Space Economy

You may have heard Mike Griffin or me mention the Space Economy in our speeches and wondered what it is and why we are talking about it.  

First, let’s start with the competitive context in which NASA now finds itself. When NASA was created almost fifty years ago, it was under the competitive context of the Space Race and Cold War. That threat no longer exists. Today, we find ourselves in a new competitive landscape that centers on the global economy. In this global environment, innovation and competitiveness become keys to economic growth and an improved quality of life.  

Because of NASA’s uniquely challenging mission, our scientists and engineers are  constantly pushing the technological envelope and the limits of knowledge — this leads to advances that not only break boundaries in space but on Earth as well. These advances in science, technology, manufacturing, services, materials and other fields and products have contributed to economic growth, broadened our knowledge of our world and the universe, and improved the quality of our lives in countless ways.    

The Space Economy provides a platform to discuss the full range of benefits and relevance that NASA provides in new and compelling ways. With this discussion, we will be better able to define and understand the critical role that NASA plays as a key driver of innovation and competitiveness for the Nation.  

Based on expert internal and external advice, we are defining the Space Economy as “the full range of activities and resources that create and provide value and benefits to human beings in the course of exploring, understanding, and utilizing space.”

Examples of these activities include:

  • Infrastructure — Space operations, suppliers, contractors
  • Applications — Global Positioning System (GPS), weather, climate, defense, imagery
  • Transactions — Finance, medicine, communications
  • Commerce — Tourism, services, logistical support

Through the Space Economy, we demonstrate that space is ubiquitous in our daily lives and enhances our well-being. It provides a broad context that captures the myriad benefits and services that are enabled by space-based activities and resources such as telemedicine, long-distance learning, GPS, satellite radio/DirecTV, bank card transactions, and many others that touch and improve our lives every day. It also enables a dialogue on the role of space to innovation in potentially transformative fields such as quantum computing, artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology and hydrogen fuel cells.  

We have seen an explosion in space investment from emerging economic powers such as India and China. The most visible expression of technical leadership is through a robust and successful space program.  The nations at the top of that technical pyramid are positioned to successfully compete in the global economy. We must not be complacent in this new race for technical leadership and cede our hard-won leadership position. The Space Economy will provide a vital means of measuring, understanding and expressing the significance of this new paradigm, our position in it and the relevance of our Nation’s space program to our global economic leadership.
NASA is undertaking efforts to better understand the Space Economy and how NASA’s work contributes to such activities as well as leverages from those activities in the conduct of NASA’s missions. We are participating in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)1. OECD is also conducting case studies that examine specific economic and societal areas that benefit from space-based resources and technologies. 

We also are looking at other means of defining and understanding the implications of space exploration on our society and economy. I believe it will become an important issue area for policymakers and analysts interested in the vital strategic interests supported by NASA’s capabilities.  I’ll provide updates as our work progresses.

1Global Forum on Space Economics that is conducting analysis of the Space Economy, including a recent publication of the report, “Space Economy at a Glance.”