Space has been a space under exploration for centuries, attracting increasing interest from states as well as private individuals.
Photo by NASA
If the first space activities were merely exploration, there has now been such a development that we are now talking about a real economy: the New Space Economy.
This seems to be the economy of the future, the new frontier of economy, infrastructure, materials, telecommunications and even tourism.
Let’s therefore better understand its origins, current situation and possible developments.
A LEAP BACKWARDS
Although rocket theorizing originated as early as the late 1800s, activities in space did not begin until 1957 with the launch of Sputnik 1 by the Soviet Union, the first satellite to orbit the Earth.
From then on, the so-called space race began, with the Soviet Union and the U.S. as the main players, engaged in a real challenge to achieve increasingly important space goals.
The Soviet Union sent the first man into space in 1961, while the U.S. was the first to reach the Moon, with the Apollo 11 mission, which saw Neil Armstrong as the first man to set foot on lunar soil in 1969.
Photo By Nasa/Getty Images
In 1964, it was Italy that was the third country to venture into space activities, with the launch of the San Marco 1 satellite.
It was in fact the 1960s that saw the start of space race investments by other countries, such as China and Europe. A number of European countries (Italy, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom) even decided to collaborate and created in 1962 the European Launcher Development Organization, a body considered the precursor to the European Space Agency (ESA), which was established in 1973 and today includes 22 member states.
During the early decades, therefore, space activities were purely a state domain. However, as time passed, companies and individuals also began to invest in the sector.
This change was mainly blamed on reduced launch costs, given both by the development of new and cheaper fuels and the possibility of reusing launched vehicles.
The growth of investments has therefore led to the birth of the New Space Economy, defined by the OECD as “the full range of activities and the use of resources that create and provide value and benefits to human beings in the course of exploring, understanding, managing and utilising space.
Hence, it includes all public and private actors involved in developing, providing and using space-related products and services, ranging from research and development, the manufacture and use of space infrastructure (ground stations, launch vehicles and satellites) to space-enabled applications (navigation equipment, satellite phones, meteorological services, etc.) and the scientific knowledge generated by such activities. It follows that the space economy goes well beyond the space sector itself, since it also comprises the increasingly pervasive and continually changing impacts (both quantitative and qualitative) of space-derived products, services and knowledge on economy and society.”
THE NEW SPACE ECONOMY TODAY
Nowadays, the New Space Economy encompasses different types of activities and sectors, such as space exploration, new materials research, satellite launching, Earth observation, telecommunications, and even space tourism.
It counts investments of about $24 billion from private individuals, most of them from North America.
Among those who are investing most in the new space economy are, of course, the leaders of technological progress: people like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson, but also companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple.
At the European level, France and Germany are in first place, but Italy shows itself among the terminus of the action, with 1 billion euros invested and a complete supply chain, consisting of researchers and producers scattered throughout the country.
The best-equipped regions are Lombardy, Piedmont, Latium, Campania and Apulia, which contain the highest number of start-ups and small and medium-sized companies in their territories.
Despite the strong development of the sector and the state and private interest, it is also necessary to consider the risks involved: it is not possible to know when these activities will bring an economic return; there is no regulation of space; and it is necessary to think about the issue of space waste and its disposal.
Therefore, dialogue and cooperation between countries are needed in order to limit these risks, discuss and regulate all aspects concerning this new economy.
THE NEW SPACE ECONOMY EUROPEAN FORUM
Photo by Fondazione E. Amaldi
In Europe, an annual discussion on the developments of the New Space Economy is planned during the NSE Expoforum. Conceived and organized by the E. Amaldi Foundation and Fiera Roma, with the sponsorship of the Italian Space Agency, its fourth edition took place in Rome from 1 to 3 December 2022.
The event is dedicated to the main themes of the New Space Economy and the possibilities it presents for creating new market opportunities in Europe. Thus, the Forum is intended as a means for industrial players, innovative SMEs, investors, start-ups, research centers, space agencies and institutions to meet and exchange views.
The topics mainly addressed cover sectors that are most involved in space, such as agriculture and food, bio-sciences, health, security, TLC, logistics, transportation, environmental sustainability, exploration, and planetary resource utilization.