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Remarks by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross at A New Space Race: Getting to the Trillion-Dollar Space Economy World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland

Good afternoon, welcome, and thank you all for being here to discuss the future of space and its immense economic potential. 

You may not know that artificial limbs, Velcro, solar cells, and water filtration were created in the first age of space exploration. Now, we have an opportunity to continue and even accelerate those benefits. The global economy is increasingly tied to services provided from space.

Many of the most important economic sectors, like transportation and logistics, oil and gas, Internet, finance and others are fueled by space technologies such as positioning, navigation & timing, remote sensing, and communications. Space technologies have increased productivity, communication, and safety, and have brought new products and services to some of the most remote areas of the world. 

Government activity in space is growing, but over 80 percent of the $415 billion space economy is commercial. We believe the future of space is overwhelmingly commercial in nature, and will no longer be dominated by government agencies and their priorities. 

Trump Administration initiatives will encourage economic growth from space activities, and encourage like-minded nations to do the same. To this end, President Trump reestablished the National Space Council in 2017 to coordinate national space policy and prioritize economic development and technological advancement. 

Within the Commerce Department, we revitalized the Office of Space Commerce, which was established more than 30 years ago to help enable commercial space activities.  

Today, growth in the commercial space industry is driven primarily by venture capital and private entrepreneurs. In the past 10 years, more than $25.7 billion has been invested in 535 space companies globally. In 2019 alone, $5.8 billion was invested — the largest investment year on record.  Also last year, roughly 43 percent of space startup investment went to companies outside the United States, and over 70 countries now have meaningful space activities.

Our national and international governance activities need to facilitate the private sector, and not get in its way. While the overall satellite industry experienced an annual growth rate of 3 percent in 2018, that pales when compared to the economic benefits that those satellites have helped create in other industries. 

And, by the way, that also pales to the subsector of satellite manufacturing, which experienced a 26 percent growth rate over 2018. One assessment done by Bryce Space and Technology found that the economic impact of space in 2018 had grown to $5 trillion annually. Television, the Internet and wireless communications, finance, agriculture, shipping — all of these industries have been revolutionized by satellite services. We don’t always recognize how much space affects our daily lives.  

In 2019, the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology looked at 10 economic sectors that use GPS on a daily basis, such as precision agriculture, financial services, surveying, and location-based services. Turns out, since the early 1980s when the technology became public, GPS has provided $1.4 trillion in economic benefit cumulatively.  

While all these estimates of the space economy are encouraging, we in the Trump Administration recognize the need to improve how we account for space activities. Most traditional industrial accounting methods focus on aerospace capabilities, without separating space activities. So we recently began an initiative within Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis to more precisely define and measure the space industry’s economic activities. 

The space industry is being revolutionized by cost-cutting concepts like reusability, miniaturization, and design repetition. These innovations are being driven by the commercial applications they serve, since private investors are loath to finance the massive and unique projects common in the defense space.The result has been remarkable. 

Current industry projections place the 2040 global space economy at between $1 and $3 trillion. And I think we will certainly get to a trillion before 2030. 

But getting there will take a concerted effort among governments to foster the conditions needed for the growth and technological advancement of the commercial space sector.In particular, we must address the initial problem of space safety and sustainability.  Failure to do so will complicate and imperil our future in space, as space debris and congestion grow more complex and intense. 

Already there are hundreds of thousands of objects orbiting the planet at over 17,000 miles an hour. These are mostly under 10 centimeters in diameter, but still can damage the solar panels that power satellites.he United States has led in this area for decades, mostly through the Department of Defense and NASA.

Our current efforts will leverage a wide range of commercial capabilities to improve and increase our understanding of the space environment. My Department is creating a new civil organization to improve global space situational awareness and increase interaction among space operators in the interest of space safety. Commerce is working with allied civil and commercial organizations, that have unique capabilities including new sensors and analytic tools and existing scientific datasets. 

We are also working with our allies to establish best practices and standards, for both existing space capabilities and emerging ones. These will grow into much needed “rules of the road” for space activities.   

All of these efforts and others will enable future space commerce by reducing risk and increasing operational transparency. Space is both critical to our future, and our path to the future envisioned by so many at this Forum. 

In the coming months, new space companies will bring broadband Internet to rural communities previously unable to fully benefit from the information age. Space will enable a new wave of possibilities in pharmaceuticals and building materials. And the industry’s continued growth and potential will inspire the next generation to seek out the unknown and achieve the seemingly impossible.

There are extraordinary opportunities in space in so many different areas, but they won’t happen on their own. Global partnerships are critical to realizing the scientific and economic future that space has to offer. New international partnerships are underway in the areas of space exploration, space safety, and even space commerce.  

This June, the Departments of Commerce and State will again co-host the Space Enterprise Summit in Washington to discuss the nature of space partnerships in pursuing our mutual goals.  

And so, I am thankful to Dr. Schwab and the World Economic Forum for the opportunity to highlight this potential here in Davos.
I look forward to our discussion, and to seeing future contributions of the World Economic Forum in the field of Commercial Space.  

Thank you.