GlobalData’s Space Economy report recognizes that space activity is no longer the domain of just governments.
During the 21st century, private sector innovation and competition have led to reduced launch costs as companies jostle for government and private space contracts.
According to Nature Journal, there were 180 successful rocket launches to orbit in 2022, which is the most ever for a single year, demonstrating the impact of privatisation on the space economy. 2023 is set to be a record year, with SpaceX alone intending to launch 90 rockets. This trend will continue into 2024 and beyond.
Privatisation and partnerships have contributed to the fall in launch costs
SpaceX is charging clients $67m per launch of the Falcon 9; its partially reusable medium-lift launch vehicle. Euclid, a space telescope, which was built and operated by the European Space Agency (ESA), was launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in July 2023.
This epitomises the growing importance of public-private partnerships to the development of the space economy. SpaceX has contracts with NASA worth billions of dollars to largely provide launch services, such as NASA’s Commercial Crew program to transport astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS).
The privatisation of the space industry has allowed for a wider variety of choices in launch location and rocket size, which can be tailored toward a specific mission. However, with this increase in launches, there is also an increased risk of damage caused by space debris.
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There is still significant risk associated with the space economy
Easier access to the space economy could exacerbate existing problems. For instance, with increased launches, there will be more debris in orbit, which could be remnants from previous space missions. The ESA estimates that there are one million space debris objects between 1cm and 10cm currently in orbit. These can collide with spacecraft and cause significant damage, especially at the high speeds at which they orbit the Earth.
Regulation has not managed to keep up with the development of the space economy
If spacecraft from different companies were to collide, it is not clear what the legal protocol would be.
The foundational text for space law is the Outer Space Treaty, which became effective in 1967. Regulation is becoming a more domestically led endeavour as countries can incentivise domestic space economy activity, but they may not address global issues affecting the space economy, like space debris.
Public-private partnerships and companies like SpaceX have propelled the space economy’s growth and contributed to a reduction in launch costs, making space more attractive and accessible for businesses. India’s successful landing on the moon has also generated substantial worldwide interest in space.
Humanity will also benefit from improved climate change monitoring and increased internet availability. However, forays into space do not come without risk. Space debris is a significant issue, and the lack of uniform regulation means that investments could become fruitless.