So we’re putting humans on the moon… what’s next?
We have already witnessed the impact of commercialisation on the low-Earth orbit (LEO) market, with numerous companies emerging from this new paradigm. The value of the services offered by LEO applications to Earth has largely supported this growth; be it in agriculture, navigation, weather, communication and many more existing and emerging industries.
However, traditionally space exploration has followed a different path, generally being pursued by governments and space agencies. Previously, human space exploration fed a desire to go into the unknown, push our technological boundaries and perhaps just simply prove that there was more to our existence than we already understood.
Despite the continual growth of the space industry (estimated to reach a value of $1 trillion by 2040), the last time a human was on the moon was four decades ago. The excitement and buzz around NASA’s Artemis program, therefore, comes as no surprise, as we hope to see the first woman and first person of colour on the Moon by 2025, and the first humans on the moon since 1972.
This will undoubtedly be yet another feat for humankind and for science, but what else do we want to gain out of lunar exploration?
As with the growth of any industry, there must be a business case that enables the feasibility of such heavy infrastructure and technology investments. Much like the development of the LEO segment, where this now supports a number of downstream markets, the commercialisation of outer space must – realistically – serve a purpose.
As it happens, the moon has abundant resources which we can in fact utilise. These include:
- Water which can support agriculture and even be converted to propellant
- Iron, titanium and oxygen which can be yielded by the lunar compound, Ilmenite
- Regolith (lunar rocks and soils) which contain raw materials such as magnesium, aluminium, silicon and iron – ideal for infrastructure production
- Rare earth metals, used to produce electrical products
These resources create a potentially self-sustaining ecosystem in space. In order to pursue this new ecosystem, we are starting to see a shift from a previously institutional-centric model to greater involvement and partnerships from the commercial sector. The European Space Agency, for example, already has two commercial partnerships to support a future lunar economy: the Goonhilly Earth Station and Commercial Lunar Mission Support Services (CLMSS).
Space exploration also opens new opportunities for non-space industries and corporations to explore new ventures and opportunities and take advantage of the benefits that space exploration has to offer, further supporting and funding development.
Whilst these promising and exciting advancements are at the top of the agenda for many in the industry, implementing regulatory frameworks around the use of the lunar and other outer orbital resources will be vital. As we continue to see with the satellite traffic challenges still happening (and increasing) in the LEO market, early action is necessary to ensure the safe use of space as a service.
Opening up space further than LEO is an exciting next step for the space industry, where the development of infrastructure and frameworks will be central. At the Space Tech Expo Europe conference, we will be exploring the shift towards commercial partnerships in the growth of space exploration, with expert speakers from organisations including ESA and Surrey Satellite Technology engaging in this important discussion. Make sure not to miss out and register for free.