50 years after July 20th, 1969, the historic date on which the US astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, took their first steps on the lunar soil. Even after all that time, space still represents a great challenge for mankind.
In recent decades, however, the aerospace sector has profoundly changed. The increase in the number of private investors, combined with the development of sophisticated technologies with increasingly accessible costs, have, in fact, made possible economic opportunities that were once accessible only to government entities and a few large companies. Today, on the contrary, the space sector has also become attractive for small and medium-sized enterprises, which are embarking on a real “race” to conquer a slice of this new market, now known as the “new space economy”, which today it brings in more than $350 billion US per annum.
The new space economy, or the set of economic activities and exploitation of resources related to the exploration – research, management and use of outer space – undoubtedly represents the new frontier of business. The extent of what falls within its sphere of relevance and its potential is often underestimated. When we talk about the economy of space, in fact, we are not referring only to the manufacture and use of space infrastructures, such as rockets, rovers and satellites (which fall within the so-called upstream sector). It also includes all those secondary activities that depend on the use of satellite data, such as meteorological services, satellite telephones and GPS (or the so-called downstream), which in fact represent about 70-80% of market profits.
The enormous amount of information coming from more than 150 satellites currently in orbit (which we can define in terms of big data), is used in many sectors; from defense, navigation, precision agriculture, up to land monitoring and the effects of climate change. In the field of agriculture, for example, nanosatellite technologies make it possible to constantly monitor the productivity of the land and the health of crops; the information obtained from satellite images allows farmers to carry out targeted interventions (it is no coincidence that we now speak of “precision agriculture“), highlighting a marked and considerable saving of valuable water resources and potentially could even lead to lower levels of pesticides.
Space is also opening up new opportunities in the medical research sector. Suffice it to cite, as an example, the experiments that Techshot, a small American company located in Greenville, Indiana, is carrying out in the field of “bioprinting”. Techshot researchers are successfully carrying out a series of experiments in zero gravity, aiming to produce artificial organs with 3D printers otherwise not feasible. In the presence of gravity, in fact, the reproduction of soft human tissues, such as blood vessels and muscles, is made very difficult, while they are “built”, their structure tends to collapse under their own weight. Conversely, if the same materials are used in space in a microgravity environment, the 3D printed soft tissues tend to retain their desired shape.
The enormous potential of the aerospace sector was also recently highlighted by a series of reports prepared by the most famous investment banks in the world. According to Goldman Sachs, the sector will reach the value of $1 trillion US dollars by 2050, while for Morgan Stanley it will reach $1.1 trillion. Even higher profits have been speculated by the Bank of America-Merryl Lynch, which estimated the market to grow to $ 2.7 trillion over the same time frame.
What is certain, regardless of the accuracy of these estimates, is that today the forecast of 2019, accompanied by the “large-scale use of space”, made by Isaac Asimov in 1984, seems more than appropriate and thus evermore plausible.