developments in and about space ought to be multidisciplinary and international in both theory and practice, with a strong presence of ideas and imagination from the social sciences. 


The Karman Project/Oxford Space Initiative collaboration aims to strengthen the relationships between committed individuals coming from the research, business, venture, government and industry sectors. This work enables our joint activities to leverage the wealth of expertise and experiences within Oxford’s premier research and teaching programmes and among the highly regarded Karman Community members, including the Karman Fellows and Karman Pioneers. “This collaboration reflects community and cooperation at the core, creating long-term camaraderie between the students, alumni, and faculty of the University of Oxford and the Karman community members,” says Hannah Ashford , Director of Community & Fellowship at the Karman Project. “The challenge is to navigate the current and future realities of space commerce and governance, understanding how these can contribute to the betterment of humanity.” 


To kick off the partnership, the Oxford Space Initiative invited 12 members of the Karman Project’s curated community to participate in its inaugural Smart Space MBA Elective as students, panelists and resident experts. True to its name, the course considered space not within the ‘old space versus new space’ policy frame that has become so popularised since the dawn of the space entrepreneurship era, but rather highlighted the growing synthesis and interdependency between these two worlds. ‘Smart space’, the keyword introduced by Dr Lucas Kello of the Oxford Department of Politics and International Relations, highlights the continuity of both government actors and commercial ventures in making this new era, and brings attention to the game-changing technologies that are now an everyday part of space commerce and governance.

Topics ranged from space governance to the unique funding landscape for space ventures and innovating for nascent markets, and the Oxford teaching team welcomed key guests from companies and initiatives such as Astroscale , Space Angels , the UK Space Agency , Archangel Lightworks , Seraphim Capital and the  Harwell Space Cluster  , along with Oxford alumni founders from Routemasters , Oxford Space Systems , Oxford Dynamics and Deep Planet .

Karman Fellows and Pioneers representing organisations such as SpaceX , VSquared Ventures , Kinéis and the Australian Space Agency also shared their expertise throughout the lecture series, actively participating in vigorous discussions with the Oxford community. “The value for our students and the ‘Future of Space’ class from our Karman colleagues was enormous,” remarks  Dr Marc J Ventresca , Associate Professor of Strategy and Innovation at Saïd Business School, Wolfson College Fellow and faculty curator of the MBA course. “Our students and alumni benefitted from the expertise on session panels, direct engagement with the experiences of people grappling in real-time with commercial and governance issues, and the terrific energy session after session of a dozen Fellows and Pioneers.”

Clarisse Iribagiza , Karman Fellow and CEO & Co-Founder of Rwandan-based company HeHe , which uses geolocation technologies to optimise critical supply chains for over two million customers, has already translated key learnings from Oxford to her business. “I truly enjoyed the enriching discussions that looked at space at a macro level, helping me understand the roles of various players in the global space ecosystem and how I can use innovation practices and frameworks to build a scalable and sustainable space-enabled business in Africa,” Clarisse says. “I left the class feeling more confident in my ability to ‘connect the dots’ and pool the right resources together to achieve this.”


After a successful first year together, The Karman Project and the Oxford Space Initiative are committed to expanding their cooperation as they move towards ‘Chapter 2’ and beyond. Selected Karman Fellows, Pioneers and team members are integrated as active participants in the Oxford Space Initiative, where they can contribute to the co-design of international initiatives, challenges and opportunities that can positively impact space and adjacent industries. Likewise, the team at Oxford shall continue to contribute to the Karman Project’s various initiatives by way of research, teaching and policy engagement. “As our respective communities continue to grow, so too shall our opportunities to cooperate,” says Ke Wang , Co-Founder of the Karman Project. “And I believe that is a very exciting prospect not just for our communities, but for all people who are committed to making space a truly interdisciplinary, democratised and accessible sector.”  


The Karman Project: Hannah Ashford, Director of Community & Fellowship ( hannah@karmanproject.org )

Oxford Space Initiative: David Lehmann, Oxford Space Initiative Coordinator, Saïd Business School ( david.lehmann.dphil@said.oxford.edu )


Cooperation in space is a global endeavour achieved together

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