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50 Years Ahead: Global Space Agencies as Facilitators

By | April 10, 2019

Space Agency Leaders panel at Space Symposium. Photo: Annamarie Nyirady

Where will the space industry be in 50 years’ time? Global space agency leaders from 10 of the largest space-faring nations gathered at the 35th Nation Space Symposium in Colorado Springs on a panel to speculate on the changing role of space agencies, how they can facilitate technological developments from private industry, organize projects, and play a more active role in STEM education.

European Space Agency (ESA) Director General Johann-Dietrich Woerner moderated the panel, and primed the discussion by explaining the different phases of the industry. He explained that we are currently in “Space 3.0,” but are quickly heading into “Space 4.0” — meaning a shift in paradigms. We are not only seeing a proliferation of space agencies, but academia and private industry pursuing their own space missions.

U.K. Space Agency CEO Graham Turnock believes that three things will change significantly: regulation, exploration, and government technological investment. He offers an interesting view in saying that “government will be less involved — there is a period of big investment from government right now, this may peak and then decline in a 50-year period.”

Netherlands Space Officer (NSO) Deputy Director Nico van Putten explained how he sees the scene changing dramatically. Telecom, navigation, and Earth Observation (EO) operations will become more commercialized, as private industry plays a bigger role. He sees smaller companies facilitating “tech development on the lower tier levels,” while bigger agencies like the ESA act as a facilitator —weaving these tech developments into bigger projects.

Some space agencies don’t see themselves as a direct player in operation – but instead, an institution which promotes growth and builds relationships. Portugal Space President Chiara Manfletti sees the blossoming agency as “a promoter, building bridges between the various elements of the space sector.” Additionally, Canada sees themselves as a motivator. Canadian Space Agency President Sylvain Laporte, adds that “our role is to help grow the [space] industry — to help researchers and make sure they’re competitive and globally recognized for their work … We will become an integrator to help bring different parties together to develop solutions. Our role is a motivator — to enable those things to happen.”

United Arab Emirates (UAE) Space Agency General Director Mohamed Nasser Al Ahbabi carries a similar sentiment. “In the future, our space agencies will have a less a role in terms of operation — but more in regulation, education, and facilitating space activities.” Al Ahbabi also believes that space will be a tool to inspire young people for a better future — and that space agencies will play a part in inspiring an education the next generation of space leaders.

This discussion on the role of civil space agencies will continue at SATELLITE 2019, during the event’s closing session on Tuesday, May 7, “Space Leaders Forum: Navigating the Fractured Geopolitical Landscape.” The panel features CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall, Cospas-Sarsat Chief Executive Steven Lett, ESA Director of Technology, Engineering and Quality Franco Ongaro, ILS President Kirk Pysher, and Turki bin Saud bin Mohammed Al-Saud, President, King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, and Member of the US-Saudi Arabian Business Council in a conversation about what’s at stake if the current geopolitical climate causes civil space agencies to lose their ability collaborate with international partners.