Meld. St. 32 (2012-2013)

Between heaven and earth: Norwegian space policy for business and public benefit — Meld. St. 32 (2012–2013) Report to the Storting (White Paper)

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2 On space activity

Space activity is an umbrella term for all activities associated with the development, construction and use of infrastructure in space. For many of us, the term brings to mind the space race, astronauts and rockets. It is probably less typical to associate space activities with weather forecasting, offshore petroleum operations, live broadcasts of World Cup football matches or ordering a taxi. The fact is that space-based activities enter our lives most directly through ordinary services like those. Over the last 25 years, services that rely on space infrastructure have become so seamlessly integrated into our lives that we reflect barely at all on the fact that they are made possible by space activity.

We can illustrate this with a thought experiment: What would happen if all satellite-based services suddenly disappeared? It’s certainly the case that much of what we take for granted in everyday life would come to a stop. The quality of weather forecasts, especially long-term forecasts, would decline sharply. Many of us would lose our TV signals altogether, and others would have to make do with fewer channels. Modern shipping operations would be set back many years, to when cost efficiency, safety and crew welfare were of lower standard. The ability to summon emergency help and the effectiveness of search-and-rescue missions would be dramatically reduced. Official oversight of ship traffic, fisheries and sources of pollution off the coast would become more difficult and expensive to exercise. Researchers, meanwhile, would have a harder time understanding the factors that govern climate and other aspects of our environment. Without satellite navigation signals, private individuals, public emergency services and taxi companies would lose the use of electronic maps for navigation and fleet management. Land surveyors and construction planners would have to fall back on time-consuming manual processes, while airport directors would see punctuality and capacity decline.

The last time the Storting was presented with a comprehensive look at the role of space activity in Norway was in St.meld. nr. 13 (1986–87): Om norsk romvirksomhet (On Norwegian space activity). Already then, space activities were described as affecting many aspects of society. It is no exaggeration to say that the importance of such activities has increased tremendously in the more than 26 years that have elapsed since publication of that report. The proliferation and refinement of satellites – in combination with increased data processing capacity, the global spread of Internet services and the emergence of mobile communications equipment on earth – have given satellite-based services an ever-greater impact in daily life. In policy fields like climate research, the environment and the High North, which have risen to the top of the political agenda in recent years, satellite usage has become a prerequisite for efficient information gathering and public administration. The importance to security policy, the traditional pinnacle of applied space technology, remains at least as great as it was during the Cold War.

Space activity has quite simply become essential to modern society. It is inconceivable that we could live as we do today without the help of satellites in orbit. Space activity is not some peripheral, albeit fascinating, branch of basic science research. It is a basic part of our everyday lives, and a necessary element in government strategy to ensure competitiveness, security and sustainable development.

Textbox 2.1 Key terms

Space activity: All activities related to the exploration and exploitation of space.

Space-based infrastructure: Technology on the ground or in space required for the pursuit of space activities; examples include satellites, launchers and ground stations.

Space-based services: Services based on the use of satellites.

2.1 From space race to critical infrastructure: 50 years of the Space Age

The launch of the Soviet test satellite Sputnik 1 in October 1957 is generally regarded as the opening of the Space Age. Since then, humanity has been capable of placing objects in orbit around the earth – an ability that is the basis for all the practical applications of space-based systems we see today. However, a good many years would pass before space activities with any practical significance to civilian society began to appear. In the early years, advances were motivated by and large by military and geopolitical considerations, as part of the Cold War arms race.

The first decade of the Space Age was marked by a rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union, with each superpower seeking to be the first to boast new achievements in space. Soviet citizen Yuri Gagarin’s orbit of the earth in 1961 and the first steps on the moon, by the American Neil Armstrong in 1969, were spectacular milestones in the struggle for hegemony in space. Driving the space race was each country’s desire to demonstrate its technical skill, in part to impress its opponent and in part to impress its own population. Inherent in the rivalry was an understanding that rocket technology from the two competing space programmes also had an alternative use: to propel missiles with nuclear warheads between continents in the event of a global armed conflict between the superpowers.

By the early 1960s, space technology was being adopted, if gradually, for practical purposes on the ground. Yet military needs still took priority. In 1964 the United States inaugurated its TRANSIT military satellite navigation system, a forerunner of the GPS global navigation satellite system. Satellite communications were employed for both military and civilian purposes throughout the 1960s, first in the United States and later in many other countries. Earth observation satellites became a valuable tool for the intelligence services on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Such satellites provided a good overview of installations on the ground and made it possible to observe the territory of other states without committing airspace violations. Eventually, this military function and an increase in civilian applications caused other countries to desire space programmes of their own, allowing them to develop their own capabilities in a field increasingly seen as strategically important. In the late 1960s, China began making substantial investments to develop its space skills. In Europe, France took the lead in developing space technology and became a driving force in the establishment of European space cooperation.

