The View From Here

Surely, The Best of Times

Written by: developer

Surely, The Best of Times “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair . . .”
Charles Dickens – A Tale of Two Cities

Given the gnashing of teeth surrounding the FY11 budget proposal for NASA, one could suspect that the tumult signals the “winter of our despair” in the space community. But that would be to color the entire global space enterprise based upon a single agency that accounts for only 7.2 percent of the action. The global space economy grew by about that much (7 percent) in 2009, with U.S. government spending up 11 percent and spending by other governments up 22 percent.

Significantly, the commercial satellite sector continues to be the primary driver for the global space economy, with commercial satellite services and infrastructure accounting for 67 percent of the industry’s 2009 worldwide revenues of $261.6 billion. Spending on commercial space infrastructure was $83.6 billion, while revenues from commercial satellite operations increased 8 percent to $90.5 billion.

These data come from the Space Foundation’s The Space Report 2010: the Authoritative Guide to Global Space Activity, which was released a few weeks ago in conjunction with our 26th National Space Symposium. This is the fifth year we’ve published The Space Report. During those five years, which include a significant period of global economic recession, the worldwide space economy grew a whopping 40 percent.

Surely, the Best of Times
The Space Foundation has a global mission: To advance space-related endeavors to inspire, enable and propel humanity. Looking across the vast global spacescape, certainly we are in a “spring of hope.” For example:

  • Space agencies around the world are increasing their budgets – ESA by 18.5 percent, Germany by 26 percent, India by 21 percent, and Russia by a whopping 95 percent.
  • The increasing integration of satellite services and terrestrial services, most notably the proliferation of GPS chipsets in handheld and automotive products, will continue to drive and accelerate growth in ground equipment manufacturing and demand for satellite capacity.
  • The increasing demand on telecommunications satellites, and the need to replace aging satellite fleets, will bolster both the satellite manufacturing and launch sectors.
  • Construction of a new launch center on Hainan Island, and the announcement of firm flight plans and milestones leading to the on-orbit assembly of a new 30-ton Space Station, are clear signals that China will continue to bring an ever-increasing portfolio of space capabilities to the international community.
  • India’s commitment to developing human spaceflight systems, coupled with the investments being made by entrepreneurial companies such as SpaceX, send encouraging signals that worldwide, our capabilities to send humans into space will continue to diversify.
  • The growth of space capabilities in South America (particularly Brazil), and the plans by the Google-backed satellite company 03B to bring space capabilities to underserved regions of the southern hemisphere, will have important, positive socio-political and economic impact that will likely grow the global space economy further.
  • The large number of space company mergers and acquisitions in 2009, despite the very constrained capital markets, helped space companies fill gaps in capabilities, products, services and technology. The average deal size increased from less than $100 million in 2008 to more than $115 million in 2009, and many factors suggest M&A activity will continue unabated, largely driven by the financial strength of the industry.
  • Important astronomy investments will continue to advance the frontiers of science and engage the public, including an upgraded Hubble Space Telescope, and site selections for North America’s Thirty Meter Telescope (Mauna Kea, Hawai’i) and Europe’s 42 meter telescope (Chile).
  • The global orbital launch rate in 2009 nearly matched the record high of 2000, when 85 launches took place. 2009 saw 78 orbital launches, carrying 111 payloads from 17 different spaceports around the planet. Russia led with 29 launches using seven different launch vehicles.
  • Several commercial spaceflight companies reached milestones, unveiling new hardware and undertaking flight tests.
  • The United Kingdom, after more than a year of deliberations (including the Space Foundation providing encouraging testimony to Parliament) established a Ministry-level United Kingdom Space Agency, to formalize and advance Britain’s global involvement in space.

This flurry of forward momentum in the international space community was certainly reflected at the National Space Symposium – where featured speakers included Paul Weissenberg, Ph.D., a director of the European Commission; Wang Wenbao, director general of the China Manned Space Engineering Office; Air Commodore Mark Ashwell, UKRAF (Retired); and Major General Yáng Lìwěi, China’s first man in space. In all, more than 20 nations were represented at the Symposium, including official delegations from China and Poland, and an industry delegation from China. See related article in this issue of Space Watch.

In the U.S., of course, there were successes as well. The Ares I-X test vehicle was successfully launched from Kennedy Space Center and was quickly named one of the top inventions of 2009. Virgin Galactic’s White Knight 2 began a rigorous, and successful, flight test program. United Launch Alliance continued a perfect launch record, and recently completed its 40th consecutive successful launch since its formation. The Space Shuttle orbiter continued to fly safely, including a spectacular servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope that will extend the life and capability of that venerable instrument (the Space Foundation awarded that mission with its prestigious Space Achievement Award, presented at the 26th National Space Symposium). Ground was broken at Spaceport America in New Mexico. The presence of water ice on the Earth’s Moon was definitively confirmed (the definitive mission, LCROSS, was honored by the Space Foundation with the John L. “Jack” Swigert, Jr., Award for Space Exploration, also presented at the National Space Symposium). More Earth-like “Goldilocks Planets” in deep space were discovered.

An Age of What?
Make no mistake: the proposed cancellation of the Constellation program and redirection of NASA exploration resources raises questions about the agency’s future, and casts a shadow of doubt about continued U.S. leadership in space. Whether Americans come to view this time as an “age of wisdom” or an “age of foolishness” remains to be seen. (I’ve said all I have to say on the subject.)

The View from Here is that the data in The Space Report 2010 are clear. 2009 was, for global space activity, “the best of times.” With space activity accelerating around the globe, 2010 could yet prove to be another “spring of hope.”

This article is part of Space Watch: May 2010 (Volume: 9, Issue: 5).