Each passing year brings advances in space systems and technologies, as well as new applications and services that rely on them. There is a natural evolution of capabilities as governments and companies push the boundaries of what is possible, seeking ways to improve the lives of their citizens or customers. A number of events in 2011 marked a period of transition during this long-term process of capacity-building, as some major programs ended while others started or expanded, often leveraging the knowledge and physical assets left behind by their predecessors.
In the United States, the Space Shuttle Program drew to a close, resulting in the loss of national human space launch capabilities. Parts of the program will live on as some shuttle technology is adapted for NASAs next-generation Space Launch System, as existing infrastructure is modified to support future commercial and government launch vehicles. New ideas continue to flourish, ensuring that the utilization and exploration of space will continue to lead to scientific discoveries and improvements in life on Earth. Rising stars in the field of human spaceflight include nations such as China, which launched its first orbital laboratory module in 2011 and conducted an automated rendezvous with the laboratory using an uncrewed spacecraft.
Government spending, of which human spaceflight budgets constitute a minority, is just one element of space activity. Taking the commercial space industry into account along with government programs, the global space economy increased by more than $31 billion in 2011. Despite this very healthy growth, governments and companies anticipate pressure on spending in the near term due to conditions in the broader economy. To counteract this effect, spacefaring nations and the private sector increased efforts to cooperate and pool resources. Long a feature of scientific efforts to study and understand the space environment, collaboration among organizations active in space appears to be on the rise in non-scientific space endeavors as well. Although there will always be limits on the extent to which governments can share information and companies can discuss business practices, partnerships in space situational awareness and hosted payloads demonstrate the commitment of many space participants to maximize the returns on their investments by working together.
In several major spacefaring countries, a significant portion of the space workforce is approaching retirement. This has caused concern that valuable skills, acquired over the course of decades of experience, may be lost as older employees leave the workforce. Recruitment and training will be essential to ensuring continuity of skills and operational capabilities. Each year, more than 1.5 million people worldwide receive bachelors-equivalent degrees in space-relevant disciplines. This base of newly minted science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduates provides the labor pool to support future space activities that will generate benefits we can only imagine at present.
1.0 Space Products and Services
We rely on space products and services in countless ways every day. They quite literally help us find our way in the world, connect with each other, and learn about our environment. Space technology also generates spinoff products that have a space heritage but no longer require space systems in order to be useful. Although they may not be the primary motivator for engaging in space activity, these spinoffs have had a profound impact on society. In 2011, NASA reported the results of an effort to quantify some of the benefits of space spinoffs. Approximately 100 companies using spinoff technologies responded to NASAs survey, collectively reporting that more than 12,000 lives have been saved, more than 9,200 jobs have been created, and more than $6.2 billion in cost savings have been achieved. Taking into account the vast number of spinoffs that have emerged from space programs around the world, the ultimate impact of spinoffs is considerably higher than that reported by survey participants.
Each year, the Space Foundation recognizes the role of space products and services through its Space Technology Hall of Fame and its Space Certification Program. In the case of the Space Technology Hall of Fame, the Space Foundation works with NASA to recognize and honor the organizations and individuals that have developed products based on space technology that improve the quality of life on Earth. With the Space Certification Program, the Space Foundation provides a way for companies that produce and market these products to tie their business to space and to help inform the public of how space activities have benefits on Earth.
The most rapid expansion of space products and services is occurring in the field of location-based services, which rely on positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) satellites such as the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS). Parents can use applications on their smartphones to monitor their childrens safety, while other applications can help with planning a family trip to a theme park or finding roadside entertainment during a long journey. Businesses are using location information provided by customers to offer timely coupons, special deals, or more convenient methods of payment. Governments rely on PNT systems to aid law enforcement, monitor wildlife, and better understand and improve traffic flow in urban areas. Scientific studies have already resulted in better traffic conditions in parts of Beijing, and researchers are engaged in a variety of programs around the world to learn more about the way people travel from one place to another as they go about their daily lives.
Scientific research often relies on additional space systems besides PNT satellites. In 2011, infrared satellite images were used to find more than 3,000 ancient settlements in Egypt, and they may also be used to help protect archeological sites from looters. Biotechnology company, Amgen, launched 30 mice on NASAs final shuttle mission in July 2011 to test an antibody that could help prevent bone loss, which occurs at an accelerated pace in living creatures in space. Lessons learned from this research could lead to more effective treatments of bone loss among people on Earth. In the field of physics, an orbiting experiment helped to reaffirm Albert Einsteins theory of relativity by measuring the distortion in space caused by the Earths gravitational field.
Sharing the joy of scientific discovery with the public is a key part of many space endeavors. NASAs Eyes on the Solar System computer program allows users to see space as it is observed by NASA satellites and probes. Some efforts rely on public participation, such as the Planet Hunters game, which allows anyone on the Internet to help search for planets around other stars by analyzing data collected by the Kepler Space Telescope. In September 2011, NASA announced that gamers had identified two previously undiscovered planets.
