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Commercialisation of Space - A lucrative domain

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By Suman Chowdhury

T
he space sector includes all public and private actors primarily involved in the provision of space-enabled products and services. These sectors work effectively in a value-adding chain beginning from the manufacturers of space hardware (e.g. launch vehicles, satellites, earth stations) to the providers of space-enabled products (e.g. GPS-based car navigation systems), and services (e.g. satellite-based services or direct to home video services) to final users.

Space commercialisation refers to efforts on the part of governments and companies to use the space environment to (i) make better and less expensive products for sale on Earth, as well as for use in space; and (ii) perform space related services, such as satellite construction and launching.

Space was initially explored by United States and the former Soviet Union. However, after the 1980s and the end of cold war era saw the active involvement of European Space Agency (ESA) and the developing countries namely, India, China, Brazil, Israel and Pakistan.

Over the years, the range of civilian space applications has increased significantly. The main commercial space applications that dominate the space business at present are communication broadcasting, remote sensing and satellite navigation.

There has also been a pronounced increase in the space commercialisation, as multi-national companies have expanded their business activities in transportation and launching services, communication satellites, and remote sensing.

Today’s commercial space industry is a more profitable business venture. From 1965, when the Early Bird satellite (also known as Intelsat I, a commercial communications satellite) was successfully launched, till now, the commercial space industry have grown and profited to an impressive degree.

The present structure in the global commercial space market is indeed a promising scenario. The overall revenue from commercial space activities in 2005 was estimated to be USD 110 billions, of which USD 80 billion has been taken by satellite services industry. In 2009 and 2010, amidst a widespread international economic crisis the space industry proved resilient and demonstrated growth and expansion.
According to a report by the Space Foundation of USA published in 2010, the estimated space industry revenue and government budgets have increased by 7%, to USD 261.61 billion. This amounts to 40% growth during the previous five years for the global space economy. Commercial satellite services have also increased by 8%, reaching an estimated market value of USD 90.58 billion during 2009 and representing 35% of the space economy. Space infrastructure, which comprises spacecraft manufacturing, launch services, in-space platforms, and ground equipment, which constitutes the second-largest segment, has accounted for USD 83.63 billion, or 32% of the total market value.

The 2009 financial data thus highlights the stupendous growth in commercial sector with all due credits to the investments done in the space industry. Space is thus attracting huge attention from space-faring nations around the world with higher spending on military-based space applications and other programmes such as satellite telecommunications.

In India, the onset of commercial space activities was a bit different with more focus on accelerating the country’s socio-economic development. In the 1970s, ISRO initiated a technology transfer programme which was immensely successful as it involved the participation of Indian industry in the manufacturing of various products and services for national space projects. Later in 1992, Govt of India established the Antrix Corporation (the commercial arm of ISRO under the Department of Space) to escalate the growth of commercialisation in the Indian space activities.

Today, ISRO is successfully moving ahead in this venture with significant support from Antrix. ISRO products are being accepted in the world market. The striving growth rate of Indian economy is also providing more opportunities to foray in this dimension of space activities. But, Indian space agency will have to play a more crucial role to prove its mettle in the global scene in the years to come.

Finally, Space sector is now seen as more than just a research lab for the scientific and engineering elite. They see it now as a place best suited for economic development, and an industrial park of an unfathomable size. The future of global space activities looks diverse and bright which will solidify the role of commercial space and expand the global reach of the industry.

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Space  Commerce  
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