A baby born in 2019 will be 21 years old in 2040. In that short 21 year span, the space industry is expected to grow from just under $400 billion today to possibly as high as $3 trillion (predicts Bank of America Merrill Lynch). Some may balk at that statement. After all, we’re talking about 750 percent growth in less than a generation. Is there any industry that has seen such explosive growth in so short a time?
Yes. The internet.
Think back 30 years ago – 1989. What did the internet look like then? The World Wide Web was not publicly available. Mark Zuckerberg was five years old and Amazon wouldn’t exist for another five years. Skype-like communication was the stuff of Star Trek. Today, people check their smart phone multiple times a day. E-commerce has changed the face of consumer purchasing and upended entire industries.
The Future of Space
I recently returned from the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where I witnessed space industry leaders talk about current space news and the latest advances in space research. Developments during the next five to ten years will lead the way for private space exploration as well as a renaissance in national space programs.
Currently, the most dynamic advances are in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites for internet and broadband. Several companies (OneWeb and SpaceX, for example) will soon replace cell phone technology by using LEO satellites to beam down a 5G network, providing high-speed internet and broadband to anyone in the world. Other companies are racing to put networks in space to tap the potential in such industries as agriculture, shipping or logging. Those markets are waiting for the right entrepreneur to come along and show how to make them profitable.
Other progress is also occurring. For example, the company Made in Space plans to use additive manufacturing to build satellites in space. A range of other fields offers growth: cyber security, finance and insurance, debris removal and fuel supply for space travel. There are, of course, also opportunities in space tourism (think Space Adventures or Virgin Galactic), commercial satellites or off-Earth colonies.
Does Government Have a Role?
While much expansion over the next decade will be in the private sector, government has not abandoned space. NASA has plans to land astronauts and start colonizing the moon by 2024, intending to use the moon as a staging base to send humans to Mars. The undertaking calls for future space technology in areas like infrastructure, metallurgy, medicine and more.
The Pentagon has officially stood up the Space Development Agency (SDA) with a mandate to accelerate the development and fielding of new military space capabilities. In the near future, the military will have seed money available for civilian companies to create new technologies.
All Very Fluid
Funding is perhaps the biggest obstacle to space growth. Some will ask: Why spend billions on space exploration when we have serious problems on Earth? Why plan on escaping Earth when we will just bring our problems – war, poverty, disease – with us? These are fair questions. Going into space has forced the creation of new technologies that are now beneficial on Earth. As one example, physical therapy has improved significantly based on what we’ve learned adjusting to zero gravity.
Today, space is an open-ended proposition with multiple opportunities. The private sector will drive this new economy. The government does not know how the space economy will evolve, but it will be deeply involved in awarding contracts and providing seed money. Space in the next decade is a wide open sector, and no one knows exactly how it will play out.