Space and early-stage companies

No, I’m not talking about Elon Musk’s deep desire to travel to Mars (or Boeing’s apparently deep desire to beat him there), although I’m keenly watching to see whether we’re going to see a re-enactment of The Martian in my lifespan.

My interest lies in the terrestrial use of space technology – a particular pertinent question to RIG, given one our clients is a cross-over from the space industry, transitioning from a particularly specialised application into a wide variety of terrestrial uses.

When people talk about the cost of space research and how the money could be spent better solving problems on Earth, I often find myself scratching my head – not only is a huge amount of the research applied terrestrially, it’s also quite a significant revenue generator. Space is worth approximately £11.3 billion to the UK economy, with plans to see this value expand to around £40 billion over the next 20 years. It’s currently allocated £370.5 million. In the US, for every dollar spent on space the US economy receives about $8 worth of economic benefit.

As to solving problems on Earth: everything from CAT scanners to LED lighting to solar energy can trace their beginnings to space-led research. Sworn at your smoke detector recently? You can blame NASA for that one.

More recent use of space technology has been led by both large and small companies – a research project in the UK is currently assessing the use of Sentinel 1 radar data to study crop growth. Space algae is being used to fight malnutrition in Congo, software is being used to drive down costs for offshore oil and gas, and sensors are being developed to track the Earth’s atmosphere.

From our own experience, we’ve found that there’s a vast array of potential applications for technology that can be ‘crossed over’ – there’s a lot of excitement in the office around advanced materials at the moment.

Given the return on investment seen and the technology that emerges from it, I find that my real question can’t be ‘why are we spending money on space’ – it’s ‘why aren’t we spending more?’