Space is no longer just a domain used as scientific leverage among developed nations vying to upstage one another – it has become increasingly sought-after as an arena for investors looking for long-term returns.
The number of commercial companies operating in the field of space exploration remains stagnant. However, the number of countries that have joined the global space race through initiating specialized scientific programs, launching exploration trips, and graduating astronauts is rising steadily.
In September 2018, the UAE named the first two Arab astronauts who will travel to the International Space Station. This move clearly demonstrates that Arabs have the capabilities and can score accomplishments as long as there are inspiring leaders to provide continued support and ensure that they make the most of the capabilities of their people while allowing them to grow these capabilities and maximize their potential.
This significant step also strengthens the Arab presence on the space landscape amid increasing global competition to explore space resources and wealth that are no longer exclusive to countries.
Large corporations, such as SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, are investing billions in the sector. The latter has received investments valued at US$13 billion from Saudi Arabia to begin marketing space exploration programs.
These companies are expected to contribute to the implementation of highly ambitious concepts – such as vacationing on the moon, mining on the surface of neighbouring planets, or taking trips to Mars – that will make space accessible even to people who are not professional astronauts. Such concepts have already opened doors to a vast investment market targeting wealthy adventure enthusiasts, and is poised to grow significantly as it continues to grip the public imagination.
Available data indicates that space currently attracts around US$300 billion in annual investments. Of this amount, US$250 billion is earmarked for commercial and profitable purposes. However, the space industry is still developing, which means that early investors can serve as trailblazers in defining the scope of this promising sector.
The economic aspects of the space industry are still to be clearly understood, but Bank of America Merrill Lynch estimates that the sector will be worth US$3 trillion 30 years from now.
This is considering the universal popularity of space-related activities as a result of investments that are based on over 60 years of accumulated scientific knowledge.
Today, the space industry employs more than one million people worldwide at an average annual income of over US$100,000 per head, and the ability of the sector to create coveted jobs is on the rise.
Space offers diverse investment opportunities that include launching satellites for communications and monitoring purposes, information and internet technology, space mining, and space tourism, which is gaining popularity among ultra-high-net-individuals.
Despite Virgin Galactic charging a whopping US$250,000 per ticket, 700 would-be astronauts have already signed on.
Other space-focused initiatives include transportation from Earth to the International Space Station. NASA, Boeing, and SpaceX have all agreed to build a fleet of spacecraft for this purpose.
In addition, efforts are underway to acquire energy from space and transmit it to Earth. Currently under research and financed by Japan, these attempts could very well become a reality 15 years from now.
With the accelerating growth in space-related commercial and trade activities, all stakeholders need to cooperate to devise a global charter for investing in space. This will help regulate the sector, encourage investments, and establish a mechanism to solve disputes before they happen. Such measures will truly make space an optimal future investment domain.
*The author is the Executive Chairman of Investcorp and an International Advisor to the Brookings Instituition. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman