“Space technologies should be considered by the government as a key asset that can help society in many areas and mitigate the effects of the pandemic. They can also be used to bridge the digital divide and even save the environment”.
These words were spoken by Vittorio Colao, Minister for Technological Innovation and Digital Transition with responsibility for Space and Aerospace, during the last “G20 Space Economy Leaders Meeting 2021” held in Rome in September 2021. He explained how the Space Economy could be the central pivot of the country’s system in the coming years. It is therefore no wonder to see it part of Italy’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan, where €1.49 billion of the plan’s €191.5 billion will be earmarked for this issue, following six specific areas of intervention.
What is the Space Economy?
According to the OECD, the Space Economy “is the full range of activities and the use of resources that create and provide value and benefits to human beings in the course of exploring, understanding, managing and utilising space”. However, the Space Economy is not only concerned with space in the strict sense of the word, but also with other fields such as digital, agriculture and industry.
The sector, as the figures show, is growing strongly: In his presentation to the Chamber of Deputies, Bruno Tabacci, Undersecretary to the Prime Minister, estimated that the new space economy could reach a total turnover of one trillion dollars by 2040.
This is quite a big leap, considering that the sector in 2019 was worth ‘just’ $360 billion, equivalent to €325 billion. The space and aerospace sector accounts for less than a third of that figure, with revenues estimated at around €100 billion, of which 70% comes from public investment and 30% from the private sector. Investments are also growing, reaching $447 billion after a 4.4 percent growth in the last year.
The effects of growth will be seen above all in employment: Recovery and Resilience Plan investments are expected to lead to a 20% increase in the number of space workers in Italy, currently 7,000, with a 15% increase in the number of employees over the next five years.
“Today, space is no longer only of strategic interest: now we are also going for business“, said Luca del Monte, head of industrial policy at ESA, the European Space Agency. One example is Big Data: to date there are 5 Petabytes of data (equivalent to five million gigabytes) in space transmitted to earth by satellites and potentially of interest to all those companies operating in the service sector. This is why more than €70 billion is invested in the sector every year, including €12 billion in Europe alone, with a total added value of more than €300 billion.
The National Recovery and Resilience Plan and scopes of application
Satellite communications; Earth observation; Space factory; Space access; in-orbit economy and downstream. These are the six areas of intervention in the field of the space economy identified by the Government in the National Recovery and Resilience Plan. The aim is to be able to make a significant contribution to the green revolution and the ecological transition through the space economy.
One example is satellite-based Earth observation infrastructures which, by providing precise and regular information on the ground, water and atmosphere, can enable widespread and pervasive monitoring of sites and increase the share of energy produced from renewable energy sources or monitoring the energy efficiency of buildings. They can also contribute to climate change, helping to combat hydrogeological instability, and also monitoring air quality and the ecosystem. For some time now, satellite navigation systems have also revolutionised mobility and logistics, making them more sustainable and integrated with services.
Today, space technologies can also be used to bridge the digital divide and even save the environment.
Vittorio Colao, Minister for Technological Innovation and Digital Transition
Further applications are easily found in the field of healthcare, with telecommunications networks now fundamental to telemedicine, plus the increasing integration of data within the National Health System, education and research. For medicine in particular, data collected during space missions are an invaluable resource.
Italy plays a key role in this sector. As one of the founding members and now the third-largest contributor of the European Space Agency, Italy held a central role in discussions on the space economy dossier at the last G20 summit, held in Rome in late October.
However, Italy’s interest in space has been known for a long time and is now visible thanks to the large number of research centres, infrastructures and companies that form part of an extensive and unique European value chain. In order to promote its development, at the end of 2016 the government issued an initial National Space Economy Strategic Plan, which had a total budget of €4.7 billion and included funding of €1.38 billion for the national Satcom programme and €1.8 billion for Mirror Copernicus.
In addition to the USA and China, many other European countries are setting up to tap into space resources. France and Luxembourg, for example, founded Euro2Moon last October as a European organisation for promoting the joint exploitation of resources.
The European Union is also interested in space: its budget in this area, financed through contributions from the Member States but managed at supranational level, tapped into €10.2 billion in 2018, of which €8.4 billion came from the Member States and €1.8 billion from the EU budget. Between 2014 and 2020, the European Union alone invested roughly €12 billion in space activities and, partly thanks to these infrastructure investments, it now operates space systems such as Copernicus Egnos and Galileo. The future is therefore written in the stars.