From their location high above the Earths surface, satellites can provide a global perspective on changes in the world around us. In 2011, the Aqua satellite monitored the record-breaking heat wave in the United States, CryoSat created a detailed map of ice near the poles, and the SAC-D/Aquarius satellite provided comprehensive data on the salinity of the worlds oceans. When Japan was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, more than 63 satellite observations were made in the first 48 hours following the event, facilitating more timely and effective disaster relief efforts. The value of such capabilities is immense and is one of the major reasons that countries around the world invest in space systems.
2.0 The Space Economy
The space economy increased in size for the sixth year in a row, growing at a faster rate than in previous years, likely due to improving conditions in some sectors of the broader global economy. The space economy grew by 12 percent in 2011, reaching an estimated total of $289.77 billion. As in past years, the majority of this growth resulted from commercial success rather than increases in government spending.
The space economys strength was evident as commercial infrastructure and support industries grew at an impressive rate of 22 percent in 2011, reaching a total of $106.46 billion. The vast majority of the nearly $19 billion increase is attributable to growth in ground stations and equipment, including personal navigation devices and chipsets, which added more than $18 billion in value during the year.
Commercial space products and services remain the largest part of the space economy, growing to $110.53 billion in 2011, 9 percent more than 2010. Most of the nearly $9 billion increase occurred in the direct-to-home (DTH) broadcasting sector, which added more than $7 billion in value.
The commercial space transportation services sector, consisting of companies such as Space Adventures and Virgin Galactic, remained relatively static in terms of revenue because no commercial human spaceflights occurred in 2011, although companies continued to collect deposits for future flights. A number of flight tests are scheduled to occur in 2012, indicating the possibility of growth in the near future as new services begin to carry passengers into space.
Globally, government spending on space increased even though its percentage of the overall space economy declined to 25 percent in 2011 from 27 percent in 2010. The aggregate growth rate for government space budgets was 6 percent, bringing spending to $72.77 billion in 2011. The governments of Brazil, India, and Russia all increased their space budgets by more than 20 percent. Some space agencies experienced more modest growth, as was the case for the European Space Agency (ESA), whose budget increased by 7 percent in spite of the ongoing fiscal problems in some of its member states. Space agencies in other nations, such as the United States and Japan, operated under flat or diminished budgets. Spending in the United States on government space projects was $47.25 billion in 2011, a decline of less than 1 percent from the amount spent in 2010.
The Space Foundation Indexes, which measure the performance of space-related companies on U.S. stock exchanges, demonstrated investor confidence in the health of the industry. In a year notable for its market swings, the Space Foundation Indexes grew at rates of 4 percent to 7 percent in 2011, outperforming both the NASDAQ and the S&P 500. The number of mergers and acquisitions in the space sector grew by 14 percent in 2011 and the median value of deals increased by 60 percent. Most of these transactions were funded by cash reserves and other assets, as companies and investors decided to use their strong financial position to add to their business portfolios, positioning themselves for future growth.
3.0 Space Infrastructure
Orbital launch activity increased by 14 percent in 2011, rising to 84 launches from a total of 74 in 2010. Russia conducted the most launches, with a total of 31. China followed with a total of 19 launches, outpacing the United States for the first time in history. While the U.S. total of 18 successful launches was not the highest, it contained the greatest launch vehicle diversity, with eight different types of orbital rockets. One of these vehicles, the Space Shuttle, landed for the final time on July 21, 2011, ending the Space Shuttle Program after three decades of flights. With the shuttles retirement, astronauts traveling to the space station will rely solely upon the Russian Soyuz until a new launch vehicle becomes available, whether it is NASAs Space Launch System or an alternative provided by a commercial company.
Two major developments were underway in 2011 at the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, in addition to the usual launches of Europes Ariane 5 rocket. Efforts to enable the launch of Russias Soyuz rocket from the facility were completed in 2011, with two successful launches taking place during the year. ESA also prepared for the first flight of its new Vega rocket, which took place in February 2012.
Spaceport infrastructure in the United States is in transition as NASA makes changes at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to accommodate new launch systems in the post-shuttle era. Construction continued on new and upgraded facilities at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia, and Spaceport America in New Mexico. China and Russia also continued development of new spaceports during 2011.
At the end of 2011, there were an estimated 994 active satellites in orbit around the Earth. The broadcasting industry is a huge driver of demand for communications satellites, largely due to global growth in the number of high-definition television channels, which require more bandwidth than their standard-definition counterparts. Consumer broadband Internet service is also seen as an area with potential for growth, particularly in regions where the installation of terrestrial infrastructure is impractical.
Development of observatories and robotic exploration systems continued in 2011, with plans for several observatories with capabilities that will exceed those of existing telescopes. In July 2011, Russia launched a radio telescope called Spektr-R, marking the return of the Russian space program to scientific missions after a hiatus of several years. As with many scientific missions, other countries will participate in the research, in this instance by providing ground-based observations that can be combined with those from Spektr-R to produce images with even greater detail and clarity.
