The 10 challenges of the space economy

The 10 challenges of the space economy

The numbers confirm it: the space economy is on the rise. In 2021, the total turnover exceeded 370 billion dollars. In the words of astrophysicist Simonetta Di Pippo, just appointed director of the Space Economy Evolution Lab (See Lab) of Bocconi University, "the economy of space will be the common thread of the economies of the future".

Di Pippo, who has just finished his mandate as director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (Unoosa), will now focus on studying the economy of space and its consequences economics of space activities. Also because she, she tells, "we will soon live and work in space". But when it comes to space economics, it is first of all necessary to distinguish the space for space and space for earth applications, i.e. what can be done in space for a sustainability of space activities and what can be done in space for terrestrial sustainability.

In this double track, there are several challenges on the horizon, such as approaching lunar exploration in a sustainable way, overcoming the climate crisis on earth thanks to space or keeping the space environment clean of waste. But not only. At Di Pippo outlined 10 challenges:

Space for net zero Keeping orbits clean Preserving sustainability Going to the Moon (and Mars) Extracting minerals from asteroids Made in space Integrating technologies Managing space data Making tourism accessible Human capital Space for net zero "To monitor what's happening in terms of climate, 54 essential climate variables have been defined," explains astrophysics. Of these, "more than half can be systematically, accurately and reliably monitored from space alone." This means that in order to know and understand what is happening - from desertification to rising oceans - the role of space is fundamental. The data arriving from space allow, in fact, to set up mitigation and adaptation policies to reach net zero. In this regard, the Global Future Council on Space of the World Economic Forum, of which Di Pippo is also a member, has published a white paper that examines the role of space technologies in achieving this goal.

We have a problem with space debris around the moon The space object that will impact the moon early next March has raised an environmental problem and scientists suggest it might be better to start thinking about it Keeping orbits clean Lo space is considered a common good and space data is used on earth to improve the quality of life of humans. Also for this reason, a space operator looking for financiers for its assets in orbit must be able to rest assured that its business model is not endangered because, perhaps, it comes into contact with a refusal. "There are treaties and guidelines to limit the presence of space garbage, which are applied systematically", notes the professor, "but with the decrease in launch costs and the possibility of launching microsatellites, there are more and more actors in the field and we are in a situation of congestion destined to increase ". For this, she continues, "we need a control and coordination system for space traffic".

Preserving sustainability By becoming more and more strategic space, with repercussions on the industrial, technological and employment level, in the medium and long term the identification and sustainable exploitation of some natural resources of the space will increasingly contribute to the solution problems on earth.

"There is awareness of keeping the space sustainable. But there are new players arriving who must align themselves - explains Di Pippo -. To develop an environment that is safe from a commercial point of view, it is necessary to push for sustainability in the long term. We need a conscious ecosystem, but we need to speed up the processes to reach an agreement on the coordination mechanism for space traffic ". And how? There is talk of in-orbit servicing, or rather of "systems and technologies that allow the removal of waste from orbits with a decrease in risks, while keeping space a common good".

Going to the Moon (and Mars) Space agencies and NASA with Artemis are focusing on the Moon with the aim of bringing humans to our satellite by the end of the decade. "This is an achievable and reasonable goal: the technology is there", points out the astrophysics. If Artemis is done in international collaboration, there are also agreements between Russia and China for a parallel program: "There will be a need to regulate traffic on the Moon as well". But, at the same time, there is also a lot of excitement for Mars: "In this scenario, the real change is the interest of private individuals: so far there have been strong public investments that have matured various technologies which private individuals then arrived. in the case of the Moon and Mars we now see parallel investments, a real change in the rules of the game ".

Mining from asteroids Mining from asteroids is one of the main drivers of the space economy also according to Morgan Stanely, who indicated it in his ten goals for the future. But wanting to bring rare earths to our planet and use them, for example, in the technological field, poses numerous challenges. "A mission of this type implies respecting the rules on the sterilization of objects that bring samples to earth or the development of structures to isolate these samples which in fact may contain bacteria or amoebas not present on earth", explains Di Pippo. Even if little is said about it, in the future it is therefore necessary to think - and build - supply chains and infrastructures that allow processes of this type. "There are some projects on paper, but nothing concrete from an operational point of view".

Made in space From the earth it is increasingly realizing that there are a number of things that can be done better or only in space. In addition to the mining of rare earths, there is a trend of which the economic and technological feasibility has not yet been ascertained, namely that of solar collectors, which would allow to absorb energy and transfer it to the ground. "With investments and collaborations, we can get there," says astrophysics. "Made in space - he continues - is a sector with an interesting commercial development potential". We are starting to talk about made in space also in relation to private space stations and the possibility for terrestrial operators to start looking at space as a future business opportunity. The economic community, therefore, will also be able to enter space with new ideas or products based precisely on the use of data and space infrastructures.

The European Commission wants to build its own satellite network A 6 billion euro plan to build a space connectivity system has been presented. The goal is to complete the work by 2028 and make the Union independent from foreign service providers Integrating technologies The number of satellites in orbit is increasing, also due to their usefulness in terrestrial application. Not surprisingly, 73% of the current turnover of the space economy is linked to the almost 5,000 satellites in orbit that make it possible to facilitate telecommunications, navigation and earth observation, as well as sensors, antennas and GPS. "In the UN 2030 agenda on sustainable objectives there are 17 objectives with 169 sub-objectives - continues the professor - More than 50% of these sub-objectives can be achieved by the States that have committed themselves to this effect only through the use of space: from data to infrastructure. Think of precision agriculture, natural disasters, migrations ", points out Di Pippo. In other words, any socio-economic development on earth is tied to the benefits of space. To achieve this goal, in the future, space technologies need to talk to each other, of which satellites are a fundamental part.

Managing space data If on the one hand there is the integration of space technologies with each other, on the other there is the dialogue between these technologies and frontier technologies such as artificial intelligence. "This integration helps us not only to interpret space data more quickly, but also to develop useful products and services on earth," explains Di Pippo. However, "the use of space data is not the exclusive responsibility of those who own this asset", in fact there are several countries that have satellites in orbit and that allow greater precision by comparing the different data, yes think about the weather or the use of the navigator's geolocation. The concept of democratization rather than ownership emerges in the future management of space data.

The real goals of Musk, Branson and Bezos behind the new space race Making tourism accessible From the suborbital flights of billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos to the first film shot on the International Space Station (ISS), last year has seen a real flourishing of space tourism, with a market still dominated by big companies but with a progressive increase in investors. In fact, if space travel is now reserved for small groups, costs will drop over time, allowing many more people to travel into space. "Opening the door to space to more citizens of the world will be very positive in the medium and long term," says Di Pippo. This is part of an ecosystem in which "a lot of work will be done outside the land borders, creating a real commercial supply chain".

Human capital In order to fully exploit the possibilities of the space economy, it is necessary to put together interdisciplinary programs for the leaders of the future who will operate in this sector at 360 degrees.

"This is a challenge that I have decided to accept together with Bocconi - underlines Di Pippo -. We need to prepare the workforce of the future. We need experts in the sector, but not monothematic ones. It will not be possible to work in space without have economic, regulatory, financial and management knowledge ".

In the same way, those who are economic experts will have to combine technical and scientific knowledge in their baggage. Being transversal will also make it possible to know "how to manage international programs with a diplomatic approach".

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