The new space race: what it might mean for businesses

Megan Bray April 25th 2022 - 3 minute read

A new space race is on, but it’s no longer just sovereign nations competing for ascendancy among the stars.

Private companies have joined the contest. In fact, they’re driving most of the innovation, and the next stage in the commercialisation of outer space is well under way.

SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are just some of the household names in the space economy, while plenty of other companies are emerging as the prospects of affordable space flight and lucrative new technologies entice investors.

This in turn is kindling the interest of national governments. China is currently constructing its Tiangong space station, which it says will be open to commercial missions once completed, while Russia and the US are also upping their space ambitions.

Investment bank Morgan Stanley predicts that the global space industry could generate upwards of $1 trillion in revenue in 2040, up from $350 billion in 2020.

The final frontier certainly offers exciting opportunities. Some of the more sci-fi-sounding, headline-grabbing ideas – like asteroid mining or interplanetary colonisation – are quite a way off. Still, there are plenty of ways businesses can benefit in the short and medium term.

Direct opportunities

Manufacturing

If you want to get to space, you need a rocket.

As interest and investment in space exploration boom, so too will demand for the associated manufactured equipment. Of course, this means spacecraft and all the component parts, as well as satellites, launch sites and space stations.

The UK has one of the largest aerospace industries in the world, so it’s well placed to capitalise on the growing space economy. This could in turn bring more opportunities for other businesses along the supply chain.

Technology

Along with manufacturing comes the technology itself. New software, better engineering, more powerful computers – all these technological advances are needed to make space travel safe and affordable.

Once again, the UK is poised to benefit. Britain boasts an impressive tech industry and a rich history of innovation. With the right investment environment, the UK space technology scene could thrive, bringing other accompanying opportunities.

Commodities

Needless to say, constructing satellites and launching rockets require huge resources. As a result, those trading in metals such as steel and aluminium, as well as other materials, like graphite, boron, carbon and fiberglass, could see more trade and higher prices.

Space travel also requires a fuel. Currently, most rockets use a combination of kerosene-based fuel and liquid oxygen. If nations are serious about going carbon neutral, we’ll either need a cleaner source of fuel – perhaps biofuels – or stringent emission-offsetting practices.

Indirect opportunities

The opportunities aren’t just limited to those within the aerospace sector and associated supply chains. As activity in Earth’s orbit picks up, it’ll affect all of us.

Perhaps the most important development in the short and medium term will be the proliferation of satellite broadband internet (such as SpaceX’s Starlink internet constellation, which hit the headlines in March after Elon Musk sent terminals to Ukraine amid the Russian invasion).

Rather than relying on cables to access the internet, which can be expensive and unwieldy, particularly in rural, remote, or hard-to-reach places, satellite internet is beamed down from space.

As this technology becomes more advanced, it means the world will have faster internet connections with potentially global coverage at a low cost. The implications could be transformative.

Internet of things

Such coverage will enable the next big step forward in autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence and the internet of things (IoT), a system by which a huge network – of machines, objects and even people – continually exchange data.

What does this mean for businesses? Well, aside from further growth in the tech sector, retailers will likely see an increase in demand for IoT-integrated products.

We could also see companies gain access to increasingly granular and personal data. This could in turn lead to a more sophisticated understanding of consumer behaviour, more targeted marketing, and perhaps stricter privacy laws, not to mention the need for more data storage, better processing power and increase automation.

Keeping pace

Being internet-savvy – whether that means advertising, website effectiveness, social media or online reviews – will become even more important. And emerging technologies, such as augmented reality (AR), could become commonplace. Businesses will need to make sure they’re keeping pace with the technological changes relevant to their competitive landscape.

Mobile ecommerce will likely continue to grow its share of online sales. Therefore, online sellers will need to ensure their stores are optimised for a mobile experience.

The final frontier

Further into the future, we could see even more radical change.

Affordable, environmentally friendly space flight could slash transport times for people and cargo. SpaceX plans on creating high-speed spacecraft that could take you from London to New York in just 29 minutes, rather than eight hours.

Later, there could be space tourism, as people blast into outer space for the sheer thrill of it. Meanwhile, companies might be mining asteroids for valuable materials to be used in the heavy-industry factories that stud the surface of the moon. Who knows, perhaps there’ll be permanent off-Earth human colonies…

It may sound like science-fiction, but humanity is crawling ever closer to becoming an interplanetary species. In the meantime, it’s best to be prepared for the coming technological changes and the opportunities these may offer your business.

Written by
Megan Bray

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