Executive summary

The global challenges facing our planet are daunting. Climate change is well underway, bringing in its wake natural disasters of an unprecedented scale, The ocean is warming and its health deteriorating with impacts on sea level rise and the livelihoods of millions of people. Biodiversity is dramatically shrinking, while pollution has become ubiquitous. And still today, 32% of the world’s population does not use the internet, as high-speed fixed broadband remains unavailable in remote and sparsely populated regions, including in some OECD countries.

Efforts to respond to these and other challenges have benefited from advances in space technologies:

  • In OECD countries, space-based systems already support more than half of the most frequently designated critical infrastructures and services, such as transportation, energy, food supply and law enforcement.

  • Space-based observations provide more than half of the essential climate variables that are used to monitor climate change, with atmospheric observations and ocean observations, such as sea surface temperatures, ocean colour, and land cover with terrestrial vegetation types and ice caps.

  • In 2022, newly launched satellites detected more than 1 000 human-induced methane super-emitter events in landfills, demonstrating how greenhouse gas emissions could be better monitored globally.

  • Space applications are also increasingly used in developing countries to monitor the environment, forests and food production, contribute to disaster prevention and emergency response; as well as to provide communication services via satellite TV and radio. Space-related official development assistance accounted for more than 700 million constant USD between 2000 and 2021, with commitments rising significantly recently thanks to targeted efforts by several OECD countries.

This has been achieved thanks to decades of mainly public investment. However, more needs to be done to secure the economic sustainability of critical missions, create the right policy and regulatory environment for innovative solutions and increase user uptake of satellite data for a broader distribution of benefits.

The last 20 years have seen the deployment of large institutional programmes and new-generation satellites supporting earth observation missions. These public investments have been accompanied by a recent surge in private sector activity.

  • OECD government space budgets reached an estimated USD 75 billion in 2022, accounting for 0.1% of OECD GDP. This is a conservative estimate that includes both civilian and military activities where available.

  • Almost 100 countries have been able to send a satellite with their flag in orbit since 1957, 23 countries are pursuing national launcher projects, and 11 countries are developing spaceports to cater to national needs and attract commercial missions.

  • There has been a significant increase in commercial space activities, as measured by the number of satellite launches and the amount of private investment. There were some 6 700 operational satellites in orbit by the end of 2022, twice the number recorded in 2020, with over two-thirds of satellites from commercial operators. This is linked to considerable reductions in the cost of access thanks to reusable launch technologies, smaller satellites, and increased competition.

  • The key driver behind the number of satellites is the deployment of several mega-constellations for satellite broadband in low-earth orbit, each consisting of thousands of satellites. Satellite broadband is still much less used than other technologies, with only 0.2 fixed broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants in the OECD area. However, this could change with the rollout of new satellite consumer services.

To support the sustainable growth of the space sector and its role in tackling societal challenges, governments must balance the efficient use of scarce resources (slots in orbit, spectrum) while supporting innovation and entrepreneurship, ensuring future recruitment to the sector and most importantly, keeping the orbital environment accessible to all and sustainably used. Targeted policy intervention is needed to better regulate access to space and its resources, to ensure a fair and broad distribution of the benefits of space technologies, while simultaneously fostering innovation and entrepreneurship.

  • The most pressing problem facing the sustainability of the space sector is the accumulation of debris in Earth’s orbits. There are currently about 25 000 identifiable and tracked debris objects in orbit, but the total untracked population is in the hundreds of millions. In a worst-case scenario, debris density could reach levels where it triggers an irreversible chain reaction of collisions, which may render certain orbits of great socio-economic value unusable. Restraining debris growth and removing debris objects will require more concerted public-private actions at national levels, considerable international co-operation, technological development, and innovative policy making supported by new economic instruments, as shown by OECD analysis.

  • Space-related administrations are encouraged to assess the social and economic returns of their missions and communicate the results widely. Overall expenditure of government space programmes has remained stable or grown modestly over the last decade in most OECD countries, but rising inflation, fiscal austerity and geopolitical tensions put pressure on the further development of civilian programmes. Increasing efforts to monitor the uses of open satellite data and understand the barriers to uptake and conditions for success are also needed.

  • Space activities' ability to address key societal challenges will require human capital, but the workforce in several space industry segments is ageing, unfilled vacancies are common. Women are under-represented in most activities. For example, in Canada, Korea and the United Kingdom, women represent only 29%,15% and 24% of the space industry workforce, respectively.

  • The OECD Space Forum will continue supporting these efforts by providing guidelines on how to measure the space economy, compiling good practices and space-related policy instruments in the STIP Compass for Space Policies and producing new evidence on emerging policy issues, such as in the OECD project on the Economics of Space Sustainability.

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