The commercial space economy is here –
and Canada has a central role to play in it.
MDA Space Missions is an international space mission partner and a robotics, satellite systems and geointelligence pioneer with a 50-year story of firsts on and above the Earth. Today, the Canadian company is leading the charge towards viable Moon colonies, enhanced Earth observation, communication in a hyper-connected world, and more.
Mike Greenley, CEO of MDA, met with Ontario Global 100 members to discuss how he leads Canada’s largest, space-focused company and the country’s long history in the space race. Mike compared today’s space discovery to the 1400’s, with the “laws of the sea” very much still in development, as space agencies from over 90 countries and private companies position themselves for galactic expansion. With the cost of rocket launches falling from $18,000 to about $3,000 today, and the prediction that they will fall to as little as $500 per launch, the space-based economy is very real, large and expanding
SPACE TO EARTH SERVICE
Closest to Earth – and the most commercialized – is the satellite sector focused on observation and data gathering. These satellites support activities on Earth, with some offering measurement and analysis up to the closest millimetre (yes, 1 mm!). This sector is pegged at $18 billion (USD) annually. With roughly 6,000 satellites currently orbiting the Earth, Mike predicts that number will jump to 30,000 by 2030, and by the mid 2030’s we’ll have 50,000 satellites fighting for space in space.
Space junk is a real issue; of the 6,000 satellites today, only half are considered active. With the increasing density, comes the burgeoning sector of management and maintenance of satellites. Work is underway that would allow for improvement to logistics and repositioning of satellites, as well as refueling, in situ, of these orbiting units.
LOW EARTH ORBIT NETWORKS
The low Earth orbit network of satellites has the sole focus of providing high-band width internet for communication needs on Earth. With the World Health Organization’s recent declaration that access to the internet is a human right, it will be this space-based network that delivers on that promise. This $15 billion sector is feeding the need for 5G, back haul, front haul and Internet of Things (IoT), with some large corporations already moving into proprietary space-based networks.
ON-ORBIT ASSEMBLY AND MANUFACTURING
At present, satellites are limited in size to the dimension of the nose cone of its rocket. On-orbit assembly envisions separate pieces of the satellite being sent to space where assembly takes place once in orbit. One step further is the possibility of manufacturing parts in space. The concept of anti-gravity manufacturing has shown significant improvements in fibre optic capacity and could have application for returning satellites to Earth.
In the coming years, space tourism is predicted to be a billion-dollar sector. Space travel will be offered by the hour or by day giving consumers the options of a few minutes in anti-gravity or a long trip to visit a space station. Construction is already underway for the first commercial space station (axiomspace.com).