Op-ed | The Fundamentals of a Healthy Space Ecosystem
Despite the challenges many industries encountered during the COVID-19 pandemic, the past few years have been phenomenal for the global space sector. Three nations launched missions to Mars, U.S. astronauts returned to the International Space Station, and private space companies have taken all-civilian crews on their first space tourism launches.
Aerospace companies responded to the pandemic by delivering telemedicine, ventilators, modeling techniques, and personal protective gear. Satellite networks helped provide data to assist supply chains in supporting efficiency and delivering life-saving supplies. Telecom networks supported by these satellites kept people connected across the globe.
The space ecosystem has become a critical infrastructure upon which all other global infrastructure layer relies. A day without space would be catastrophic for the world’s economies and our way of life. Today’s space ecosystem is a complex tapestry of integrated systems, industries and stakeholders, best viewed as a global space ecosystem. As with any complex system, the space sector needs to be optimized to ensure it is sustainable.
The health and stability of the space ecosystem largely depend on a few core areas: education, access to data and information and collaboration. According to The Space Foundation, the space economy is estimated to be $447 billion and is projected to top $1 trillion in the 2020s. To increase the resilience of the space economy, we must diversify the players, investments and partnership models that comprise the system. Multiple sectors, including finance, national security and research, are looking to bolster the workforces needed to build the industries essential for the NewSpace sector to grow continuously.
Data and Information Sharing
Information sharing is essential for the space ecosystem to thrive. The joint development of the NewSpace sector with the growing information and communication technologies industry created the perfect opportunity for the viability of the space sector in the 2000s. Today, in a short few decades, the NewSpace sector’s bubble of information activity encompasses a rich ecosystem of government entities, commercial/private sector players and even areas of academia.
Commercial progress will increase as established and emerging companies provide goods, services and space-inspired technologies to bolster and fuel space operations and information. Commercial activity will also enrich information space supply chains and add value to lives on Earth and in space. Space dividends are no longer measured with national flags planted on celestial bodies. The more impactful rewards are the positive changes and advances operating in space can deliver for life on Earth.
A prominent example of information sharing is visible via the American Medical Association. They report that the adoption of telemedicine tools has dramatically proliferated since the pandemic began. It’s estimated that 60 to 90 percent of physicians now use some degree of telehealth services, with half of these providers thought to be using these innovations for the first time. But it’s only possible because of the reliable satellite constellations that permit communications and data flows that connect people anywhere across the globe. Moving forward, the space industry’s information systems will help build systemic resiliency to preserve the safety and security of space infrastructure and operations, which are so integral to the function of so many everyday applications on Earth.
There are a series of topics that require discussion, coordination and education across the growing NewSpace ecosystem. Those topics aren’t limited to identifying regulations and standards, establishing space law, developing business plans, and learning how to manage the space environment with increased activity, just to name a few.
The NewSpace sector must focus on bolstering education to prepare a skilled and knowledgeable and diverse workforce. Although, space-based education programs are starting to pop up across the globe. The European Space Agency (ESA) launched its Space for Business program with Rotterdam School of Management and Erasmus Centre of Entrepreneurship, Nova School of Business in Portugal and St. Gallen University in Switzerland to become the first international executive education program in space business.
The Space Foundation is setting the pace by supporting the next generation of space leaders and improving education with student, teacher and community programs that integrate space themes to improve their understanding, interest and skills in STEM. Balancing smart investment in education will enable entrepreneurship, innovation and opportunities within the space sector.
The Power of Collaboration
In the past, the space sector was considered too insular. Now, industry professionals are learning to engage with a much more diverse community with different agendas, concerns and goals. As our frontier expands away from Earth, low Earth orbit (LEO) is no longer the single domain of government but where private enterprise is healthy and growing. Collaboration can become further complicated since it can happen globally, making the need for constant communication and open discussion vital. But collaboration is a foundational aspect of the space sector that industry insiders must actively work to achieve to solve issues together comprehensively.
However, the definition of the space community must become more expansive. It’s time for industry players, the traditional space community, to recognize that a larger community has shed the myth that positions space as merely another place to do business. It’s much more than that. People entering the workforce today for whom it is “natural” that their cohorts live and work in space on a full-time basis. While it’s still a formative norm, the move to expand how many people live and work in space only increases the authority of the final frontier and widens the breadth of people who want to understand our galaxy better indicates our gradual shift to democratizing space.
New entrants in the space sector and adjacent to it have proposed everything from space hotels, human transportation systems, man-tended laboratories, in-space 3D printing, energy harvesting, asteroid mining, fueling depots, Earth imagery, small satellite constellation-based internet services and more. The shift is already here, not only in the communities around us, but also in the space workforce.
In addition to the traditional space community that includes scientists, engineers and government agents, the industry must add more lawyers, entrepreneurs, investors of all backgrounds, insurance companies, standards firms, university professors, small business, artists, and entertainers, to build a dynamic sector.
As we invest in space education, share more information and collaborate in all of NewSpace’s sectors, we will reap the benefits as the ecosystem proliferates. But we must remain vigilant and responsible for ensuring it succeeds, as too many Earth industries and, indeed, our ways of life depend on it. The collective future of Earth is being sustained and enabled through space.
Dylan Taylor is chief executive of Voyager Space Holdings, Inc. In December 2021, he flew to suborbital space on Blue Origin’s NS-19 mission.