The Paris Airshow is a giant marketplace for all things aerospace. But what drives the space industry? What’s it all about? Variously, people at the Paris Airshow said it’s a combination of applications and innovation. They said it’s global, but also fragile.
To an outsider the business might look wealthy and profitable. But that is not always true. Selling satellite services may be profitable, but putting spacecraft into orbit is financially risky. The high-tech nature of the space industry demands a huge investment before any return and often needs government support because long-term investment is vital to an industry that is developing, building and launching the satellites above our heads. Companies involved in the space industry have multiple layers of ownership and cross cooperation, and government bodies feed that growth because space isn’t just about business. Space is seen as a strategic investment. Some industry leaders believe Europe runs the risk of lagging behind, however. The Galileo project is a good example of the challenge of developing major space infrastructures; it has long been bogged down by squabbling over funding. As so often, it comes down to money. One way to cut costs is to adapt technology from other sectors. In the last decade, investment and technological advances in the leisure and commercial electronics markets have outstripped invesment in space. So the technologies developed for mobile phones, home computers, and XBoxes etc are now finding a role in space. This means the cost of making satellites may go down and the services they provide become ever more embedded in our daily lives. But putting them into orbit is still a huge achievement. Even now, one out of 11 or 12 rocket launches fails. All of which leads to the conclusion that space remains a rather unique industry.