Anielle Guedes (Senior Research Analyst, IDC’s European Customer Insights & Analysis)
Anielle Guedes (Senior Research Analyst, IDC’s EMEA Cross-Industry Research lead in the Industry Insights Group)

The space economy has undergone a transformative evolution in the past two decades. The entry of private companies into the industry has created new avenues for business in Earth’s orbit and beyond.

This journey began with the milestone 2004 commercial spaceflight of Scaled Composites’ SpaceShipOne, funded by the Ansari XPrize, which showcased the viability of privately-funded space travel. The success laid the groundwork for pioneers like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and others to venture into commercial endeavors that span space exploration, satellite launches, crewed missions, and more.

Widely recognized examples — such as the GPS technology that shapes our navigation systems and the satellites that enable television broadcasting to our homes — show space’s impact on our daily lives.

We note the acceleration of the space economy and are taking this opportunity to delve into ICT opportunities arising from space tech and research. There’s still a vast reservoir of untapped business potential within the space economy.

McKinsey has projected the market to reach a value of $1T by 2030,  doubling its 2022 size.

This unprecedented growth is concentrated on four subdomains:

Earth Observation Technologies: Space-derived technologies have become integral to Earth observation. They facilitate precise weather forecasting, disaster management, and environmental monitoring, optimizing routes, tracking assets, monitoring infrastructure and managing supply chains. Satellites equipped with advanced ICT systems capture invaluable data, empowering diverse sectors.

In precision agriculture, satellite data is used to optimize crop yields by monitoring factors such as soil moisture levels and crop health. This data enables farmers to make informed decisions about irrigation, fertilization, and pest control, ultimately increasing productivity and reducing resource usage.

In disaster management, satellites provide real-time situational awareness during crises such as hurricanes, wildfires, and floods. By monitoring changes in weather patterns and surface conditions, authorities can effectively plan and coordinate emergency response efforts, minimizing damage and saving lives.

Companies like Maxar Technologies provide satellite imagery and analytics platforms that support industries in monitoring aspects of Earth. Airbus Defense and Space collaborates with Maxar Technologies to enhance global imaging capabilities through satellite projects. The World Bank utilizes Maxar’s expertise in satellite imagery for disaster risk management and infrastructure planning. Mining giants like Rio Tinto rely on Maxar’s solutions to optimize exploration and monitor environmental impacts.

Communication Satellites and Global Connectivity: Constellations of small satellites in low Earth orbit are transforming telecommunications. These satellites promise faster internet speeds and lower latency, disrupting traditional satellite systems and terrestrial ISPs alike.

The mesh network architecture of Starlink facilitates seamless communication between satellites and ground stations, ensuring high-speed internet access even in remote areas like the Amazon rainforest that lack technical infrastructure.

This innovative approach enhances connectivity for individuals and businesses and opens new opportunities for telecommunication providers, content providers, and ecommerce platforms to expand their outreach and services globally. Starlink’s impact spreads across industries.

For Carnival Cruise Line, Starlink facilitates crew connectivity with loved ones while enhancing guest experiences and operational functions on its world-class cruises. Brightline, a transportation company, credits Starlink for revolutionizing train connectivity, providing reliable connectivity for guests and invigorating excitement among train enthusiasts. In the education sector, Chilean school districts have experienced a significant upgrade in connectivity, with Starlink empowering teachers and students with robust and efficient high-speed internet.

Telemedicine from Space: The convergence of space technology and healthcare has sparked significant innovations in telemedicine, leveraging robotic telepresence systems for remote specialist consultations and surgeries.

Drawing inspiration from space mission requirements for remote task execution, these systems enable healthcare providers to deliver care to patients in remote or underserved areas, transcending geographical barriers. The integration of space-derived technologies into healthcare holds the potential to revolutionize patient care, address healthcare disparities, and optimize clinical outcomes.

Companies like Intuitive Surgical have been instrumental in advancing robotic surgical systems, as exemplified by the da Vinci Surgical System. This technology has significantly improved minimally invasive surgeries by enhancing precision and control.

Intuitive’s Single-Site technology, designed for specific procedures, aims to minimize scarring and enhance patient satisfaction. Intuitive’s robotic platforms utilize high-precision imaging and visualization technologies, including high-definition 3D vision and magnification capabilities. These contribute to improved surgical precision and better outcomes for patients.

Space Robotics and Automation: Specialized robots are being designed and developed for space exploration, satellite servicing, and tasks in harsh space environments. These robots handle assembly, maintenance, repair, and exploration missions, operated remotely from Earth or autonomously. Their crucial role in advancing space exploration makes them indispensable for future missions and scientific discoveries.

Honeybee Robotics leads the fusion of space robotics with terrestrial applications, revolutionizing industries spanning mining, energy, infrastructure inspection, and agriculture. Leveraging space-derived technologies, the company develops autonomous systems that enhance efficiency and safety across diverse sectors.

In mining, robotic drilling systems and sampling tools facilitate exploration and resource extraction in remote or hazardous environments, boosting productivity while minimizing operational risks. In agriculture, robotic systems streamline tasks such as soil sampling, crop monitoring, and harvesting, optimizing practices and bolstering yields.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) harnesses Honeybee Robotics’ robotic platforms to inspect and maintain critical infrastructure, including natural gas pipelines and electrical transmission lines. These solutions empower PG&E to conduct remote inspections, detect anomalies, and execute maintenance tasks with greater efficiency and safety.

Honeybee Robotics works with agricultural equipment manufacturers like John Deere to explore the integration of robotic technologies into farming equipment, providing farmers with innovative solutions for precision farming and crop management.

Life in Space: The Role of ICT

If we take some research applications and look into future business opportunities, shaping life in space is the way to go. During mission planning, technology tools assist in trajectory optimization, resource allocation, and risk management, ensuring efficient utilization of resources and the achievement of mission objectives in the unforgiving space environment.

From an operational perspective, tech enables real-time monitoring and control of spacecraft systems, as well as communication between ground control centers and astronauts aboard spacecraft.

Looking even further into the future, there is immense potential for ICT technologies to support extraterrestrial activities, such as mining on Mars or the Moon, where advanced robotics, AI, and data analytics will be essential for resource extraction and colonization.

As we wrap up this dive into ICT opportunities within the space economy, it’s evident we’ve only skimmed the surface. From telecommunications to healthcare, space tech is reshaping industries, offering countless business prospects.

The space economy not only fuels tech advancement and scientific collaboration but also equips businesses with cutting-edge solutions, tested in real-world conditions. By embracing space-derived tech like satellite imaging and remote sensing, industries boost efficiency, optimize resources, and make crucial decisions more effectively.

The convergence of space tech with various sectors highlights the need for a robust tech ecosystem and interconnectivity. This fusion drives demand for key ICT technologies, including data analytics, telecommunications, cloud computing, AI, and robotics.

Data analytics, powered by satellites, aids precision agriculture and disaster management. Telecom innovations, such as small satellite constellations, expand global connectivity. Cloud computing processes vast data sets from satellite imagery, fostering innovation. AI analyzes satellite data for resource optimization and urban planning. AI-driven robotics perform tasks autonomously, from infrastructure inspections to surgical procedures.

Industry collaboration, R&D investment, and further implementation of space tech applications will unlock new markets, drive innovation, and propel growth for the entire technology sector.

As we dive deeper into our space economy research, we want to hear success stories and lessons learned from early adopters. If you want to join the conversation, please contact me

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