Space as an Industry

Space as an Industry

Find out how the space industry has evolved from the era of exploration to space tourism.

By the mid-20th century, the then superpowers (the United States and the Soviet Union) had made their first forays into space, signifying the beginning of the Space Age. 
The main milestones are detailed below:

Space as industry.

Space-related businesses generate roughly $260 billion annually. According to estimates from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, investment in space will increase eightfold by 2045, reaching roughly $2.7 trillion.

This growth will be driven by the construction of reusable rockets, the ever-increasing demand for Internet access in remote parts of the world (roughly 4 billion people without Internet today), the growing demand for mobility and the increasing desire to monitor the environment, which includes weather forecasting needs.

Investment is divided into three parts:

●   First, Rocket manufacturing

●   Then, Satellite manufacturing

●   Finally, the manufacturing of the systems and infrastructure for control and communications that ensure that satellites and probes are effectively used once in orbit

For now, governments are the majority stakeholders in space and often hire traditional, large, aerospace firms to design, build and launch their projects.

We must wait and see what slice of the $2.7 trillion pie will go to private companies. It is estimated that between June 2017 and June 2018, private companies invested $3.4 billion in space. According to analyses, this figure will increase as technology becomes more advanced and costs as reduced. We will be able to build satellites and launchers at prices that were inconceivable not so long ago.

In fact, a growing number of companies that are entirely outside the traditional aerospace sector are entering the market and risking their investment capital on projects without any type of government support. It would be remiss of us not to mention companies such as Blue Origin, SpaceX, Virgin Space or Virgin Galactic, which are owned by Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson. These entrepreneurs are revolutionizing the launch industry with their reusable rockets that might be cheaper than traditional launchers.

What is the space-industry playing field? Orbits

If we move away from the Earth-based infrastructure that is necessary for space missions, we can see that the space industry also includes the manufacturing of various rockets, satellite and shuttles with very different destinations and, therefore, needs.

They are sent to different orbits and some are even used in sub-orbital launches. In these cases, the payload generally reaches a maximum altitude of 100-150 kilometers and then falls in a matter of minutes. The edge of space is located at 100 kilometers from the Earth’s surface.

Low Earth orbit (LEO) is the closest to Earth. LEO has an altitude that ranges anywhere from 200–2,000 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. The large majority of satellites in space, no matter their purpose, are found in this orbit. Then there is the medium Earth orbit (MEO), which ranges from 2,000 kilometers to just shy of the 36,000 kilometers altitude of geostationary orbits. These are typically reserved for telecommunications and navigation satellites. Geostationary and geosynchronous orbits (GEO) surpass MEOs in altitude; though these are ideal for telecommunications satellites, they prove interesting for certain types of Earth observation satellites. High Earth orbit (HEO) is located even further from our planet and is used very infrequently.

Objects that are located any further from our planet can no longer revolve around Earth. They may be heading to the Moon, Mars, a different celestial body or any of the Lagrange points in the Earth-Sun or Earth-Moon systems. Small objects such as space observatories or probes remain motionless at Lagrange points and do not need to consume fuel.

For now, the Moon, Mars and other celestial bodies have been the furthest destinations that we have reached. NASA’s New Horizons probe broke its own record, having already studied Pluto during a flyover on July 14, 2014; the probe visited Ultima Thule (an object located in the Kuiper Belt) on January 1, 2019.

In discussing commercial space exploration, asteroids of the asteroid belt are an attractive destination. Hypothetically, they could be an almost unlimited source for certain raw materials. Yet for now, we do not possess the technology for building a ship with the carrying capacity that would make such a trip worthwhile. We neither have the robots that would be capable of carrying out the mining project nor the manned ships that would transport miners.

For now, space remains the realm of science, and there are few opportunities for commercialization, apart from those that may be derived from the data collected by probes, rovers and space observatories.

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