Talent, Inspiration, and Money Drive Space
Last June, Space Foundation partner Toffler Associates held a meeting in conjunction with the Space Foundation's Space Business Forum: New York where public and private sector leaders discussed the future of the space industry.
Toffler Associates combined input from this group with its own observations, research, and experience, plus data from The Space Report: The Authoritative Guide to Global Space Activity, to develop a "Black and White Paper" with recommendations to help secure the future of the U.S. space industry as a global leader and innovator.
Last year, Space Watch carried excerpts from that paper. This month, we have included an edited excerpt of a final segment.
Unity as the Key to Success
Some simple steps can help the space community come together to address the challenges and opportunities in the core elements that comprise and fuel innovation: talent, inspiration, and money.
Unifying the industry should help current innovators make the best use of their talents and inspire future innovators to become involved. Many of the "New Space" entrepreneurs come out of the Internet, information technology, interactive gaming, and other related worlds that have had immense innovation in the past few decades, while the nation's space vision has floundered.
Numerous analyses of the "STEM crisis" in American education point to these industries as the "competition" absorbing the dwindling number of engineers and other technical geniuses that a generation or two ago would have seen a compelling future in the aerospace business.
"Old Space" and "New Space" can work together to create opportunities to entice the best talent our nation produces to devote themselves to those pursuits. For example, if defense agencies and other space users embrace architectures of smaller, simpler, more numerous systems alongside traditional large-scale multi-mission platforms, we can attract young people who don't pursue careers in the space industry because they know it would take years or even decades to see their work come to fruition. The growing knowledge and knowledge-integration component in robotic and other "non-traditional" space systems is also an obvious draw for young people who might otherwise look to Internet or other computer and communications fields.
The U.S. government and industry need to work more closely together to define a vision and strategy for the future. The current vision for space is unclear and government and industry leaders need to assess the nation's interest(s) in space. The previous presidential administration tried to address this by advocating for a return to the moon and later manned flights to Mars. The new administration is considering the same goals as well as others.
But, in reference to sending more business into space, too often "other" goals are treated as secondary, frivolous, or merely mercantile. A truly unified future vision for space must consider that, for some, the moon is "been there, done that" and even Mars is perceived as a goal already reached by the rovers. For a "New-Old" vision to inspire all Americans, it must speak more directly to what motivates all of them, encompassing things such as environmental concerns, "extreme tourism," and the opportunity to make a fortune in a literally blue-sky market.
For a long time, the U.S. commercial space market has depended on the government to carry the burden of financing space projects. Government funding for space exploration and innovation won't go away, nor should it. But, the amount of funding is declining and will not likely reverse in the near- to mid-term. However, U.S. capital markets are capable of financing that contributes to innovation if there is a clear direction to pursue. In the absence of obvious compelling business cases (or common national goals), these directions need to be determined by vision and strategy.
The two sources of funding need to work together, not one type of money for one set of "visionary" goals in space (Moon, Mars, exploration, etc.) and the other type for other "mercantile" goals. Ultimately, the national goals must be in business case terms, and the business cases can and should be synonymous with our national goals for space. To that end, the future government-industry national space strategy should employ a needs-based approach. Likewise, commercial companies should review and revise their market strategies to track with this strategy.
The U.S. government must let the nation's space community play without needless handicap in the global arena. Regulatory oversight is often a major impediment to space innovation, including ITAR, the complexity of launch safety and certification processes, and the architectures of government-to-government agreements (for example, restrictions on sharing of data collected by government-owned and -operated satellites).
As conditions reduce the government's ability to patronize industry with one hand (resources), it must loosen its grip with the other (regulation) if innovation is to thrive. In particular, government must radically reconsider the paradigm for restricting what space-related technologies (and underlying ideas) companies can trade in. At the same time, industry must continue to appreciate the importance of security given the growing challenge of preventing advanced technologies from being obtained and exploited to desperate ends.
The entire publication, titled A House Divided Cannot Stand: The Need to Unify the U.S. Space Industry, can be downloaded here. To see November's Space Watch article, click here. To see October's article, click here.