Space activity continued as an arena for superpower competition through the 1970s and 1980s. Its significance to civilian life gradually became more apparent, however, especially in areas like meteorology and communications. The growing importance of satellite-based services for civilian purposes led to expanded international cooperation in developing and employing satellite systems. For small states, this was an opportunity to gain access to infrastructure they would not have been able to develop on a national level. For large states with substantial capabilities, ​international cooperation made it possible to split the bill with others, without losing user privileges. Key milestones included the creation of INMARSAT, the international organisation for maritime satellites, in 1979, and EUMETSAT, the European organisation for meteorological satellites, in 1986. The international organisation for telecommunications satellites, INTELSAT, had been established way back in 1964 but expanded its membership and activities on a large scale throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The most comprehensive international collaboration on space activity to date came into being in 1976, with the founding of ESA.

In the 1990s, civilian use of space-based services began to increase sharply. The change can be attributed to several factors. Two of them are related to the end of the Cold War. First was the relaxation of international tensions as the superpowers stood down from their long rivalry. It was now tenable to loosen controls on technologies and systems that previously had been reserved for military use. That was the case with high-resolution satellite imagery, which had once been considered so strategically important that information about the best resolution achieved was kept secret. In the 1990s and 2000s, improved access to good satellite images opened the way for a growing business exploiting such images – the most prominent example being Google Earth. Secondly, the end of the Cold War brought with it a reduction in military budgets. The cuts were a blow to many strategic technology companies, which responded by turning to new civilian markets. Another important factor that helped boost civilian use of space technology was the information technology revolution in the 1990s and 2000s, which led to a rapid increase in data-processing capacity, Internet connections and mobile telecommunications equipment. The new information technologies made it possible to deploy satellite-based navigation, communications and earth observation systems in a far more comprehensive way than would have been technically feasible before.

Developments since the 1990s have been characterised by the accelerating integration of space-based technologies into everyday life. To put it another way, space activity has been «normalised». It is no longer a spectacular sector cut off from the rest of the economy, but is instead a source of critical infrastructure services along the lines of electricity generation and water supply. This change in character has had several different effects. The emphasis on socially beneficial space activities has become more explicit. To a greater extent than before, public expenditures on space activities are expected to return measureable benefits to the public. Satellites have become highly important tools to military and civilian authorities alike. Commercial interests that rely on the use of satellite-based services have grown quite large over time. The role of private actors in space-based infrastructure like satellites and launchers has begun to grow, though most global investments in this part of the space sector are still publicly funded. Cost-cutting demands, particularly among traditionally dominant players like the United States, have led to increased emphasis on international cooperation and innovative financing methods. Nonetheless, the approach to space remains intensely strategic, if in a somewhat different way than during the Cold War. Control over space-based infrastructure has become more important to security and national independence.

Textbox 2.2 Apollo

The US Apollo programme of the 1960s was essentially a political project. The goal was to restore the United States as the world’s leading technological and economic superpower. The means: a moon landing.

The moon programme was treated as a societal call to action. The price tag was USD 25.4 billion, equal to about USD 160 billion today. Some 20,000 industrial companies, 200 universities and colleges and nearly 400,000 people took part in the project.

On the technology side, the programme led to major advances. The most important was the transformation of computers from colossal machines, each the size of a house, into smaller and lighter machines with greater computing capacity, memory and reliability.

The other major legacy of the Apollo era was the concept of programme management. While the required technological leaps were formidable, a far greater challenge lay in programme management of the planning, manufacturing, testing, training and logistics involved. A fundamentally new concept for programme management was developed. It was subsequently used in the management of everything from urban planning to industrial processes, leading to improved profitability, safety and quality standards in other fields.

With less fanfare, a number of unexpected by-products of the Apollo mission – from improved medical monitoring equipment to new, fireproof textiles – slipped into services and products that we now take for granted. An important «spin-off» has been the very image we all have of the earth. A photograph of our planet titled «The Blue Marble», taken from the moon against an infinite black background, has been of great importance to environmental awareness.

