Beyond Orbiting: Toward a Sustainable Space Economy — Opening Statement

Posted February 29, 2024 | Technology | Amplify
Beyond Orbiting: Toward a Sustainable Space Economy
In this issue:


For decades, the space industry was driven by national governments for their own uses, both civilian and military. Today, although government investment still makes up the bulk of space-related funding, a combination of three main factors has resulted in a foundational evolution of the industry, often referred to as “New Space.”

The first factor is technological innovation, including:

  • Miniaturization of electronic components and development of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components, both of which lower the cost to develop space systems and increase the speed of innovation

  • Emergence of high-cadence, reusable launchers, significantly increasing available launch capacity and reducing its cost

  • Development of big data and artificial intelligence (AI), allowing the extraction of valuable insight from the exponentially growing volume of space-based data

The second factor is the growth of vertically integrated space players in both satellite connectivity (e.g., Starlink) and remote sensing (e.g., Planet Labs), which is driven by clients (especially institutional ones) progressively shifting from an asset-purchase model to a service-purchase one.

The third factor is an influx of funding from private investors, such as venture capital funds and large corporations (e.g., Amazon).

New Space, resulting from the combination of these three factors, has generated an unprecedented rise in the number of space players, rocket launches, spacecraft in orbit, and volume of space-generated data. But the industry faces several challenges as it seeks to make this growth sustainable, including environmental, supply chain, and security issues:

  • Environmental. Orbital space is not an unlimited resource and must be shared by public and private players, all of which need to efficiently track space objects and avoid space debris as part of successful spacecraft operations.

  • Supply chain. Ensuring resilient production scale-up across the value chain is crucial as the space industry grows in new segments, requiring addressing significantly larger user bases compared to the past. Moreover, specific attention must be given to the usage of critical materials that can become increasingly rare or difficult to access.

  • Security. Space has traditionally been the realm of intergovernmental competition, with military use beginning in the 1960s. Increased international tensions have made space a new conflict theater — not just militarized as it has always been, but increasingly weaponized, with threats ranging from cyberattacks (from both state and non-state actors) and jamming to physical destruction.

This issue of Amplify explores the key challenges that the space industry faces in its journey toward long-term sustainable growth and value creation.

In This Issue

We begin this issue with Victor Heaulme, who takes a look at the space waste problem through a technology lens. He notes that the Kessler Syndrome (i.e., orbit overpopulation leading to object/satellite collisions that greatly affect space access) is becoming increasingly possible. Along with policy making, Heaulme describes technologies for more accurate tracking of space objects of all sizes, monitoring software that automates collision warnings, and technology that remotely removes objects in orbit. These include two systems that cause decaying orbits, one that uses a specialized satellite to push space objects and one that moves objects into a different orbit from Earth.

Next, Ronald Birk, Lori W. Gordon, and Eleanor Mitch outline the factors behind the need for a system that dynamically updates space supply chain information. Along with higher demand, there is competition among sectors, such as medical device and auto makers, for certain commodities and many rare-earth elements. The authors propose a distributed ledger technology (DLT) system called “Space supply chain Topology for Assessing Risk (STAR)” that would create a nexus for all stakeholders in the space supply chain community. STAR would include trusted partnerships via information-sharing agreements, information wells that let partners leverage an array of structured and unstructured data, a network of cloud-based platforms that enable secure processing of data among partners across the space enterprise, data integrity via DLT, and assessments of priority items to discover weak areas in space supply chains. The article describes the four key risks STAR would identify and calls for community dialogue about a space enterprise solution that “shines a light on dynamically evolving risks.”

Sylvester Kaczmarek then dives into the cybersecurity issues threatening current and future space exploration. In addition to bad actors who have targeted satellites by jamming, spoofing, and data hijacking, there’s the potential for spacecraft life-support, navigation, and propulsion systems to be hacked. Breaches that threaten communications between ground stations and their space assets are also possible, as is interference with the data streams that flow constantly between satellites and public and private entities. Kaczmarek advises a number of strategies for mitigating space-related cyber threats, including AI models that anticipate and prevent attacks before they occur, encryption methods resistant to quantum attacks, and international cooperation to harmonize regulations across countries.

Our fourth article comes from Moriba K. Jah, who points to a growing concern over mankind’s ability to use orbital space for long-term benefit. Orbital space is not infinite; yet several companies are planning large-scale satellite launches in the next few years. When added to operating and abandoned satellites (and other space debris) in geostationary orbit (GEO), and low Earth orbit (LEO) orbits, there’s the potential for “a tragedy of the commons.” Jah proposes a solution guided by the tenets of traditional ecological knowledge, including recognizing space as a dynamic ecosystem in which changes in one part can impact the whole, designing satellites and spacecraft for longevity/reusability, and promoting a greater sense of accountability among spacefaring nations and commercial entities. Shifting from a linear space economy to a circular one, says Jah, would not only prevent orbital ecocide, but it would also preserve the final frontier as a resource and habitat for future generations.

Next, Matteo Ainardi, Arnaud Siraudin, and Guillaume Storck present a way for businesses to envision future space ecosystems and their associated value chains. A recent study, conducted by the EURO2MOON association (including Arthur D. Little), endeavored to understand demand drivers, value chains, and areas of uncertainty around lunar resource use. Propellant production was used as an illustration — the reaction engines needed to power vehicles on the lunar surface and traveling to/from Earth (and beyond) will need propellants. The study examined both the supply side and the demand side, developed scenarios of a future ecosystem, proposed a likely value chain, outlined use cases, and estimated those use cases’ likely ranges of demand. Beyond giving a peek into lunar opportunities, the article can help businesses considering lunar-economy investment better understand how to account for inherent high levels of uncertainty.

Finally, Curt Hall takes a look at the role 3D printing can have in space exploration. From Earth-based manufacturing of spacecraft parts to tools like wrenches on the International Space Station and metal parts during a Mars mission, space could be 3D printing’s killer app. Hall discusses a large number of technologies in development, including the ability to convert plastic waste from previously printed parts into feedstock that can be used to create new tools and parts. Similarly, there are projects underway to see if the Moon’s regolith can be used to construct the (literal) building blocks for a moon base. Printing food, medicine, and even replacement organs for long-haul space missions is also being explored using bioprinting, a technology that could come full circle to provide tissue-based patches for the outside of damaged hearts here on Earth.

As space technologies adoption and usage keep growing across all governmental and private sectors, these challenges must be taken into account to enable long-term, sustainable growth of the space industry. We hope this issue of Amplify can offer a starting point for space industry stakeholders to reflect and collaborate in addressing them.

About The Author
Matteo Ainardi
Matteo Ainardi is Managing Partner at Arthur D. Little (ADL), based in the Paris, France, office and leads ADL’s Global Aerospace & Defense (A&D) Competence Center. His main areas of expertise include growth strategy definition, business planning, organization, and transformation in A&D. Since joining ADL, Mr. Ainardi has been instrumental in supporting clients in the A&D ecosystem, including, among others, space systems OEMs,… Read More
Guillaume Storck
Guillaume Storck is a Consultant for Arthur D. Little (ADL) in the Paris, France, office. Previously, he served ADL as a Business Analyst. Prior to joining ADL, he was a PhD researcher for the French Aero-space Lab with the goal of improving reliability and reducing development costs for rocket engines. Mr. Storck earned a master of science degree in engineering from ISAE-Supaéro, France, and a master of science degree in aeronautics and… Read More