Modern space exploration will transform the world of work

By | 4 minute read | January 29, 2021

In the 80s and early 90s, few people could imagine the impact the World Wide Web would one day have. The idea that it would be an integral, ubiquitous part of our business and personal lives seemed laughable. From the 50s onward, people have viewed space exploration similarly. People find it fascinating, but most still perceive it as an arena for aerospace engineers and scientists and not the average person. The recent and quite public rise of commercial space ventures has started to change that perception, but not completely. Is the global space sector at an inflection point? Are we at the beginning of the next huge transformation of our work lives? Key indicators suggest that is exactly what’s happening.

Anticipated growth of the global space economy

The global space economy generated $345 billion in 2016. Private sector forecasters anticipate that trend to continue with anticipated growth forecast to be between $1 and $1.5 trillion by 2040. There are four aspects of today’s business world that are driving that level of investment.

  1. Heavy data use. Businesses worldwide seek to seize the data advantage by recognizing and mining the value contained in the vast amounts of data being produced by the minute. Increasingly, that data is being captured and shared via satellite. That demand is what prompted the increase in satellites orbiting the earth.
  2. Need for stronger data security. Data has been frequently called “the new oil” in recognition of its value. We protect what we value, so much space sector investment has focused on safeguarding information captured, analyzed and shared by satellites and space vehicles.
  3. Demand for ever-faster communications and processing. How fast one can respond to customers and their needs has become a critical differentiator among competitors. Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites are enabling low-latency, global and faster communications.
  4. Scarcity of rare earth elements (REEs). REEs are metals, alloys and minerals required by much of the technology we use every day. Businesses want to be more careful with how earth’s natural resources are extracted and used, and recognize that there is a finite supply. A new mining industry is emerging in the space sector based on extraction of resources from other planets and asteroids.

The changing flow of innovation

Innovations inspired by the U.S. space program ultimately helped to improve life on earth. Artificial limbs, PCs, camera phones, foil blankets, memory foam, even tennis shoes — the technology behind each was created to address specific needs for aircraft and spacecraft, as well as the pilots and astronauts inside those vehicles. Today that flow of innovation has reversed. Business innovation has become the fuel for space travel and the space economy. AI, machine learning, edge computing, quantum computing, IoT and blockchain have made space travel more efficient, helped reduce the costs of gathering data and sped up the discovery of insights contained in that data.

These innovations and growth areas have inspired a whole host of service and support businesses: launch vehicle manufacturers, launch assist service providers, space debris collectors and managers, mineral and metal miners, space tourism promoters, satellite repair and maintenance. The list is nearly endless of the businesses that will be required to sustain a sector of this size.

Global acceptance of shared standards

Adopting common principles to guide cooperation and stewardship of space exploration and use is another sign of the growing maturity of this sector and the recognition it will play in the business world. In October 2020, eight founding member nations signed the Artemis Accords, a document outlining a shared vision for exploration, science and commercial activities in space. The accords cover:

  • Commitment to peaceful and transparent activities
  • Development of international and interoperable standards
  • Commitment to render emergency assistance when needed
  • Registration of space objects
  • Open sharing of scientific data
  • Protection of historic space sites and artifacts
  • Agreement to follow standards of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 for extraction and use of space resources
  • Abiding by safety zones and commit to deconfliction
  • Plans for debris and spacecraft disposal

NASA leads the Artemis program and anticipates other global partners and nations will join the effort.

Ready for transformation

If the global space economy is the vanguard of work transformation, how can today’s businesses prepare for it? Just as businesses in the 80s had a hard time imagining the possibilities of the internet, businesses today may also struggle to understand the transformative possibilities of space exploration and the global space economy. A key to preparation may be visualizing the role your business could play in this sector and developing a long-term view of what’s possible. That may necessitate greater mastery of the technologies that will be demanded by this sector, such as AI and machine learning. It may require workforce investment through skills training to ensure teams are prepared for transformation. It may entail partnerships with organizations experienced in the sector and with the technologies that support it. Like space itself, the possibilities are limitless.