The Space Foundation (https://www.spacefoundation.org/) is a not-for-profit organisation that needs no presentation in the space community. As organiser of the annual Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, it has been host to countless speakers and participants from all over the world.
I met Elliot Holokauahi Pulham (http://www.holokauahi.com/) at his office in Colorado Springs. He gave me a brief overview of the organisation’s main areas of activity which, in addition to the highly successful Space Symposium, include research and analysis on the economics of space industry and space policy, policy advice and mediation, as well as STEM education advocacy and programmes.
Mr Pulham pointed out that Low Earth Orbit is becoming largely commercial. The US is ahead of the game because there is massive private capital available and growing expectations of returns on investments. There is also (perhaps more conservative for now) capital in Europe and elsewhere and other countries will follow. The fact that companies like Planetary Resources is in Luxembourg shows that there are means for the industry to thrive in Europe.
Market can sustain commercial space in LEO. There are products and services that government provide today that can be more effectively provided by the private sector. For example, government does not longer need to provide weather data, commercial suppliers can do that. In return, there are big challenges like exploration beyond LEO and energy technologies where government investment is still necessary. Space commercial development is not about spending less, but spending differently.
Mr Pulham sees highly sensitive issues that will have an impact on commercial space development that governments need to turn they attention to. Space traffic management and stewardship of the space environment is one example. Tracking and cataloguing debris is part of it but not enough. It is necessary to establish a space traffic management system, like it exists for air traffic. This is an immediate big challenge. International norms and the code of conduct are good starting points. However, it is necessary to do something that “has more teeth”.
Three years ago most people in industry did not want to hear about this, but this has changed and a consensus is emerging at an international level. Spacecraft must be easily tracked and they must have the possibility to manoeuver in space. It is necessary to identify which orbits should or shouldn’t be used to limit the risk of collision.
In Mr Pulham’s opinion, presently, the real disruption of global market is that different governments have different ideas of what “subsidizing” a launch vehicle means. There are many launchers in the market that are not economically viable, which exist because they are being subsidized. This creates a disincentive for innovation and real competition. However, demand for heavy launcher systems will continue to exist alongside small launchers. The most commercially successful ones will be those that can prove to be available, reliable, cost-effective and trouble-free.
Mr Pulham believes that the driver for further commercial space development is the fact that people have become very dependent on space. Data as well as services and devices that run on data will drive the market.
Mr Pulham sees an excitement about space today that we have not seen in the last twenty years, driven mainly by commercial space initiatives.
The Space Foundation international projection does not cease to grow. Mr Pulham told me about plans to set up an office in Europe. The big question is “where?”.