Outer space and its potential are no longer the stuff of science fiction as the space industry advances and lower costs lead more and more businesses to look to the stars for new opportunities.
The rapid rise of companies such as SpaceX launching the Starlink low-Earth orbit satellite (LEOs) network enabling low-latency broadband connection is just the beginning of a fast-developing space economy that’s expected to take off within five to seven years. And that’s not just for businesses with roots in outer space.
At the Workday Rising conference in September, IT consulting firm Accenture’s CEO Julie Sweet said when she imagines what Accenture will be doing in the next decade, “I think about what we’re doing in space.” In April the company invested in Titan Space Technologies, a digital space lab founded in 2021 offering real-time Earth monitoring that aims to accelerate the development of innovative technologies such as carbon capture.
Accenture won’t be the only company investing in business opportunities in space, which range from satellite technologies to, eventually, more futuristic possibilities like space tourism and lunar missions. Between 2020 and 2021, the global space economy value rose 9% to $469 billion. It will exceed $1 trillion by 2040 — more than double its current value, according to financial institutions, including Morgan Stanley, who assess the market.
“The industry itself is really booming, and we have not seen this kind of growth in a very long time,” said Kelli Kedis Ogborn, vice president of space commerce and entrepreneurship for the Space Foundation. The foundation, based in Colorado Springs, Co., is a nonprofit organization focused on education and advocacy for the global space ecosystem.
Though technical and potential regulatory challenges face the growing space economy, Kedis Ogborn said space is rife with opportunities for companies of multiple backgrounds.
Space, she said, is “going to require every skillset, background and interest.”
Why business interest in space has accelerated
One of the most significant reasons behind the recent space boom is that satellite launch is becoming cheaper.
Satellite launch costs dropped from more than $100,000 per kilogram in the 1980s to $2,500 per kilogram in 2010 with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 satellite launch, according to a May 2022 report from financial services firm Citi.
Companies like SpaceX use LEOs, which differ from traditional geostationary (GEO) satellites not only in cost to manufacture and launch but also proximity to Earth.
GEO satellites cost millions to make and launch due to their size and placement above the Earth. LEOs, on the other hand, are smaller, costing much less to manufacture, and don’t need to launch nearly as far as GEO satellites. Indeed, GEO satellites are more than 22,000 miles from Earth, while the Starlink LEOs orbit around 250 miles away from the surface.
“They are much closer, and that makes a big difference in how they’re used and what you can do with them,” said Bill Ray, an analyst at Gartner.
Kelli Kedis OgbornVice president, space commerce and entrepreneurship, Space Foundation
Companies such as Apple, Samsung and Google, spending billions developing mobile phones over the years, kickstarted the development of small antennas, batteries, chips, processors and radio equipment that have helped make LEOs more cost-effective.
“If we go back to Iridium, which is a low-Earth orbit satellite system launched in the 1990s, they paid about $17 million per satellite,” Ray said. “Starlink pays about $200,000 per satellite. That’s mainly because of mobile phone technology going in there. It has made it much cheaper, and that’s really important.”
As mobile phone technology enabled smaller and more cost-effective LEOs, SpaceX instigated reusable rockets, reducing the cost of space flight, said Phil Brunkard, an analyst at Forrester Research.
“Now that we can actually afford to put more satellites up into space and we can put them into low-Earth orbit, that creates a new market of opportunity,” Brunkard said.
The applications of cheaper launches also translate to more futuristic opportunities like space tourism. For years, space has largely been accessible only by nations, meaning governments launched most spacefaring endeavors.
Now, Kedis Ogborn said the opportunity has been equalized to where everyday citizens have access to space. Indeed, in 2021 Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin flew 14 people into space and is planning for more.
Kedis Ogborn said as launches evolve to become cheaper as well as more routine, reliable and reusable, they will drive the space…