Evolving innovation in the space industry
Orville and Wilbur Wright took flight on Dec. 17, 1903, for just under a minute of flight time. The aeronautical feat ushered in a deluge of innovation that dotted the skies with more and more flying machines.
More than a century later on April 20, Ingenuity, an autonomous copter, revved its twin rotor blades to hover about 10 feet in the Martian air, making it the first powered craft to fly on another planet.
Just as the Wright brothers’ breakthrough opened the door to the era of flight, many wonder if Ingenuity’s extraterrestrial ascent on Mars will be the catalyst for further waves of development in the space industry.
Questions and situations around the future of exploration, commercialization, and innovation in space were the focus of SAIC’s latest analytic game that brought in experts from across the space industry.
The frontier of space
During the Future of Space game, SAIC’s analytic gaming team explored trends and potential disruptors in the space community, particularly over the next five to 10 years. Fluctuating government budgets, China’s aggressive investment into space, space debris, and black swan events — such as high-altitude EMPs and asteroids — were listed as among the most dangerous disruptions that the game's participants had to consider in their planning.
“There’s a possibility in the coming years that different countries, including China, will try to ‘reserve’ space in low-earth orbit or even on the moon,” said David Ray, senior vice president of SAIC's Space Business Unit. “We need to consider what that means for having a clear highway to space because if we don’t have that, we lose a lot of flexibility, and more importantly, we lose economic and national security stability.”
Global budgets were a central discussion point, as constrained or enabling government budgets will likely hold the key to future research and technology, which feed into the business models these nations will adopt.
“Commercial space companies, similar to SpaceX, are embracing disruption and diverse strategies at a rapid rate,” said one game participant. “We cannot have just a single strategy; we need dozens of strategies to lead in space.”
Reacting to innovation
The game further strengthened the understanding that innovation in space needs to be a top-tier priority.
The question coming out of the game was how to react to uncontrollable changes, no matter the industry or source of innovation.
“You always overestimate what you can do in a year and way underestimate what you can do in a decade,” said one participant. “The rockets blowing up on the launch pad today will be the real innovators in a decade, so how do we capitalize on that momentum?”
Inevitably, more startups and technological whizzes will spring up that will deliver new ideas and new business models for today’s race to space dominance. How well these ideas survive — or are even adopted by the space community at large — can determine what comes next as we set our sights on what is possible in the stars.
As one of the game's participants put it, the race to land on the moon was a prime source of innovation for other industries. New technologies and products were borne out of the space race of the 1960s. But the race to Mars has not, this participant said, created a similar birth of ingenuity.
“Right now, it seems like we [the U.S.] don’t have any technological instigation from everything going on that's on Mars,” he said. “We’re just kind of milling around and if we don’t step up, we’re going to be playing catch up.”
Ingenuity’s fleeting flight over the red planet may be the first small steps for our continued journey into the reaches of space. How the U.S. space community prepares now may determine whether a giant leap is subsequently made.
How analytic gaming helps future analysis
SAIC has used analytic games to gather insights from industry experts of varying skill sets, backgrounds, and interests for more than 30 years. These experts examine realistic challenges from multiple perspectives, therein providing participants valuable insights into the long-term ramifications of actions proposed in scenarios.