Last month saw the release of Inmarsat’s report on how the general consumer perceives the space industry and human activity in orbit and Outerspace. Twenty thousand people took the survey from 11 countries, and the topics covered range from general associations with Space and the fears and hopes they have for our activity in the space domain. In this article, we will take a closer look at some finer details included in the report and how we think the space industry can apply this information to better serve the consumer and the space industry itself.
According to the report “What on earth is the value of space”, only a quarter of the public (23 per cent) said they feel space exploration is ‘important’. Almost half (46 per cent) consider satellites when thinking of Space, while 37% cent thinks of expeditions to the Moon and Mars, 21% think of aliens, and almost 1 in 10 think of Star Wars. Fewer than 1 in 10 people globally think of communications and connectivity.
These statistics highlight that the general population doesn’t fully understand the value of the space industry for its primary use cases, which could explain why only a quarter feel that space exploration is essential. Big names in the industry, such as SpaceX and OneWeb, have started to become somewhat household names, but the wider industry is lacking from popular opinion. This shortfall of parity between the industry and the consumer could be a significant barrier to adopting satellite communications and space services.
In the current climate, global communities are united in their fear of unsustainable practices in Space. Most concerning is that 97% of the population believes Space is a threat. Space junk and collisions were at the top of the threat list (47%), pollution (39%) and damage to the atmosphere (35%) followed. For the industry to have a future, it must listen to these concerns and adapt.
One thing that appears to get missed is generating a broad consensus on what humanity’s future in Outerspace looks like from the wider population’s point of view. At the minute, decisions are being made about the future of humans in Space without any actual representation. Large companies or countries make it without any reference to others. And why would they? They have the ideas and can make them a reality, and the international treaties tell them they can, so they’re going ahead.
Here at Holt Executive, we’re massive supporters of a global system for rating the sustainability and transparency of a company’s operations in Space. This year, the World Economic Forum put forward the Space Sustainability Rating, a great idea. However, for it to succeed, it needs to be simple to understand. That means it has to be easy to explain and relevant. One of our repeated mistakes is that the space industry talks only to itself. Its rules and governance are internal to the industry, which works to an extent, but we need to get to policymakers. We need to get to the heart of governments. We need ultimately to make Space an issue that voters will be interested in and engage with.
An example would be the energy ratings for household appliances. You go into a shop, and you buy a washing machine. You have the ABCDE rating on the side. You can see what this machine is from an efficiency and environmental point of view. There are weaknesses and criticisms of this system, but it’s readily understandable and makes it accessible.
That’s where we need to go with any sustainability rating. It should take into account the overall sustainability factors of a space organisation. You can see whether your provider is going with ethical launch practices, or is it launching from a place that uses environmentally sustainable measures? Anything which puts pressure on the industry to act responsibly that can be translated into votes and eventual policy is how we will ultimately become stewards of the space domain rather than threats.
The space industry now has to look outwards. It can’t look inwards anymore because it’s competing in a dynamic, technological field. There’s AI, Cyber developments and biotech, all of which have become prominent over the last few years. Space needs to keep relevant and on the public mind. However, this is where we have a dichotomy because, in one sense, we like the big spectacular missions. Still, these only serve to distance the space industry from individuals, reinforcing the belief that it can’t be for them and it’s not theirs.
International buy-in is essential to the longevity of the space industry, but that comes from a groundswell of popular opinion. It is getting everybody to understand what Space is involved with, precisely what we’re doing now and will be doing in the future. If the general consumer has a vision for how humanity conducts itself in extraterrestrial domains, these can become talking points for policymakers, elected officials and international bodies. For this to happen, we have to get some consensus or start to build a consensus among everybody in all nations, understanding a shared value for space exploration. Something of this nature would be a great starting point for solving the clear knowledge gap that the public has for the space industry, along with the regulatory issues that are struggling to keep hold of sustainable practice in orbit and Outerspace.
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