"I see Earth! It is so beautiful!" This radio message stopped the world in its tracks 60 years ago. It was sent by Yuri Gagarin on 12 April 1961, the then 27-year-old Russian having been the first human to enter space in the "Vostok 1" space craft. The cosmonaut orbited the glove for exactly 108 minutes. The epoch-making trip turned Gagarin into a global hero and role model for generations of researchers and astronauts. Six decades after the launch of manned space flight, the pull of space remains unbroken. At the end of February, the "NASA Perseverance" touched down on Mars after a flight of six and a half months covering more than 470 million kilometres. Since then the high-tech rover has been sending pin-sharp images from the red planet. Perseverance has 2.7 million followers on the Twitter messaging service.
For a long time space exploration was the domain of government agencies, NASA being the most prominent. In 2020 the US space agency had a budget of USDbn 22 – 22% more than at the start of the decade. Since then more and more private companies have been literally reaching for the stars. Last year a milestone was reached by SpaceX: acting on behalf of NASA, the company owned by Tesla boss Elon Musk took astronauts to the ISS International Space Station on board its "Crew Dragon" capsule. The ambition of the billionaire and visionary is unbroken: Musk dreams of a "multi-planetary" humanity and would like to take astronauts to Mars in the near future. The way there goes via the moon. SpaceX has just won the contract from NASA to build a landing module. The aerospace company Blue Origin of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and the arms manufacturer Dynetics had also taken part in the bidding process for the vehicle to be used for the first manned US mission to the moon since 1972.
The interplay of private enterprise and the public sector ensures that the space economy is gaining increasing importance. "The revenue generated by the global space industry may increase to more than USDtn 1 by 2040," said Morgan Stanley in July 2020. This would be almost triple the volume of business compared with the current figure (see graph). The US bank describes the possibility of reusable launchers as akin to a turning point or game-changer. Recycling would slash the cost of transport into Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Indeed, the outlay for launching a satellite has already come down from USDmn 200 to USDmn 60. Morgan Stanley sees costs declining to as little as USDmn 5 per launch. Equity analyst Adam Jonas draws parallels between the current process and the development of the first elevators in buildings in the 19th century: "Just as further innovation in elevator construction was required before today's skyscrapers could dot the skyline, so too will opportunities in space mature because of access and falling launch costs."
According to the experts, this is especially true for the expansion of the internet. Broadband satellite could deliver up to half of the growth expected to be achieved in the space economy by 2040. That would represent a significant jump in the importance of the segment compared with today (see graph). "We believe the largest opportunity comes from providing internet access to under- and unserved parts of the world," Adam Jonas explains. At the same time, the demand for rapid data transmission is also being driven by mega-trends such as autonomous driving, the internet of things, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and video. The fact is that the space economy goes well beyond the manufacturers and operators of rockets and satellites: it also comprises many sectors of IT hardware and telecommunications. The new Swissquote Space Economy Index attempts to cover the whole spectrum. The starting line-up of the benchmark features 40 companies with a common denominator: six decades after space travel was cracked, they participate in and profit from the unbroken fascination with and innovative capacity of this branch of industry.