Space Economy To Reach $1 Trillion By 2030; Odysseus’ Moon Landing Marks Commercialization of Space

When ‘Odysseus’ landed on the moon recently, it created a history of sorts. It was the first non-governmental moon lander. It also created the path for the commercialization of space.

While outer space has historically been the domain of governments, private companies and billionaires are taking a great interest in space for commercial exploitation. They offer launching capabilities, space-based services, and future space tourism possibilities.

Valued at around US$ 518.48 billion, the Space Economy is anticipated to reach US$ 1,110.84 billion by 2030.

In what marked a major milestone for commercial space exploration, a moon lander named ‘Odysseus’ landed in the south pole region of the moon at 6:23 p.m. US Eastern time on February 22. The uncrewed Odysseus was launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, carrying vital scientific instruments and technology for future lunar missions, paving the way for human exploration beyond Earth.

The Space Economy is not merely commercializing and growing but also transforming with the emergence of new actors in space, such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Intuitive Machines.

A majority of the Space Economy expansion has come from the mounting demand for satellite-based services. Companies, too, are increasingly dependent on space infrastructure. From distance communication, observation capabilities, surveillance applications, and global connectivity, reliance on satellite technology will rise exponentially.

Due to the increasing need for connectivity, Morgan Stanley expects that the emerging internet service provision market will hold the largest share of the Space Economy by 2040.

The spacecraft was built and flown by Texas-based Company Intuitive Machines. Intuitive Machines is an end-to-end space exploration company, and the Odysseus was the first privately developed spacecraft to land on the lunar surface.

Private space exploration refers to spaceflight developments that are not conducted by a government agency, such as USA’s NASA. Under a program known as Commercial Lunar Payload Services, or CLPS, Intuitive Machines is one of several small companies that NASA has hired to transport instruments that will perform reconnaissance on the moon’s surface ahead of the return of NASA astronauts there, planned for later this decade.

The launch took place in the early morning of February 15, 2024, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The liftoff went smoothly, and Odysseus started its journey as planned. A three-day window starting from February 14, 2024, was necessary for the Odysseus lander to reach its landing day target of February 22, 2024. The lander successfully transmitted its first IM-1 mission images to Earth on February 16, 2024.

NASA tweeted, “Your order was delivered… to the Moon! @Int_Machines’ uncrewed lunar lander landed at 6:23 pm ET (2323 UTC), bringing NASA science to the Moon’s surface. These instruments will prepare us for future human exploration of the Moon under #Artemis.”

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson announced during the livestream, “Today begins a new adventure in science, innovation, and American leadership in space. Today is a day that shows the power and promise of NASA’s commercial partnerships. Congratulations to everyone involved in this great endearing quest at Intuitive Machines, SpaceX, and right here at NASA.”

Intuitive Machines has made significant strides in lunar exploration. The company was founded in 2013 and has over 200 employees with a combined experience of more than 250 years in aerospace. They have three NASA Lunar Missions under their belt and are contracted for a fourth. Their IM-1 mission, spearheaded by their spacecraft, Nova-C, was the first United States spacecraft to land on the Moon since Apollo 17 in 1972. The company also provides lunar data services and has a validated lunar communications solution, Lunar Data Network (LDN), which supports near-space missions.

Intuitive Machines shared a photo of the moon taken by Odysseus and tweeted, “Goodnight, moon. Odysseus captured this image approximately 100,000km from the Moon using its Terrain Relative Navigation camera.” 

The robotic lander was the first U.S. vehicle on the moon since Apollo 17 in 1972. Although the spacecraft’s ability to properly communicate is still unclear, the moon landing has been a major boost for Intuitive Machines, causing their stock to rise significantly.

With NASA offering flight opportunities for commercial providers to utilize the International Space Station (ISS) as a destination for private astronaut missions, private space exploration has been gaining momentum.

Private space exploration involves the use of technology and astronomy to explore outer space, with funding coming from entities, mostly wealthy individuals other than government agencies.

The key player in the private space industry is Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), which has developed the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft.

Others are Orbital Sciences, which has developed the Cygnus spacecraft and Taurus 2 rocket, and Intuitive Machines, which has now become the first privately-developed spacecraft to land on the lunar surface. This could potentially pave the way for a larger commercial lunar economy revolutionizing the ‘final frontier.’

The Space Economy is set to expand exponentially, with more businesses using data gathered in space for operations. GEO satellite products and services are expected to dominate the market due to the growing need for long-distance communication and observation capabilities.

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Space technologies like reusable rockets, miniaturized satellites, and advanced propulsion systems have reduced the cost of missions. Developments in Artificial Intelligence combined with space technologies provide business and information models for government and private actors alike.

Last year, India’s nodal agency for allowing space activities and usage of the Department of Space-owned facilities by non-government private entities, the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe), unveiled a decadal vision and strategy for the Indian space economy.

Presently, the Indian Space Economy is valued at around ₹6,700 crore ($8.4 billion) with a 2% share in the global Space Economy but holds the potential to reach ₹35,200 crore ($44 billion) by 2033 with about 8% of the global share.

  • Vaishali Basu Sharma is a strategic and economic affairs analyst. She was in a consulting role with India’s National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) for nearly a decade. 
  • The author can be reached at postvaishali (at) gmail (dot) com.