Cover: Future Uses of Space Out to 2050

Future Uses of Space Out to 2050

Emerging threats and opportunities for the UK National Space Strategy

Published Mar 2, 2022

by James Black, Linda Slapakova, Kevin Martin

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Research Questions

  1. How will the way we use space change out to 2050?
  2. Who will the key space actors be?
  3. How well-placed is the UK to address future changes?

Recent years have witnessed major changes in how humans are utilising space. Access to and use of space has become essential to modern digital society and many aspects of everyday life. The number of space-related activities conducted by government, military and commercial actors around the world is increasing. This second 'space race', brings both threats and opportunities to the UK's economy, security, interests, values and way of life.

To help the UK navigate this landscape of threats and opportunities, RAND conducted a study for the UK Space Agency to explore the variety of possible future uses of space out to 2050, as well as to identify potential 'game-changers' and the implications for the UK space sector. The research explored how the way we use space will change, who the key space actors will be, and how well-placed the UK is to address these future trends in the space economy.

The research found that the development of new space markets and use cases out to 2050 may render the space sector increasingly inseparable from the wider economy. This is based on projections for the future of space that reflect the increasingly multi-stakeholder nature of the space economy and the growing integration of space-based and terrestrial activities. Significant change is expected both in the upstream segment—activities related to sending spacecraft and satellites into space—and downstream segment—activities using space data to offer products, services and ground segment applications—of the space economy.

Key Findings

The space economy is a broad ecosystem of space-based and terrestrial markets and activities.

  • Projections for the future of space reflect the multi-stakeholder nature of the space economy and the growing integration of space-based and terrestrial activities. Significant change is expected both in the upstream segment—activities related to sending spacecraft and satellites into space—and downstream segment—activities using space data to offer products, services and ground segment applications—of the space economy.

Out to 2050, the upstream segment may experience both incremental and transformative change.

  • Key developments include development, adoption and adaptation of new and emerging technologies, evolving concepts for space flight and operations, and the application of new design and manufacturing techniques, including 'Industry 4.0'.

Future downstream markets could encompass a variety of space, hybrid and terrestrial activities and end users.

We identified around 200 potential use cases and organised these into 15 clusters:

  • Agriculture
  • Climate and environmental protection
  • Energy
  • Construction, repair and engineering
  • Extractive industries
  • Tourism, culture and entertainment
  • Defence, security and safety
  • Finance and commerce
  • Health, medicine and pharmaceuticals
  • Illicit activities
  • Logistics
  • Manufacturing
  • Science, research and education
  • Telecommunications
  • Transport

Various socio-technological enablers and barriers could affect the evolution of upstream and downstream space markets up to 2050.

  • Important enablers include technological innovation, falling launch costs and commercialisation. Conversely, regulatory and socio-cultural factors represent prominent barriers for the future development of the space economy.

Development of new markets and use cases may render the space sector increasingly inseparable from the wider economy by 2050.

Recommendations

To help ensure a more 'future proof' space strategy, there is a need for the UK to:

  • Consider the increasing convergence between space and all other sectors of the wider economy, as well as the merging between multiple technologies, markets and use cases.
  • Work with partners and allies to foster a deeper understanding of competition and collaboration in space and maximise influence over the future direction of an increasingly 'congested, contested and competitive' space domain.
  • Deepen understanding of the UK's unique strengths and 'value proposition' as a potential partner for other government, military, commercial and civil actors in space.
  • Continuously foster innovation and the capacity of space-related organisations to leverage new concepts or technologies that may increase the agility, adaptability, competitiveness and resilience of the UK space sector.

Research conducted by

This research was commissioned by the UK Space Agency and conducted by RAND Europe.

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