The new space race will drive innovation.  Here's where it goes next

The new space race will drive innovation. Here’s where it goes next

Space Race_Exploration of Mars

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In 1962, the first space race was already underway. The Soviet Union sent the first human, Yuri Gagarin, into space. American Alan Shepard followed soon after in suborbital space.

Then, with instantly iconic remarks, President John F. Kennedy upped the ante: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they’re easy, but because they are difficult.”

With this bold goal, Kennedy laid out an ambitious vision for American leadership in space and sparked a new era of innovation.

Sixty years later, a new space race is underway. And this time, more players than ever have been aiming for bold goals – from launching a space tourism sector to colonizing Mars, to transporting humans beyond the limits of the solar system.

“I think that sense of boldness is coming back,” said Patricia Cooper, founder of space consulting firm Constellation Advisory, at a recent online symposium hosted by the Space Foundation. “We found the feeling of trying very hard things, and maybe failing, but picking ourselves up and keeping going.”

The new space race involves, in some ways, higher stakes. There’s more money on the table, we’re sending untrained “tourists” into space, and we’re sending astronauts and spacecraft further than ever before.

With that comes greater potential. To understand the scale of today’s space race – and why it matters to everyone – it is worth first considering the resounding impact of the world’s first generation of space pioneers. While only hundreds of humans have gone into space, the technology created to support space exploration has had a huge impact on everyday life. Take, for example, the development of GPS — the world’s first satellite navigation system.

“GPS is about $300 billion a year in business here on Earth, and since its inception it’s estimated to have generated $1.4 trillion in the United States alone,” noted Lisa Callahan. from Lockheed Martin in a recent podcast. Callahan is vice president and general manager of commercial civilian space at Lockheed.

“Just look at the ride-sharing industry, which is a $60 billion a year business, and it’s all thanks to the space assets providing these GPS signals,” she continued. “Weather is very similar, with the US weather satellite market worth $162 billion a year, with space assets totaling around 77% of that amount. So space really plays a huge role in the economy here on Earth.”

While the satellite industry and other space sectors have a direct impact on life here on Earth, space exploration has influenced humanity in countless ways – culturally, economically, scientifically and technologically. Space-related innovations have led to advances in materials, medicine, computing, batteries, miniaturization and many other areas.

While the space race of the 1960s inspired bold action and serious risk-taking, “there were a few decades that followed where the goal was to eliminate that danger from the space sector,” said Cooper. “To make it more accessible, less risky for those who were funding it and watching it.”

Space: the return

After a few decades of dormancy, space is making a comeback. In the first half of 2022, 72 rocket launches put 1,022 spacecraft into orbit — that’s more spacecraft in orbit than were launched in the first 52 years of the space age, according to the Space Foundation. Meanwhile, the global space economy reached $469 billion in 2021, growing rapidly by 9% from 2020.

This decade’s space race was sparked, in part, by ambitious new NASA programs, launched after years of preparation.

For example, after launching the James Webb Space Telescope on Christmas Day 2021, NASA and its partners released the first color images of the telescope earlier this year. A true scientific and engineering feat, the Webb Telescope has given us unprecedented insight into cosmic history – images of stars forming and dying, of water vapor on planets more than 1,000 light-years away.

Meanwhile, NASA last month launched Artemis, a mission that aims to send the first woman and the first person of color to the moon – and ultimately prepare humanity for a trip to Mars. While NASA leads the mission, the United States has mobilized its government partners around the world, as well as a number of private sector partners, to develop new technologies for the program – such as modern spacesuits, orbital outposts and new communication systems.

Along with giving humanity an exciting new mission to the new moon, the Artemis program has sent a clear signal that the new space age is here. While the Biden administration launched the first phase of the Artemis mission, the program kicked off under the Trump administration. This degree of continuity across administrations is important, space experts agree.

