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Americans Want Space Businesses to Improve Life on Earth

By | October 19, 2017
      The crew of Expedition 44 observes Flag Day in the U.S. in the ISS' Cupola. Photo: NASA.

      The crew of Expedition 44 observes Flag Day in the U.S. in the ISS’ Cupola. Photo: NASA.

      Americans want private companies to seize opportunities in space — but they also want that to translate into better life on Earth, according to a survey released by the Brodeur Partners’ Space Group.

      The poll, which surveyed the opinions of 600 Americans, found that most still view space technology through the lens of defense and national security. “But we also found that there is support for commercial activity in space, even government funding for that activity, if those businesses are reasonably regulated and can demonstrate benefits on Earth,” said Jerry Johnston, the author of the study.

      While, historically, space has been a government activity, Americans today actually prefer private over government investment in space-based activities. According to the survey, a majority of Americans support government financial incentives for those private space companies.

      At the same time, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Americans believe that government investments should be in those space programs that have an immediate benefit to life on Earth.

      The survey also found that space tourism needs to make the case that it will benefit the majority of the population: 75 percent of Americans agree that space travel will only benefit a few wealthy people. Support is also tepid for government investment in deep-space exploration: less than a majority (46 percent) of Americans support spending government money to send a mission to Mars.

      The industry expects the skies will soon be filled with small satellites capturing increasingly detailed data about activities on Earth. Americans are wary of the privacy implications: strong majorities believe there should be privacy limitations on satellite companies capturing this data (72 percent), and government should have a regulatory role regarding private companies engaged in space enterprises (61 percent).

      Space-based systems operators promise to improve life on Earth in a variety of ways, including communications, climate, navigation and crop monitoring. According to Brodeur, none was more important to the respondents than defense, the clear priority among seven services mentioned. At the same time, the survey suggests that people may not realize the important role that space commerce plays in everyday activity like GPS and navigation systems.

      A solid majority of Americans surveyed believe the U.S. is a leader in space technology, with more than one-third of Americans saying the country is the “the clear global leader.” Fewer consider the U.S. the clear leader in medical technology, energy, automotive and environmental technology.

      “This new data reveals a tricky communications challenge for the entrepreneurial space industry,” said John Brodeur, chairman of Brodeur Partners, who is leading the Brodeur Space Group. “Although enthusiasm for entrepreneurship in space is high, companies will need to clearly articulate their concern for privacy, their worthiness of financial incentives, and their relevance to life on Earth.”