Future Space
©Future Space

Future space:

Applications will provide the space industry a variety of new prospects, as described in the previous two chapters.

2050. While some of these applications could result in small improvements in the space economy’s upstream and downstream sectors, others might have a more profound impact on the civil, commercial, and military space sectors. However, a number of technical and non-technological elements might influence how soon – or even whether – such transitions are implemented. This chapter describes the high-level enablers and barriers that stand in the way of today’s visions and those for the year 2050 using data gathered through a focused literature review and an aggregation of the conclusions drawn from each of the 15 clusters discussed in Chapter 4 and the Technical Annex that goes with it.

Key facilitators for the space economy include technological innovation, declining launch costs, and commercialization:

As shown in Box 4 above, the study team identified a number of overarching technical and nontechnological variables that are expected to operate as major facilitators for the implementation of potentially highly transformational uses of space between now and 2050.

Box 4 lists the main cross-cutting enablers in brief:

Several cross-cutting enablers may be recognised, even though specific future space markets and uses may be made possible by sector-specific trends and enablers:

  • Future space-based applications may receive a considerable boost from incremental improvements in space-based and supporting technologies as well as greater utilisation of current technology.
    Therefore, investing in technology gradually may have favourable effects in contrast to the idea that society is dependent on the discovery of technical “unobtainium.”
  • Commercialization and public-private sector collaborations might encourage additional launch cost reductions and the development of “self-sustaining” space markets.
  • One important enabler is the decreasing cost of launch, which is made possible by commercialization and technical advancements. Once a particular cost “tipping point” is reached, further improvements in the space economy may lead to substantial changes in space industrialization; otherwise, such operations might not be sustainable.
  • Fostering public discourse and political and public interest in space may improve public engagement in discussions of space governance and policy, as well as raise demand for upcoming space-based and -enabled applications in many sectors.

Smaller advancements or better use of current technologies may be able to facilitate fundamental changes in the space economy:

The development of both upstream and downstream markets and applications, as well as the expansion of the space industry, depend heavily on technical advancements. This covers both improvements in ‘adjacent’ technologies like robots, AI and ML, and advanced computers as well as advancements in space technology (spacecraft, launch, and satellite technologies as well as payloads and sub-systems).

A growing number of space uses have been made possible because to the development of partially or completely reusable launchers and methods that optimise the versatility of launch vehicles. Further advancements in launch vehicle designs are crucial enablers for applications like space tourism, space-based solar power installations, and others, as noted in several of the application clusters.Although super-heavy launchers and other sophisticated spacecraft technologies may be needed for future space installations, current attempts suggest that such advancements may come about as a result of small adjustments to already-existing technology. This includes, for instance, the present development of launch engines that use liquid oxygen (LOX) or methane-based propellants to allow easier-to-store and-handle reusable launcher designs that are simpler and lighter.

While financial investments in technology will remain crucial to the development of the space economy, Due to the anticipation of essential technological advancements, the amount and breadth of investment may be overestimated. Many of the main uses of space that have been identified are not likely to depend on such innovations, but rather on small improvements in present technology along with anticipated accelerations in computer and manufacturing capabilities. Robotics and additive manufacturing developments, for instance, are predicted to have a “game-changing” effect on space missions that are thought to be extremely technologically difficult, such as potential Martian colonisation. Therefore, compared to the cultural and procedural adjustments required in other sectors, “exercising existing capabilities to evolve technologies will be relatively easy.”

In certain instances, social or economic obstacles (i.e., the social environment for technological adoption) may exacerbate technical difficulties. Automated change detection, for instance, has long been seen as a critical technical enabler, especially for terrestrial applications that make use of space-based remote sensing capabilities. However, industry stakeholders’ practises, such as proprietary limits on algorithms, may limit the advantages of advancements in AI/ML. The perception of limited returns on investment in individual capabilities in light of growing interdependencies among space markets, such as low-cost launch capabilities, may also act as a barrier, in addition to risk aversion and reluctance to invest in large-scale digital transformation projects,scalable space habitats and space manufacturing.

The commercialization of space markets’ evolving characteristics and public-private collaborations provide a plethora of chances for new partnerships:

The future of space will be influenced by several fundamental issues, including the expanding role of government and commercial entities in the space economy and the changing structure of public-private collaborations.A variety of advantageous benefits of commercialization are highlighted in recent work on the changing character of the space economy and the advent of “NewSpace,” as well as the negative repercussions of previous or current governmental efforts. Although they have their own advantages, the latter have a tendency to hinder commercial markets’ capacity to realise many future market uses that are now thought to be technologically possible (such as space-based propellant refilling stations and lunar infrastructure).

Existing research therefore suggests to a redirection of governmental functions and resources to encouraging commercial sector, particularly within the space launch, transportation, and infrastructure areas. This necessitates a broader redefining of what the duties of the government and industry are in space, as well as a change in the emphasis from public to private goals for the growth and investment of the space sector.1

The development of a self-sustaining space transportation market includes “network effects” that enable the integration of previously local or regional markets into a larger market area. This allows the market to grow by multiplication rather than addition as a result of the draw of new market users.
By “outsourcing” space transportation, launch operations, resupply, and in-space facilities to the commercial space sector, such advancements would allow space agencies to concentrate resources on research and other high-value activities for the general sector.1

Falling launch costs aid in the democratisation of space and have the potential to cause a significant shift in the space economy after reaching a “tipping point” in launch prices:

Leaving aside concerns about technical viability, the economic case for many potential “high risk, high reward” future space applications, such as space travel, the development of facilities for food production in space, and the development of space-based solar power, depends on the accessibility of low-cost space travel. New investors have been drawn to the space industry by the democratisation of space, which has also “fostered more sustainable, consumer-friendly models that promote better access to [space].” The space economy’s NewSpace innovation wave has been focused on creating “low-cost, easy access routes to space,” which is a critical component of the process of democratising space.

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