The United States’ renewed commitment to space should also be evident in its budget. Last year, the United States increased its budget for military and civilian space programs by 18%, the Space Foundation reported. Other governments have taken similar steps – China has increased its space spending by around 23%, while India’s spending has increased by 36%.

What is more remarkable in this new space age is the involvement of the private sector. A new generation of leading space companies has emerged, thanks to billionaire businessmen looking for lasting legacies.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX transformed the satellite industry and developed revolutionary, reusable rockets. Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is one of the main partners leading the development of the “orbital reef” – a commercially owned and operated space station that, by the end of the decade, aims to provide housing for companies, research and the tourism area. Then there’s Virgin Galactic, founded by Richard Branson, which is developing a commercial spaceflight venture that will ferry well-heeled customers on a 90-minute journey through microgravity and back. The company says its trade missions are expected to begin in the first quarter of 2023.

Meanwhile, venture capitalists and risk-tolerant investors are funding a bold batch of space startups. While investment in the sector has been hit like most of the economy this year, it follows a record 2021. Space startups raised $15.4 billion in total funding last year, double the amount raised in 2020.

Private investment, Cooper said, “allows you to take a little more risk than playing with public money, and that’s another big benefit of the last groundbreaking years. It’s true of the industry of today’s satellites, it’s true of today’s launch industry, and it’s going to be a factor in the future.”

At this rate, the global space industry could very well become a $1 trillion market by 2040, according to analysts at Morgan Stanley.

The new space economy will also require innovative contributions from our existing business leaders.

“Non-aerospace industries are going to become space businesses, whether they know it or not,” Lockheed Martin’s Callahan said. “For example, we’re partnering with General Motors to build a lunar rover, leveraging their expertise in autonomous vehicles and their battery technology to electrify their fleet. And take those innovations here on Earth and bring them to market. space is something that really gives me a lot of energy and excitement. GM is not a space company, but they are going to participate in the space economy.

Lockheed Martin has also partnered with Amazon and Cisco to bring everyday tools like Webex and Alexa to the space. The three companies deployed Callisto, a technology demonstration payload, aboard NASA’s Artemis I mission. Callisto includes technology that allows Alexa to work without an internet connection, as well as a demonstration of Webex running on NASA’s Deep Space Network.

Upcoming Innovations

While the new space economy is still in its infancy, we already have an idea of ​​some of the innovations it will spark. For example, 3D printing and additive manufacturing will be essential for building infrastructure in space. As the Space Foundation notes, 3D printing can also be combined with advances in biotechnology to create supplies such as “biobandages” for astronauts. Autonomous robots and tools will be needed to search and collect resources in space.

Meanwhile, NASA and its partners explored potential propulsion technologies that could help humans go further into space than ever before, including two types of nuclear propulsion systems: nuclear electric propulsion and nuclear propulsion. thermal nuclear.

While there is much to be expected from the new space race and the new space economy, they also come with enormous challenges. One of the main ones is the growing likelihood of conflict in space, noted Carissa Christensen, CEO and founder of BryceTech, an analytics and engineering company serving the space industry.

“Reflecting on Russia’s and China’s roles in space, and their growing cooperation, is a critical topic for this administration,” Christensen said at the symposium hosted by the Space Foundation.

“I think we, as a nation, need to think about how we can use space activities in a limited way to build relationships with Russia and China,” she continued, while “being mindful risks of technology transfer and reinforcement of adversaries”.

Meanwhile, a growing space economy means space will literally get more crowded. While space may be infinite, the realms in which humanity operates are not. The large number of satellites launched into space creates an increased risk of collisions. A collision could have catastrophic effects, given our increasing dependence on satellite services, as well as the possibility of space debris crashing into Earth.

So, of course, as we aim for the next century of space exploration, humanity will be challenged to push innovation to its limits.

“The things that are going to be transformational and important to our country, the things that are essential to who we are as a nation, are not easy,” said former NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. “They are necessary and worth doing.”

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