At the Wharton Space and Aerospace Summit held in Palo Alto in September 2022, industry experts urged the private sector and regulatory bodies to work on laying out a solid foundation for the growth of the Space Economy through norms and standards that enable, not stifle, economic growth.
Rapid growth of private space industry
The commercial sector of the space industry is rapidly growing, and is becoming the primary operator in this domain. This is driven by new capabilities, resulting in launch cost reductions and the proliferation of small satellites. The most valuable commodity that space enables is data, including telecommunications services, imagery and remote sensing.
Another trend in the space industry is internationalization. The Artemis Accords, for example, are a future view of how countries will deal with new outposts on the Moon. These accords address issues such as who has responsibility and authority for a given piece of assets, and what their responsibilities are for maintaining it. The accords already have the support of 23 countries.
The U.S. has been leading the way in creating a more stable environment for the commercial space industry by declaring that it will no longer conduct anti-satellite tests, due to the debris that such tests create. This has led other countries to follow suit.
The need for new norms
The increasing number of players in the space industry – military, civil and commercial – is casting a light on the importance of the balancing act of how to operate in this domain in order to establish a robust economical foundation. There is a need for norms and rules for the diverse stakeholders to abide by in order to achieve safe and sustainable operation of commercial activities in space. This requires close coordination between commercial entities and regulatory bodies.
Ian Christensen, the Director of Private Sector Programs for the Secure World Foundation, points out that the key governance principles that inform regulation and operations were developed in a less complex era, therefore, are challenged by the pace of activities and new services by the private sector.
Scott Kordella, a space system engineer, described how new norms of behavior in information sharing by space operators will improve safety for all. Information such as planned orbital changes, system health and status and cyber-related events can be confidently shared with other operators without concern of inappropriate use, so that everyone can operate safely. We want to encourage more of this good behavior, to ensure safe and sustainable operations in the future.
A sustainable and predictable environment for commercial activities is crucial to the success and growth of the space economy. Failure to do so can result in not only economic consequences but also catastrophic events, not only in space, but also on Earth. This is why there is increasing interest as well as investment in the sector.
There’s a parallel to be drawn from the maritime domain in the way the law of the sea and norms of behavior had evolved. Nishan Degnarain, a former chair of the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on the Ocean, and an economist who specializes in the use of new technology, including space technology, to drive sustainable economic growth, particularly for low and middle-income countries. He notes that technology has been a driving force in the maritime industry, leading to four industrial revolutions, and that the same is happening in the space industry. He also points out that as the technology changes, so do leadership and value systems. He concludes by saying that the space community should take lessons from the maritime industry, both in terms of what to do and what not to do, to create a sustainable and predictable environment for commercial activities in space.
Call for a shared vision and further conversation towards a vibrant space economy
In summary, the panel discussed the importance of having a sustainable and predictable environment for commercial activities in the space industry to thrive.
- Ian Christensen highlighted the need for established protocols for communication and interoperability between operators, and the importance of informing regulatory bodies and co-creating rules and norms for the industry to grow.
- Scott Kordella, a space policy expert, emphasized the importance of investing in companies that exhibit good behavior, such as transparent design practices, maneuverability and deorbiting capabilities, and the ability to share information on planned maneuvers and cyber attacks.
- Miki Sode, a humanity-centered systems level strategist, pointed out that behavioral economy can be employed in the design of such systems to nudge every stakeholder throughout the supply and value chain in the industry towards good behavior. It is wise to proactively engage in understanding what a predictable and sustainable environment might look like for the entire space community.
- Nishan Degnarain added the need to engage the finance community and establish new ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) norms for the Space Industry that are well understood and accepted.
As the number of operators in the sector increases, the need for interoperability and communication between them is becoming critical. The panel also acknowledged the need for the investment and commercial communities to not only understand the value of a stable environment, but also to raise awareness and show ownership and leadership through actions. It is through co-creating rules and norms among various stakeholders throughout the ecosystem to adapt to changes in technology and ensure long-term stability in shaping the future of the space economy.
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