Is There a Way to “Predict” the Space Industry’s Future?

Crystal Ball
This site contains my opinions and ideas only, not the opinions or ideas of any organization I work for. It’s my idea playground, and I’m inviting you in. Welcome!

In a previous post, “Which is the “Good” Future?,” I hinted at trends helpful to figuring out what the Space Industry’s future might be. Near the end of the post, I set out a few bullets to help show what trends might be helpful to watch.

Let’s start this post with the obvious: I don’t know the future. I don’t have an “in” to future data–everything I reference comes from open-sources online. If I knew the future, I wouldn’t need the Farmers Almanac I, ah, “borrowed” from the future.

Wait, that’s a different story.

The future can’t be foretold–even computer modeling fails at this on a few levels. The future of the space industry can’t be foretold. But we can divine some things and develop ideas of the space industry’s future by casting a wider net for information, which, thanks to the internet, is everywhere. The technology sector (computers, networking, artificial intelligence, etc.) is a good place to start–after all, the space industry really is a subset of this sector, one looking for a viable future business model. The technology sector is one in which viable business models constantly and rapidly shift.

The technology sector for the mass market keeps moving ahead, very, very quickly. Today we have conversations about certain levels of autonomy for vehicles. Ten years ago the automotive conversation revolved around those “odd” people buying hybrids. Today people buy doorbells with video cameras, networked, which also enable two-way communication–even when we aren’t home. Ten years ago the doorbell looked pretty much like a doorbell fifty years before that.

Today, most of us carry a computer, the smartphone, at all times, with which we can talk, email, text, or share photos with friends. These devices changed the way society communicates, informally codifying levels of response based on the medium of delivery (e-mail can wait, text might need some attention, a call receives immediate attention–unless the call is spam, in which case Google warns me about that).The smartphone as we know it today wasn’t even a thing a decade ago. Remember the Motorola Razr, or the SideKick?

And while the technology sector is a good place to start, there are other places to cast a net–hobbyists, called “Makers,” and the ethic of experimentation they bring; politics; history (not just one specific period); public demand for services; the economy. There’s more than this, but trolling these waters will occasionally yield very useful insights applicable to space industry activity. I’ve always half-jokingly called this my “Dirk Gently (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirk_Gently) approach” to space industry research. But I realize now there’s more truth than humor in that statement. There are connections between the space industry and the rest of the world.

There are connections to look for, but there are known connections, preconceptions and existing knowledge, that must also be broken. Breaking out of “what we know” is probably the hardest thing to do, and afflicts experts more often than we’d like to think. To be able to step aside from what a person does best and critically question one’s own ideas and beliefs AND drop them when reason and observations point to a different result–that’s very difficult. We see this in  space and other industries quite often. For the space industry, this particular example from an Inverse post (https://www.inverse.com/article/41750-experts-slam-elon-musk-s-spacex-satellite-internet-plan) quotes a consultant, in response to SpaceX’s Starlink broadband satellite plans: “Nothing has changed except the level of hysteria and the level of unrealistic expectations.”

That quote exposes the danger of not being able to step outside one’s conceptions AND consider the external trends. I wrote a little about this challenge in another post, “The BlackBerry Moment?” The belief that because one company tried a thing and failed so everyone else afterwards will also fail, is a tried but untrue one. If a person only considered the state of satellite manufacturing and satellite broadband communications, then maybe that conclusion is safe. But there’s more going on.

What is going on, and how might it all apply to the Space Industry? More in the next post.

 

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