Mar 18, 2019 - 9:00am

Planting Our Flag in Commercial Space


President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

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An artist's rendering shows the liftoff of the lift capacity configuration Space Launch System from the launchpad.
An artist's rendering shows the Space Launch System launching from the launchpad.

As the pace of technology progresses, one thing becomes increasingly clear – space is the new economic frontier.

In recent years, the commercial space industry has taken off, growing from $175 billion in revenues in 2005 to $385 billion in 2017. As more private investors look to plant their flags, growth will continue to skyrocket. By 2040, the industry will be worth $1.5 trillion. That’s why three months ago the U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosted LAUNCH, our first summit dedicated solely to the emergence of space as a distinct industrial sector.

Bringing people together in a way only the Chamber can, we hosted the biggest names in commercial space to discuss the challenges and opportunities ahead. The summit included nearly 300 business leaders and policy experts, as well as top officials from NASA and the departments of Defense, Commerce, and Transportation.

As a follow-up to LAUNCH, Boeing invited the Chamber to a multimedia demo of the Space Launch System (SLS). SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built, with the mission to expand the range of human presence to Mars and beyond. During the presentation, I was struck by the importance of this program for America’s economic future. Not unlike the first transatlantic cargo ships, SLS will enable the flow of commerce to far-flung destinations.

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U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue (left) chats with Boeing President, Chairman, and CEO Dennis Muilenburg at the 2019 Aviation Summit.
U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue (left) chats with Boeing President, Chairman, and CEO Dennis Muilenburg at the 2019 Aviation Summit.

Beyond replacing the Space Shuttle, SLS will enable deep space exploration for a new generation of Americans. SLS will be a must-have for NASA’s future spaceflight programs – and it will give our nation an upper edge in the commercial space race. Thanks to cutting-edge engineering, the spacecraft could get research equipment to Jupiter five years faster than it takes with competing technology.

In the late 18th century, renowned American naval strategist Alfred Mahan described the ocean as a wide common with well-worn trade routes. He could have been describing space in the 21st century. And similar to that era, the U.S. is the indispensable steward of the domain, ensuring equitable administration so that all nations can benefit from the exchange of goods, services, and ideas.

But this illustrious future isn’t guaranteed. As recently as January, the Defense Intelligence Agency warned that the advantage the U.S. holds in space is being challenged by foreign competitors, presenting economic and even military risks.

So what is the proper path forward? The answer is simple: We must continue to lead, develop, and deploy commercial and national security space systems at increasing rates of innovation and efficiency. The Chamber’s Procurement and Space Industry Council is committed to making that vision a reality. Failure is not an option.

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About the Author

About the Author

Thomas J. Donohue
President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Thomas J. Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.