The evolution of the space sector, toward a mature industrial and business domain, has led to the emergence of a sizeable global space economy and high expectations for future growth are motivating private actors to invest massively in new business ventures. Estimated today in the order of a few hundred billion dollars, new prospects for innovation and business development have led some analysts to foresee the rise of a trillion-dollar space economy in the coming decades. Such a hopeful forecast is certainly welcome but probably downplays the serious challenges that the space sector will face to develop new mass markets or to transition to new business growth engines, for example from satellite broadcast to broadband.
Yet, it would be short-sighted to totally reject this scenario. Although it is somewhat of a catch-all concept that may not be as “new” as one would think, New Space does embody a tangible evolution of the space sector toward a more service and business-oriented sector, also more deeply rooted in global technological and economic trends. Among these trends, the growing symbiosis between the space sector and the digital economy is probably the one that offers the most promising opportunity for growth in the near future. Admittedly still at an early stage, the growing involvement of digital giants in the space sector is certainly the most striking illustration of this evolution. Investment after investment, project after project, they highlight the growing role of space in their digital business strategy across two complementary facets: connectivity and data. In this respect, digital actors are shaping a new ecosystem for space services, one where satellites become an integral component of the digital infrastructure and where space-based data are mingled in the wider data value chain.
The World Bank estimates that the digital economy accounts for 15% of the global GDP and that it grows more than two times faster. The World Economic Forum foresees that 70% of the new value created in the economy over the next decade will be based on digitally enabled business models. From this perspective, the prospect of a trillion-dollar space economy will probably depend, first, on the capacity of the space sector to become an enabler of future digital architectures and solutions, before space mining and space tourism become a profitable business.