Figure 2.1 The Blue Marble

Figure 2.1 The Blue Marble

Source Photo: NASA

2.2 Global space activity in 2013–actors and driving forces

Space activity today is far more complex than ever before. The number of fields affected by space-based infrastructure has increased. Likewise, the number of actors actively involved in space on a global basis has increased. States are still the primary actors. States, or international organisations with states as members, are the main force behind large public infrastructure systems, and they are the primary funders of research and development. The number of states actively involved in space has grown in the past 25 years, while the balance of the various state actors has shifted to some degree. The other main actor is industry. Much of the traditional space industry has undergone major structural change since the end of the Cold War. Meanwhile, a large commercial sector has arisen to exploit satellite data and services. Space-related activity has increasingly become a tool to satisfy needs in other sectors in society. As a result, the main public drivers of space-sector developments are mainly to be found in economic policy, security policy and environmental and climate policy.

The dominant state actor is still the United States, although new entrants in recent years have increasingly challenged US dominance. The United States has leading capabilities in all areas of the space sector, and it aims to maintain its role as the dominant space nation. At the same time, the country’s public investments in space have not been exempted from overall budget-cutting demands. The Obama administration’s space policy has been characterised by attempts at reform, including the adoption of new space strategies for both the civilian and military sectors. The purpose is to reconcile a desire to maintain US hegemony in space with the need for economic tightening. Practically speaking, this has had three main effects. The first is that NASA and NOAA, the primary US space organisations, now face a requirement to return demonstrable benefits to society. A stronger emphasis is being given to applied technology in navigation, communication and earth observation, as well as to space technology that will provide spillover effects to the rest of the economy. Second is a continuous effort to establish public-private cooperation in the space sector, both as a means of cost control and a way to ensure that public investment filters into the private sector. Since the discontinuation of the Space Shuttle programme in 2011, the intention has been that private contractors will fulfil the demand for transportation services to the International Space Station. Steps have also been taken to strengthen international competitiveness within the US space industry by softening strict US export controls (ITAR). Third is a greater emphasis on international collaboration. The United States has initiated long-lasting collaboration with Europe on the shared use of weather satellites, and has been a major force in the global initiative Group on Earth Observation (GEO), which seeks to ensure open and free access to environmental monitoring data from satellites.

Figure 2.2 Ariane 5 at Kourou

Figure 2.2 Ariane 5 at Kourou

Source Photo: ESA/S. Corvaja, 2012

Russia’s position as a world leader in space was weakened by the collapse of the Soviet Union. The harsh economic situation of the 1990s put the Russian space programmes in a powerful budget squeeze, and Russian authorities lost direct control over important industries and infrastructure in places like Kazakhstan and Ukraine. Russian economic growth in recent years has once again made it possible to make space a priority. The Putin administration is working hard to restore Russia as a leading space nation, through such projects as the modernisation of the GLONASS satellite navigation system, which deteriorated in the years after the Soviet Union’s fall. New ground infrastructure is being established on Russian soil to replace the infrastructure in other former Soviet republics. The space sector is considered strategically important to Russia’s technological, economic and geopolitical goals. Russia has partially opened the door for international collaboration in space activities, primarily as a source of technology transfer. Cooperation between ESA and Russia on the use of Russian Soyuz rockets at the European launch base in Kourou, French Guiana, has so far proved highly successful.

China has for years invested heavily in its own space capabilities, and has ambitions to become the leading space nation in the 21st century. It sees the space sector as a catalyst for economic development and growth, with strategic importance for the country’s goal of becoming a geopolitical leader. Space also plays a significant role in the building of national self-esteem and demonstrating Chinese expertise to the rest of the world. A major priority is the Beidou satellite navigation system, which is to be a global system corresponding to GPS, Galileo and GLONASS. The system is already operational in China and is scheduled for completion in 2020. Beidou is designed to ensure control over strategic military infrastructure as well as to boost Chinese industrial know-how. Also in progress is the development of an earth observation system (something similar to Europe’s Copernicus programme), launch vehicles and a Chinese space station. Chinese authorities aspire to execute a manned Chinese moon landing by 2030.

Indian efforts in space technology are primarily intended to meet specific national user needs related to economic development, resource management and military purposes. The country currently has its own satellite systems providing communication, television, meteorology and resource-mapping services, and it is in the process of developing its own regional satellite navigation system. Because of incomplete property records and poor infrastructure on the ground, India has benefitted greatly from the use of earth observation satellites for environmental and resource mapping. The wide availability of skilled engineers at low cost makes India highly competitive in some segments of the space sector. India in recent years has established itself as a competitive commercial provider of satellite launch services. Norway’s AISSat-1 satellite was launched from India in 2010.

