The era of the space economy is upon us.
In fact, space has the potential to deliver significant and sustainable benefit to Canada's economy as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Currently, the space sector contributes $2.3 billion to Canada's gross domestic product and directly employs nearly 10,000 people. Small-to-medium-sized businesses account for over 90 per cent of all space firms and nearly 30 per cent of employment. But, if Canada creates the right conditions, we could see exponential growth in the not-too-distant future.
The first space economy leaders meeting – Space20 - was recently held virtually in October. The meeting, organized by the Saudi Space Commission and the G20 Saudi Secretariat, brought together the heads of space agencies from the G20 countries to increase awareness of the space economy, and to contribute to the international efforts on the peaceful uses of space while maximizing the economic benefit.
Peaceful uses of space
Ten key themes emerged from Space20:
- International collaboration and knowledge sharing are fundamental to space advancement to ensure the proper level of investment in both resources and capabilities, fostering sustainable growth in the sector.
- Space can help earth achieve green economies and sustainable socioeconomic development goals. Advances in satellite technology will result in an even broader range of data to enable scientists to better understand the earth and support efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change.
- The sustainability of the space domain itself was consistently identified as a strategic priority among the Space20 community. The rapid increase in the number of spacecraft orbiting the earth and a record number of countries investing in space applications and research poses significant challenges for the safe and sustainable use of space. Ensuring its safety and long-term viability will improve return on investment within the space sector, and increases investor confidence in the industry.
- Innovations in the space sector are improving productivity in traditional industries. For example, resource, agriculture, and healthcare sectors already leverage technologies specifically developed and utilized for space exploration. Space20 identified sectors such as autonomous vehicles, communications, and mobile services that can also benefit from space sector technologies.
- As the unprecedented economic ramifications of COVID-19 play out around the world, Space20 believe the space sector will play an important role in stimulating economies and developing innovative solutions that improve both productivity and efficiency. This has already been demonstrated in mass global digitization as people have been required to work from home. Further, space infrastructure has played a key role in disaster management globally, enabling new ways to collect data, assess damages, and efficiently communicate in times of emergency.
- Entrepreneurship and technical expertise are crucial for integrating cutting-edge technologies in the space sector, including artificial intelligence (AI). As economic priorities continue to shift in the fallout from the pandemic, innovation in the space sector is driving several trends, including less expensive launch services, lower costs of small satellites, and the use of commercial off-the-shelf solutions, all reducing the cost of entry.
- New space-faring nations are looking to the Space20 community to support equitable and sustainable access.
- Satellite broadband constellations will close the global digital divide, providing internet access to unserved and underserved parts of the world. In the most-bullish scenario, satellite broadband will represent as much as 70 per cent of the projected growth of the global space economy by 2040 – not only in connectivity but from increased bandwidth from autonomous vehicles, the Internet of Things, AI, virtual reality, and video.
- Space is helping to develop the workforce of the future. Efforts must be made to promote STEM careers and empower and encourage youth.
- Space is becoming commercialized. The private sector is a leading player in the space domain, a change welcomed by the G20 as an opportunity for the market to develop efficient and sustainable solutions to global challenges, such as energy, food, and public health.
A proud heritage in space
The pandemic did not halt global competition in the space economy. The pressure is now on to maintain, if not increase, investments in national space programs.
Canada has an important role to play and a proud heritage in space that must be built upon. The Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC) has called for decisive government action to ensure Canada retains its competitiveness and participation in the international space community in the short and long term. AIAC is working closely with Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, the Canadian Space Agency, and government leadership to re-invigorate Canada's technology funding commitments. Development of a long-term plan for Canada's future in space is necessary to support a strong domestic space capacity and continued robust participation in the international space community.
These are all necessary steps to ensure space is indeed our next frontier.