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The space renaissance is here. How can we ensure it gives lift-off to all?

A SpaceX rocket lifts off carrying four astronauts on a six-month expedition to the ISS.

A SpaceX rocket lifts off carrying four astronauts on a six-month expedition to the ISS. Image: Reuters/Steve Nesius

Jeremy Jurgens
Managing Director, World Economic Forum
Chris Kemp
Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Astra
Ryan Brukardt
Senior Partner, McKinsey & Company
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • Technological advances have opened access to space and enabled it to assume an important role in supporting global security and sustainability.
  • Public-private cooperation can benefit the space sector as an arena for collaboration even amid mounting geopolitical divergence.
  • Industry leaders have identified five high-priority actions they suggest must be taken to realize an accessible, self-sustaining space economy.

The world is in a space renaissance. Expanding activity beyond the Earth’s atmosphere from diverse parties is beginning to outpace governance, technological progress is driving down costs, commercial funding is at an all-time high, and more nations and companies are clamouring to be part of it. Space already plays a role in advancing global sustainability and security priorities, but the potential is even greater. Fulfilling it is in the balance, though, and all stakeholders have the capability to contribute to a more successful sector.

Future of space

Advancements in space technology over the past decade have opened access to more players, unlocked new use cases, and positioned space to help address global priorities. Throughout it all, international and cross-sector collaboration has occurred in several areas despite geopolitical divergence.

The space sector has come a long way and seems poised for massive future growth.
The space sector has come a long way and seems poised for massive future growth. Image: McKinsey & Company

However, the accelerating growth and complex geopolitical dynamics pose a risk to continued international collaboration, the longevity of governance frameworks, and thus industrial progress, in the ecosystem. To fully realize the benefits of space, the international community will likely need to quickly consider how to maintain it as an arena of collaboration.

Have you read?

This report – informed by the views of approximately 100 industry leaders – describes potential scenarios for the future of space. It identifies five actions that could catalyze effective governance to realize the full societal and economic benefits of the space economy.

Specifically, based on interviews, industry leaders envision four scenarios for the future of space, which vary based upon the degree to which commercial value is generated and the level of collaborative governance instituted in the industry:

Scenarios for the future of space
Scenarios for the future of space Image: McKinsey & Company

Opportunity abounds in the most positive scenarios: from tracking of emissions on the ground to driving climate accountability and mitigation; to early detection and prediction of wildfires to enable more time for preparation and evacuation; to the building of commercial space habitats in low Earth orbit (LEO) and on the Moon where people could one day live and work; to robotic satellite servicing to prolong the life of space assets.

Priority actions for space economy

To chart a course towards an accessible, self-sustaining space economy, industry leaders suggest five high-priority actions:

1. Create and implement effective space governance – a framework that includes participation from different stakeholders. Leaders outlined the following topics that need to be addressed:

a. Maintaining responsible behaviour in space (for example, in relation to space debris).

b. Defining property ownership, access and usage rights (for example, for orbital slots, frequencies, access to Lagrange points and mineral resources).

c. Developing and promulgating common standards, across hardware and software (for example, spacecraft servicing interfaces and protocols for sending and receiving data).

d. Protecting human life, infrastructure and the environment.

2. Invest resources and effort in enabling technologies and capabilities such as advanced propulsion, re-entry capabilities, more cost-effective ways of getting different resources to space, artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics.

3. Incentivize collaboration across nations, sectors and industries. Space offers a unique, though sometimes complex, way for actors to collaborate. Different avenues should be undertaken to create and drive further collaboration as activity increases. As the commercial space economy grows, space could become an increasingly important domain for companies outside of aerospace and defense. In most scenarios, those companies would then become important collaborators as well.

4. Foster a self-sustaining industrial base through targeted government support for the sector, investing in go-to-market capabilities, fostering dialogue with end-users, and attracting diverse, high-calibre talent. Removing barriers to competition, increasing education on the potential value of space for all, and cultivating a broader ecosystem would all be important for nurturing a healthy industrial base.

5. Leverage the space industry more to advance sustainability and security. The sector can be more helpful in ensuring accountability of actors on Earth, as well as being a part of critical infrastructure for security. Environmental monitoring capabilities of satellites have the potential to contribute more to our efforts to monitor and mitigate climate change.

We invite you to read the report to learn more about what industry leaders think it will take to put each of these actions into practice – and why these are keys to unlocking the potential of the space economy.


What is the World Economic Forum doing about the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

The future of space is in humankind's hands. By taking the right actions today, there may be lasting benefits from a peaceful and vibrant space sector that creates economic value, and also enhances the sustainability, security and accountability of actors on Earth.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the Astra Space, Inc.

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World Economic Forum

May 21, 2024

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