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Business and Economics, Science and Technology

Is it a Good Time to Start a Small Space Agency?

Earths orbit

There is a common growing trend of more and more countries starting their own small space agencies.

Until recently, the motivation for a country to have a space agency was to offer protection to its nation. a quite noticeable act was U.S.A spending around $288 billion in just over a decade, the purpose of this high space orientated budget was to send astronauts to the moon, before the Soviet Union. After succeeding with this mission, N.A.S.A decided to halt any further plans for luna related missions, and started to focus its space program on other objectives.

Currently, the space market is worth an estimated $325 billion, with subjective figures forecasting its growth to around $1.5 trillion over the next two decades – U.S Chamber of Commerce. Infrastructure to provide such an abundant economy are the likes of; space tourism, space mining, intrepid telecom infrastructure, and a multitude of other services that may be extremely lucrative. With speculation of such growth in the space market, no country wants to be left behind.

What has brought us here?

A major reason as to why so many new space agencies are being formed is because the technology to allow space travel is becoming far more affordable. We have seen, major breakthroughs in computer hardware and spacecraft advancements, thus this has progressed to satellites being built at much smaller scales, while their capabilities have increased. Launch costs for such satellites have reduced following these advancements. Launch costs were quite expensive at around $8,100 per pound, now they are $1,000 per pound. Hence, rocket launches are becoming quite a regular occurrence. So far we have seen new space agencies being formed in, Paraguay, Luxembourg, and the Philippines.

With so many companies investing in research for the space market, they are in turn reducing the costs associated with space travel. Companies that are investing are; SpaceX and Blue Origin, these companies are investing in reusable rockets, whilst Virgin Galatic is hoping to fulfill space logistics by distributing small payloads into orbit and hopefully beyond. Portugal’s small spaceport, will be providing dedicated “microlauncher” systems on its launch pads.

Spaceport Virgin Galatic

New alliances

Space travel is definitely creating new alliances, and we are seeing that many countries are participating in rideshare missions, new space nations are legislating this to attract private space firms. New laws in the Netherlands are making it easier to implement such rideshare missions, from Dutch spaceports –Frans von der Dunk, University of Nebraska

Nasa has said the public, and legislators need to be convinced that these businesses are a realistic option, and the commercial firms need to try to convince them of this, in order to gain investments. For example, Australia has been academically researching space science for a long time, yet it has only recently founded its own national space agency.

Niche moves

Space port

Smaller countries will find it difficult to align with the Chinese or U.S.A space programs, so the goal for smaller space agencies is to find a niche market within the space programs. This could include the fulfillment of the supply of small payloads to outer space, to future space mining organisations.

Luxembourg and the United Arab Emirates have both made aggressive moves to fill niches within the telecom industry, and are thus attracting interest from businesses globally.

S.E.S who is one of the largest satellite communication companies in the world, has some of its operations based in Luxembourg. Luxembourg also has a space agency which was built in September 2018, the space agency was built to support commercial activities, and form partnerships with companies on a global scale. U.A.E is still classed as the dominant space agency of the Middle East. Rather than expanding and building its own space launch facilities, it has utilised the use of its partner’s spaceports to distribute its payloads – so it can focus its attention on satellite development. With the launch of new satellite technology, late last year, such as KhalifaSat, which was the first satellite built solely by U.A.E, and sending its first astronaut to space in late September 2019. Heavily investing in Virgin Galatic to the sum of half a billion dollars. And the intention to launch a robotic scientific mission to Mars in 2021. The Middle East are definitely shaping up to become a major technological hub.

South Africa are focusing their attention on Cubesats, these are miniature cube shaped satellites, which can be built for a variety of uses, they are built to multiples of 10 cm × 10 cm × 10 cm cubic units, and have a mass of just 1.33 kilograms per unit. This technology has now been around for over a decade, but they are now becoming widely used by emerging space companies, generally for research purposes. The Cubesats are relatively cheap to engineer, however, a launch could set a company back up to $20,000.  For reference please follow the link.

Another space agency wanting to participate in the huge role of launching Cubesats is Portugal. And to follow suit many countries over the world are contemplating whether to develop spaceports of their own, to help with the influx of the demand for small payload flights into space.

Spaceports around the world

As with every new venture, these up and coming space agencies need to be agile, and be able to accommodate swift changes to be successful. This has been proven by the collapse of the asteroid mining bubble. The space industry is still emerging, and can not be supported by space agencies who are not flexible. That being said, this is a very exciting era, and will be a very lucrative journey for a lot of companies that are investing in space programs.

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