Op-Ed | Space: the new economic frontier

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When the world watched Neil Armstrong take that one small step onto the lunar surface almost 50 years ago, no one could have dreamed how space would one day become an integral part of daily life on earth. Today, a robust commercial space industry is taking off with huge economic potential. Whether or not they know it, all companies will soon be space companies. And all consumers use space-based technology each and every day.

Some of the examples of the commercial space industry are dramatic. Leading corporations and billionaire entrepreneurs are determined to make space tourism a reality – and getting closer every day. Biotechnology companies, including those in the pharmaceutical and agriculture industries, conduct research and development on the International Space Station because of the experimental advantages of microgravity.

Other examples are quietly at work across industrial sectors. The Global Positioning System (GPS) – made possible through satellites – has applications throughout the economy. Everything from financial transactions and supply chain management to wireless communications and weather forecasting use GPS technology.

It’s no surprise, then, that the commercial space industry has grown from $175 billion in revenues in 2005 to $385 billion in 2017. As more private investors jump into the industry, growth will continue to skyrocket. U.S. Chamber of Commerce economists project that commercial space will be at least a $1.5 trillion industry by 2040.

The Chamber has recently enhanced our space policy efforts to help all types of businesses take advantage of new opportunities in this rapidly evolving sector and navigate the risks that will inevitably come. In early December, we hosted LAUNCH: Industry Taking Off, the Chamber’s first-ever summit dedicated entirely to commercial space. The summit brought together nearly 300 business leaders and policy experts and top officials from almost every relevant federal agency such as NASA and the departments of Defense, Commerce, and Transportation.

The strong government showing at our event reflects this administration’s integrated strategy for a national space policy that includes private sector collaboration. We look forward to working with government leaders to establish an effective regulatory regime and confront emerging challenges, including space debris and traffic management.

Harnessing the economic potential of space will be no easy feat. It took hundreds of years to create an efficient and well-regulated maritime system and nearly a century for aviation. But they are both vital parts of the global economy, and space increasingly is too. Indeed, space is the new economic frontier. The public and private sectors must work together as partners and pioneers to leverage its vast potential for humankind.

Thomas J. Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This article was originally posted on the Chamber of Commerce’s website.