By Vikrant Rana and Shantam Sharma
The recent surge in commercial space exploration is not merely a fleeting trend; it represents a paradigm shift with far-reaching implications for humanity. The trajectory of space exploration has evolved dramatically from its origins in the mid-20th century, and this evolution is driven by several key factors. As we delve into these factors, it becomes clear that the benefits of space exploration are far from limited to just a select few. They are poised to continue expanding and enriching our lives in myriad ways.
India’s Role in Commercial Space Exploration
India’s successful Chandrayaan-3 mission to the Moon is a testament to the country’s growing prowess in space exploration. With a strong space program, a burgeoning economy, and strategic geographical advantages, India is poised to make significant contributions to the global commercial space industry. Indian companies are already developing innovative technologies and launch capabilities that can reduce costs and increase accessibility to space. The space economy in India, which was valued at over $9.6 billion in 2020, is poised to grow further, potentially reaching $13 billion by 2025, according to EY India1.
Today, India boasts more than 1402 registered space-tech startups, including companies like Skyroot, SatSure, Dhruva Space, and Bellatrix. These startups are actively engaged in developing technologies with real-world applications, such as satellite-based communication, broadband services, 5G connectivity, solar farms, and much more. Chandrayaan-3 positions India as a cost-effective satellite launcher, which will benefit sectors like aerospace and defense. India’s contribution to the global space economy, currently at 2-3%, is projected to increase to 8-10% in the next 8-10 years. This substantial growth could be a game-changer for India’s space-tech startups and the broader economy.
India’s entry into the domain of commercial space exploration raises an intriguing question; how space transformed3 into a frontier for exclusively scientific pursuit to today’s upcoming sector with immense commercial potential.
The Power of Market Forces and Competition
The first factor that propelled commercial expansion into space is the embrace of market forces and competition. The space model that emerged in the 1950s and 60s, primarily led by government agencies, achieved incredible feats, including landing humans on the Moon. However, this model had limitations, and we began to witness the consequences of not integrating market dynamics. Over time, there was a natural shift towards greater openness to market forces.
Today, private companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic are redefining space travel, pushing the boundaries of technology, and driving innovation at an unprecedented pace. This shift has led to more cost-effective space missions and the democratization of access to space, ultimately benefiting humanity as a whole.
Rapid Technological Advancements
The second driving factor behind commercial space expansion is rapid technological development. Advances in rocket technology, microelectronics, and communications technologies have revolutionized space exploration. Smaller and more powerful satellites, coupled with improved control systems, have dramatically reduced costs while expanding the benefits of space activities.
This technological evolution has enabled the generation of valuable data and communications through space-based assets. From GPS navigation to satellite television, these technologies have become integral to our daily lives. Moreover, as capabilities in space continue to grow, we are on the cusp of a new era of space manufacturing, research, and development at scale.
Ways Commercial Space Exploration Creates Value
Commercial space exploration offers numerous avenues through which it creates value for humanity:
Data: Space is a wellspring of data, and technologies like GPS, satellite communications, and Earth observation satellites have become indispensable in various industries, including finance, agriculture, and natural resource management.
Markets: As more people venture into space and new activities emerge, we are witnessing the birth of a ‘space-for-space’ economy, complementing the ‘space-for-Earth’ economy.
Resources4 : While still speculative, the possibility of mining resources like water or Helium-3 on the Moon could become a reality as technology advances, potentially revolutionizing resource access.
Satellite communication: Satellite communication is essential for many industries, including telecommunications, broadcasting, and navigation. Commercial space companies are making satellite communication more affordable and accessible to people around the world.
Earth observation: Earth observation satellites are used to monitor climate change, track pollution, and manage natural resources. This information can help us to better understand and protect our planet. For example, commercial space companies are using satellites to track the spread of wildfires and to monitor the health of coral reefs. Early adopters in finance, agriculture, and natural resource management have already reaped the rewards of space data.
Commercial space exploration is not limited to specific industries; it has the potential to benefit diverse sectors of the economy. As the sector’s capabilities expand, businesses across industries will find innovative ways to leverage space-based data and connectivity, unlocking new opportunities for growth.
International institutions like the United Nations are actively working to ensure the sustainable exploration of space. Lessons from the development of various space programs have underscored the importance of coordinating efforts and establishing norms to prevent issues like space debris from making space unusable. Cooperation among space players is crucial for mutual benefit and the preservation of this valuable frontier. The benefits of commercial space exploration are poised to continue enriching humanity. Reduced costs, increased innovation, expanded access to space, and new economic opportunities are just a few of the ways in which space exploration is shaping our future. As more countries and companies join the race to explore space, the possibilities for humanity’s progress in space and on Earth are limitless. The ongoing evolution of space exploration is a testament to our collective determination to unlock the boundless potential of the cosmos for the benefit of all.
1 Available at: https://www.ey.com/en_in/aerospace-defense/the-dawn-of-the-space-economy-in-india
2 Availabe at: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleaseIframePage.aspx?PRID=1937689
3 Available at: https://www.asc-csa.gc.ca/eng/about/everyday-benefits-of-space-exploration/