UNITED STATES—It’s been almost half a century since man first landed on the moon. Since then, space exploration has largely focused on launching probes to explore the depths of space, as well as manned missions sending astronauts into Low Earth Orbit. Recently, however, investors and entrepreneurs have helped kickstart a renewal of interest in the space business and its burgeoning commercial potential. More and more medium-scale space business companies are finding enthusiasm amongst investors for developing economically accessible launch technology like the Skyrora XL rocket. Commercial applications in the space business could run to include satellite broadband, high-speed cargo delivery, and the increased use of satellite imagery in industries like agriculture. The space business boom in the West is also being accompanied by a rise in investment by superpowers like China and Russia, who both wish to become the space business center of the future.
Why is the Space Business Expanding?
What are some of the catalysts behind the rise of the space business? The development of reusable rockets is one such factor, allowing lower launch budgets with the chance to recoup upon the rockets’ successful collection. Such technologies have garnered more mainstream media attention, thanks to the efforts of superstar entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and his SpaceX venture. In fact, the development of private space business has been so rapid, that in some areas private firms are working in direct cooperation with government space programs. In May last year, for example, UK business news reported that NASA successfully sent a flight of astronauts to the International Space Station using SpaceX rockets. It marked the United States’ first manned ISS mission since NASA’s shuttle program was mothballed in 2011. Such cooperation between state and private industry is predicted to become the new normal as the boom in space business continues.
The Future of the Internet
In our modern digital age, data is king, and space looks like the new frontier for the telecom and IT sectors. Satellite broadband will likely account for a huge proportion of the space economy within the next two decades while helping drive down costs of the exponentially increasing demands for higher internet bandwidths.
Crucially, business space solutions for satellite broadband are likely to be of much more significant import for the developing world. In many less economically developed countries, hard-wired internet access infrastructure is negligible, and the majority of web activity is conducted through smartphones. With satellite internet, these countries could achieve speed parities with more economically developed countries without the need to invest in expensive telecom networks. At the same time, every country on the globe is going to need more abundant internet access as technological advances create economic bottlenecks to development. Self-driving vehicles, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things can only be leveraged for economic growth on the condition that high-speed internet access continues to grow to accommodate ever-increasing demand. For now, the space business seems to promise the best means to ensure this becomes tomorrow’s reality.
Cheaper Satellites and Commercial Applications
Reusable rockets might signify the biggest sea change in attitudes toward the space business, but several other technological breakthroughs are in development. These will continue to lower the financial overheads of space projects to help make wide-scale production an affordable proposition.
Just two decades ago, a satellite launch would’ve cost hundreds of millions of dollars. However, today, that technology is hanging on display in the UK National Space Centre museum, and modern technology means costs average out at around the eight-figure mark. With mass production and more efficient technology, that cost drop below a million within the next two decades. Satellite broadband is understandably one of the most exciting and important frontiers for the space business.
However, rocket technology development offers significant potential in many other fields. Today’s modern freight haulage that transports goods by ship, plane and truck, could eventually be delivered much more quickly by a rocket. Additionally, there is still an abundance of interest in the possible field of space tourism.
Previous efforts, such as Virgin Galactic, have failed to make much impact. However, companies like SpaceX and the reusable rocket technology they employ means that this could finally become a reality for the super-rich. Perhaps a more urgent concern relates the mankind’s reliance on Earth’s natural resources to provide energy. No one knows what energy sources will be used in a century’s time, but space mining on planets and asteroids might well hold the key to mankind’s long-term survival. Space business could provide the answers to these burning questions.
The Final Economic Frontier
Space business may seem like a far-off prospect to many asking the question “How will space help my business?”, not least investors who want to see their portfolios boosted by less grandly ambitious long-term ventures. The last noticeable boom in space business during the 1990s resulted in more than a few speculative ventures going bust, with nothing more to show for their efforts than a mention in the Space Centre museum. So for many, the risks may seem too great.
However, the current push in space business looks very different today and seems product-driven by firms that truly understand the commercial potential for the sector. Where do you see the space business making a difference? Or perhaps you think the industry will become the victim of its own ambitions? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.