Is the Space Industry Really Growing?

Is the Space Industry Really Growing?

Is the Spaceport Business Just a Bunch of Hype?

 

“…the commercial launch pie has not grown significantly during the past decade; instead, the slices of the pie have changed size.” FAA 2016 Space Flight Compendium

 

In 2015, there were a total of 86 orbital launches conducted by service providers in seven countries.
Just 20 launches were in the US.

 

"It's just not going to happen overnight -- well, in the course of humanity, it will be overnight, but in the course of a lifetime, it may take longer." Spaceport America, New Mexico CEO Christine Anderson

Executive Summary

The Bottom Line Answer to the question “Is Space Really a Growth Industry?” is NO for the foreseeable future. The projected launch growth through 2024 appears to be an almost zero-sum game in which some launches previously paid for mostly by the US Government are now being planned using private launch companies financed from government and private sources. Much of the 'New' business is really just older space launch systems being replaced by newer, cheaper systems from new sources. From the 2016 FAA Space Transportation Forecast Compendium Report: "…the commercial launch pie has not grown significantly during the past decade; instead, the slices of the pie have changed size.”

 

The sliding average of Commercial Space Launches over the 12 years of this study is 31 launches per year with the peak launch year in 2017. In 2015, only 20 US launches occured for Military, Civil and Commercial purposes. Based on the accuracy of the annual Commercial Space Forecasts, these low numbers are realistic, and any increase is likely to be modest as multiple payload manifests become more common. It will be very difficult for Spaceport Camden to support itself and to provide significant jobs, even if the spaceport site were ideal, if its success depends on space industry growth.

Spaceports, Spaceports, Everywhere a Spaceport

In additional to the 10 approved US Spaceports, active foreign spaceports are found in China, Russia, India, Japan, and French Guiana, and more are planned in Great Britian, United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Curacao and Sweden, among others. According to the linked CNN report of August 17,2015:

 

"Governments want spaceports as a source of prestige, jobs and to act as engines for technological development," notes Ostrove, an aerospace and defense analyst.

 

Whether there is or will ever be a market for them to survive, however, is another question.

 

"If the market for commercial space transportation grows substantially, there will be a huge demand for spaceports," he adds. "In that best case scenario, there will likely be at least a few spaceports on each continent."

 

Worst case scenario?  "If the market does not expand rapidly, or even fizzles totally, there will be almost no market at all for spaceports. We'll likely see somewhere in between."

US Space Industry Background

The space industry is impressive because its product is impressive: a 200 foot tall rocket, carrying tons of fuel, blasting off on a tower of flames, with the goal of placing a few thousand pounds of payload or a handful of humans into orbit. In fact, a single launch can make a memory unlike any other. But Space is an industry like many others, with huge financial  support from government. Where Space offers security for the US in the form of missles like the Trident on our Kings Bay subs, it is priceless. The benefits of Global Positioning Satellites are enjoyed by many Americans. But Space Tourism rides at $150,000 a ticket are no more a necessity of life than is any ride at Disney World.

 

It is important to keep a proper perspective when discussing the potential of jobs and the economic impact of Space. A little history will help. 

Here are the Numbers That Tell the Real Story

Proponents of Spaceport Camden often state that the global market for space is more than $300 Billion dollars. Their strategy is to build a spaceport and some of this business will come to Camden. But the huge number is a red herring because it includes the entire value of launches and satellites that are not available to US launch sites. The Russians, Chinese and Iranians launched 54% of all rockets in 2015 - none of that business could ever come to Spaceport Camden. The Europeans have a robust market with Ariannespace having launched more than 500 satellites, while Japan and India's launch services have become more aggressive. The focus of this study MUST be the US space market potential because we are interested only in the potential for Spaceport Camden.

FAA Regularly Overestimates Commercial Space Business

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for protecting the public with respect to commercial space launches, including licensing and permitting launches. The FAA’s budget requests for its commercial space launch activities generally have been based on the number of projected launches. However, the US General Accounting Office found that the actual number of launches has been much lower than the FAA projections. From 2005 to 2015, they predicted 286 commercial space launches but only 83 (29%) were actually conducted. In fact, the GAO found that the US total launch revenue in 2014 was only $1.1Bil, a tiny fraction (0.03%) of the proported global commercial launch business. 

Space Tourism

Mojave Air and Spaceport, Spaceport America in New Mexico, Midland Texas Air and Spaceport, Oklahoma Spaceport, Houston Spaceport and Cape Canaveral are all licensed tourism spaceports that have never flown a single tourist. 

Small Launch Vehicles

A review of the Small Launch Vehicle (SLV) market is instructive. Exhibit 1, (“Table 22”) is taken from the 2014 FFA Commercial Space Transportation Forecasts. A tendency in this market segment is for lots of deals being signed, but for the most part, companies are weak and have nothing yet to fly.

 

Since the 2014 report was produced, DARPA has been canceled after exploding twice on the ground; SOAR’s Operator/Owner has cut deals all over the world, including at Kennedy, but is in financial trouble and has nothing to fly; and Super Strypi failed its first launch and has been canceled. See our page on XCOR(link) for an idea of how these companies struggle. Virgin Galactic and Generation Orbit continue to develop their systems.

  

 

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