February 21, 2024

Companies have pursued various business models in space over the last 50 years, from developing asteroid mines to launching satellites – but most have focused on Earth-orbit markets as their core business strategy.

Technology innovations and cost reductions are making space more accessible, opening up new use cases. We believe these trends are encouraging private firms to increase investment in this sector.

Costs

Increased interest in space exploration is opening many new doors for businesses. Private aerospace firms have formed to build rockets and satellites. Furthermore, new opportunities for transporting people into space and back are emerging; although these activities remain costly.

Satellite communications has proven the most profitable area of commercial space exploration, becoming a multibillion-dollar industry. Other areas, including mining the Moon or near-Earth asteroids or harnessing solar energy in orbit, could prove just as profitable.

Entrepreneurs are also starting businesses to provide suborbital flights for space tourists, such as Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin. Both firms use reusable rocket systems to reduce launch costs – this may make space travel more accessible in the future, and give existing companies such as pharmaceutical or semiconductor firms new growth opportunities in space exploration. Pharmaceutical or semiconductor firms could collaborate with NASA in developing laboratories in outer space that would accelerate microbe growth or enhance chip production.

Technology

Technology plays a significant role in space exploration. These innovations include computer technology, avionics and sensors – innovations which are leading to lower launch costs, more effective satellites, new capabilities as well as commercial and societal benefits. Furthermore, these advances are helping bridge the gap between unmanned spaceflight and human manned flight.

Microgravity experiments are one of the key technologies needed for space exploration. They can help us test materials, develop technologies and gauge human tolerance levels as we gain a better understanding of how to build sustainable colonies both here on Earth and out in space.

As 4IR and space come closer together, it is critical to assess the role that private companies will play. While these firms can offer greater flexibility than governments, they also present risk that must be carefully managed. They should not serve as replacements for government-sponsored manned missions; rather they should inspire people to embrace space exploration like mountaineers and explorers do.

Security

Security procedures in space exploration are key to its success, both for astronauts and for the environment. There are various kinds of space exploration missions, each with different security requirements: mining resources, establishing communication stations or providing living quarters – each requires its own set of precautions to protect both itself and astronauts.

Increased attention is being focused on the outer space ecosystem by governments and companies alike, creating an international space economy to facilitate long-term revenue opportunities. Legacy as well as new companies must innovate to enable use cases across industries for optimal use of outer space resources.

The United States can lead this effort and set new standards of behavior in space, from resource extraction to accessing Lagrange points. Furthermore, they could establish an international rule of law to deter hostile acts, encourage and facilitate cooperation among like-minded nations, as well as set an example.

Regulation

Space exploration companies that seek to attract funding and make sustainable business decisions need a firm legal foundation in which to operate. HeinOnline provides access to nearly two dozen countries’ laws that govern space-related activities; when applicable, English translations of each law are included as well.

As the market for space travel and development expands, so too must regulation. Many companies have established markets for space tourism, resource mining and communications stations far beyond low Earth orbit. Such projects require extensive facilities which must be designed, constructed and tested – creating new challenges to consider in their development and operation.

There is an emerging body of law to govern these projects legally, but they haven’t been fully implemented. According to interviews with company representatives, knowing the rules can ensure investments are safe as well as understanding what the government expects in terms of safety standards and being able to explain risks and costs associated with their activities.

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