4.0 Workforce and Education
For the fourth straight year, the U.S. civil and commercial space workforce continued to shrink. Nearly 8,000 jobs were lost in 2010, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, resulting in a workforce of approximately 252,000 people. This was the second-lowest employment level recorded during the previous 10 years. The trend of job losses is likely to continue once data is available for 2011, due to layoffs associated with the end of the Space Shuttle Program. As of July 2011, when the last shuttle flight took place, the number of employees associated with the program had dropped to 6,000 from a high of 32,000 during the 1990s. Even as U.S. space employment decreased, average annual salaries for these workers reached a new high as they earned 15 percent more than the average salary for the 10 STEM careers that employ the largest number of people in the United States. In contrast to the declining employment in civil and private space sectors, the U.S. military space workforce increased by 6 percent over a two-year period, rising from 15,791 in 2009 to 16,739 in 2011.
While the overall number of space employees decreased in the United States, employment increased in other parts of the world, especially Europe. European space employment surged 9 percent in 2010, the last year for which data is available. The European space workforce has expanded by 20 percent over five years, reaching a total of more than 34,000 in 2010. France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Spain accounted for 85 percent of these jobs, reflecting their status as the European nations with the largest populations and economies.
As of 2010, the Japanese space industry workforce consisted of nearly 6,900 employees, an 8 percent increase from 2009. The 2010 employment level was the second-highest recorded for Japan during the previous 10 years. The South Korean space workforce consisted of approximately 2,900 people employed by industry, research institutions, and universities in 2009, according to the most recent data gathered by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI). While this represents a 4 percent drop from 2008, the workforce has experienced a net increase of 22 percent from 2006 to 2009. The vast majority of these new employees were added by the private sector, as the number of South Korean space-related companies tripled from 19 in 2000 to 57 in 2009.
STEM achievement in primary and secondary schools is an indicator of how well the United States is ensuring that students are prepared to pursue STEM degrees, enabling them to enter the space workforce. It is likely that there will be demand for these skills, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted growth in the number of professionals in several U.S. space-related occupations, including aerospace engineers, astronomers, and atmospheric scientists. The U.S. National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that 34 percent of U.S. fourth-grade students and 30 percent of eighth-grade students performed at or above the proficient level on the science test in 2009. In the field of mathematics, 40 percent of fourth-grade students and 35 percent of eighth-grade students scored at proficient or higher levels, an improvement over past years. The Programme for International Student Assessment evaluation, which tests proficiency among 15-year old students, shows that many nations active in space, including South Korea, Canada, Germany, and the United States, achieved above-average scores in mathematics or science.
As veteran space workers begin to retire around the world, the training of new employees in critical STEM fields has become a focus for governments and industry leaders. China is the leading producer of STEM bachelors-equivalent university graduates, doubling the number of graduating students between 2002 and 2006. The number of STEM graduates in other spacefaring nations also grew, but not as quickly. Similar trends are visible in space-related academic publications, which are still dominated by established spacefaring countries but are witnessing rapid growth by emerging nations and regions.
For centuries, humans have looked to space and dreamed of its possibilities. Some of those dreams have become realities, and others provide the motivation for ambitious efforts to push the boundaries of what is achievable. One of those dreams is to expand the human sphere of influence and derive benefits from a greater presence in space. Partner nations in the International Space Station are eager to reap rewards from the stations completion and the corresponding transition from construction to research. Governments in most major spacefaring nations devoted time and energy in 2011 to planning the future of human spaceflight, determining the best way to direct their efforts while recognizing that there are insufficient funds for everything they may wish to undertake. This has led to decisions such as the cancellation of Russias Rus-M rocket program, which had been intended to carry a next-generation human spaceflight capsule. While development of the capsule will continue, it will likely be launched by an existing rocket.
Budgetary concerns also extend beyond the realm of human spaceflight. In the midst of a sluggish economic climate and uncertain prospects for future growth, some governments are cutting future spending to control their total budgets. These cuts can have serious consequences if they affect critical capabilities such as weather forecasting, as may happen due to programmatic delays and reduced funding for U.S. weather satellite development. Uncertainty regarding the prospects for funding requires a rethinking of processes and programs, often leading to increased multinational collaboration. Outside of government, budget cuts affect industry plans and profits but may also stimulate innovative new approaches in government-industry relations. One outcome is the increasing interest in hosted payload arrangements, in which a sensor, instrument, or other payload owned by one organization is placed aboard a satellite operated by a different entity.
Governments increasingly see a need for formal space policies to provide a framework for coordination and integration of activities. In the absence of clear and effective space policy, government space activities are likely to develop in a manner that may prove challenging to sustain over the long term. Some policy documents, such as one published by the European Commission in April 2011, are intended to define why space activity is worthwhile, what the main space priorities are, and how space activity will benefit the public. Other government planning documents, such as ESAs Cosmic Vision 20152025, provide a framework for decisions about future science missions. Among the space agencies planning missions for launch in 2013 or 2014, NASA expects to send probes to orbit the Moon and Mars; ESA anticipates launching a mission to make a three-dimensional map of the galaxy; and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) plans to send a probe to study an asteroid. Further missions are planned for launch throughout the coming decade to study the Sun, other planets and their moons, and a host of deep-space and astronomical phenomena. With countless options for exploration and discovery, and with new technology developments that spur growth in the global space economy, the space sector is expected to remain vibrant and productive.
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