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What Space Logistics in 2050? Big Pictures, Trends and Scenarios in the Emerging Space Economy

by Pietro Guerrieri, Rocco Scolozzi

17 novembre 2023
Versione stampabile

What role does Space play in the evolution of the economy? And of humanity?  How useful is it to anticipate possible future developments?
These are questions that until a few decades ago were of interest to a few experts or enthusiasts, but which today must be considered by companies, international organisations, and even voters. Technological accelerations in fact promise epochal developments: Space is a candidate to become a context of possible productive ecosystems, this will require the ability to manage and administer new levels of complexity to bring out desirable dynamics for human and planetary development, rather than new areas of conflict.
With this book we want to offer hints for possible answers and to make people think about strategic issues that will potentially affect everyone. For this we try to imagine and narrate a variety of possible futures, based on different sources (including opinions of authoritative experts from ESA, UN, and multinational companies) and original applications of strategic foresight methods (Horizon Scanning, Exploratory Scenarios, Causal Layered Analysis, Systems Archetypes). The ambition is to help anticipate and prepare desirable futures in the medium and long term and to disseminate an attitude of farsightedness.

Pietro Guerrieri and Rocco Scolozzi have worked diligently to link systems thinking with space futures. However, while most books stay at the litany level extolling the virtues of space travel or arguing against space travel due to the problems on Earth, Guerrieri and Scolozzi take us further. Along with scenarios (space colonization, the missed spaceboat, Elysium space for the few, and space wars), they use CLA to go deeper, to uncover the core assumptions of our space futures. This is likely the first use of CLA to space futures. The book truly becomes alive at his juncture. The authors move us from numerous litanies (nationalism, an exciting enterprise, a profitable context, and an environment to defend) to the systems that support these litanies, the worldviews that are used to make sense of them (no limits, the destiny of humanity) to the core metaphors. These include: the El Dorado and the Explorer, the Alchemical Philosopher’s stone, the Ark, and the Utopia. All in all, a welcome book critical for understanding space futures.

Pietro Guerrieri is a senior executive with experience in the Space sector.
Rocco Scolozzi: is professor at the Department of Sociology and Social research of the University of Trento.

From Foreword (by Simonetta Di Pippo, pagg.5-8)

“2022 marked the 50th anniversary of the last Apollo mission to the Moon, Apollo 17, and it marked also the 60th anniversary of the most famous inspirational speech ever pronounced. [...] And so, when the NASA SLS mission brought Artemis I orbiting the Moon in November 2022, we all had the feeling that we were back in history on one side and projected towards the future on the other. 

[...] The Artemis Accords, proposed by NASA and as per the end of 2022, signed by 23 countries, including the US, are a concrete sign of the interest of a group of countries to approach a systematic exploration of the solar system responsibly. 2022 has been defined the golden age of space exploration. Few reasons have been mentioned already. An additional element to be considered is the increasing presence of entrepreneurs who are monopolizing the scene with private investments and recently, also with private objectives. In other words, when Elon Musk started the development of the Dragon capsule, it was mainly, even if not only, to fulfill the NASA objective to fly again American people from American soil towards the International Space Station, after several years of Russian monopoly essentially due to the Shuttle retirement in July 2011. This is not the case for Starlink, the mega constellation he is building up to provide internet to everyone everywhere. It was his own idea, and now it may be helpful also for strategic national reasons. On top of everything, Starship. It may bring, as declared by SpaceX, up to 100 people to the Moon and Mars, back and forth, with a reusable machine. A revolution. NASA is taking advantage of these developments and Starship will complement the SLS launcher and the Orion capsule in building and operating a permanent settlement on the Moon to start with. 

What becomes clear from the evolution of this scenario, whatever details we will have to consider, is the need of space logistics. And this is exactly what the book is contemplating. The case for an exponential growth is well depicted, and how space economy is creating new markets which didn’t exist few years ago is underlined. But with an exponential growth in space economy, and in the number of satellites launched, the safety, security and sustainability of outer space and of outer space activities is put in danger. Orbits are more and more congested and contested, in particular in low earth orbit, but the Moon will be, and it is already in a way, the next logical step. While we need, in reality we needed it yesterday, a space traffic coordination system and global governance for LEO, the same applies immediately to what we expect to become a systematic solar system exploration, both robotic and human. Outer space is a global common, as defined by the UN Secretary General in his ‘our common agenda’, issued in September 2021 and it has to be preserved for future generations, also in line with what the Outer Space Treaty clearly spells out: space is the province of (hu)mankind.
The book is also quite interesting because it is a mixture of interviews to eminent experts in the field, review of sectors and definitions, science fiction when it comes to imagine future scenarios, technical evaluations and market analysis, all combined. 

Allow me to think about a possible undesirable future regarding the space economy and space logistics with it in 30 years from now. So, in 2050, we could find ourselves with the evidence that multilateralism failed, there is no existence of space traffic coordination so everything is chaotic in space. The Moon could be colonized in a non responsible manner, space resources cannibalized and not used for the benefit of all. The social tension could escalate as a result, and space could become an additional reason for conflicts. What to do to avoid this scenario? We need to increase awareness in treating space as a public good and a global commons, building a shareholder rather than a stakeholder space economy. Through the implementation of existing normative framework, we would work to turn policy tools such the Space Debris Mitigation guidelines and the Long Term Sustainability guidelines into actions. And in defining the rules for space traffic coordination, the rules of the road in other words, we should look at multilateral sharing of space situational/domain awareness information to improve safety and sustainability, as well as to international mechanisms for notifications, coupled with an enhanced registration set of practices to cope with the exponential growth of space objects. I hear sometimes that the growing number of satellites is raising concerns. Well, we cannot simply stop launching, rather we need to launch responsibly. 
As I always say, the space economy is the backbone of the modern economy, the economy of the 21st century. Space logistics as a subset of it will enable space operations more and more, expanding the horizon of the potential space economy growth. 

[...] Let’s make some exercises of a better future and of a new social contract while we start exploring, and there will be jobs for everyone, on a space station or on another celestial body in the solar system. Hopefully, in peace.” 

Courtesy by Italian Institute for the Future.