Elsewhere in the world, more and more nations have ambitions of building their own capabilities in space. Iran and North Korea are already able to loft satellites using their own launch vehicles. Japan, South Korea, Brazil, Argentina, Israel, Canada and Taiwan all have significant national space programmes. France and Germany, for their part, have mounted large national efforts that supplement their participation in ESA and EU programmes. For the vast majority of countries, however, international cooperation is the only way to play an active role in space. The largest and most comprehensive collaborations are in Europe, through ESA and increasingly the EU as well. Latin American and African nations are attempting to gain access to space infrastructure through bilateral agreements with the United States, China, ESA and others. The International Space Station (ISS) has been completed jointly by the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada and ESA.

Figure 2.3 International Space Station

Figure 2.3 International Space Station

Source Photo: NASA

The United Nations has long played a role in regulating the use of space and developing relevant international legislation. In addition, the organisation has itself become a major user of satellites. The UN’s legislative work on space issues takes place within the framework of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS), which was created in 1958. The committee currently serves primarily as a forum for information exchange and international debate on issues related to regulation of space activities. In the 1960s and 1970s, UNCOPUOS played a central role in the preparation of five international treaties governing the use of space. Norway is not a member of UNCOPUOS but has endorsed four of the international space treaties. In addition to UNCOPUOS, space-related issues today are discussed in arenas such as the Conference on Disarmament, the UN General Assembly, UNESCO, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the World Meteorological Organisation.

Apart from its involvement in international space law and regulation, the UN is a major user of space-based systems to reach international goals related to climate change, crisis management and humanitarian aid. The value of satellite services is particularly high to developing countries, due to their relatively poor ground infrastructure. Satellite observation has also become an important way of viewing military conflicts and natural disasters from above, allowing more precise deployments of humanitarian assistance. Sustainable development efforts, meanwhile, have gained from satellite monitoring of phenomena such as deforestation, desertification and environmental factors that affect the spread of disease-carrying insects. The UN agency UNOSAT works to acquire satellite data and make it available for use in disaster management as well as environmental and development policy-making.

The other main group of global space players, apart from the states, is the business community. Space-related businesses are generally divided into two categories: upstream and downstream.

Upstream industry manufactures satellites and launch vehicles. Most companies in this part of the space industry are set up as a strategic matter, with financial returns normally limited in scale. Major technological challenges, low production volume and extremely stringent quality assurance needs combine to drive up costs relative to earnings potential. For reasons of strategy, technology and investment, upstream space actors are often closely tied to the aerospace and defence sectors. Such ties make it possible to benefit indirectly from space-related technological advances, through spillover into related sectors; technological spillover is in fact one reason companies engage in the upstream space industry. Public procurement and development support budgets are the main source of upstream funding. This reliance on the public sector is partly due to the substantial risks and small margins involved, and partly to the fact that many satellite types, including those for navigation and earth observation, can best be understood as public assets, with limited prospects for receiving income from users. Publicly funded satellites are important not least for the opportunity they represent to provide «flight heritage» for new technologies. Because of the risk that equipment sent aloft may perform unsatisfactorily, few commercial satellite owners are willing to deploy technology that has not already proved itself in space. Even for communications satellites, where there is more of a commercial market, public development programmes play a key role in the testing of new systems. Major players in the global upstream industry include Lockheed Martin, Boeing, OHB, Astrium and Thales. Since the end of the Cold War, transnational mergers and acquisitions have played a major role in the industry’s evolution, particularly in Europe.

Textbox 2.3 Dynamic positioning

Figure 2.4 Dynamic positioning

Figure 2.4 Dynamic positioning

Source Photo: Kongsberg Maritime

Dynamic positioning is a technology employed to keep vessels and floating offshore installations in fixed position above the seabed without the use of anchors, and to manoeuvre them with precision during transport. To determine correct positioning, the technology relies on navigational satellites. Industries that require dynamically positioned vessels include offshore petroleum, ocean shipping and cruise travel. Diving boats, shuttle tankers, supply vessels, cable-laying ships, pipe-laying ships, rock dumpers, crane vessels, drilling rigs and drillships all make extensive use of the technology. Norway is a leader in dynamic positioning.

Downstream industry provides equipment and services that require satellite data and signals. Examples of such products include satellite navigation receivers, satellite-based telecommunications services and information services based on satellite images. The structure of the downstream industry is completely different from that of the upstream industry, with many start-up companies and small and medium-sized businesses in addition to larger players. Development costs relative to earnings potential are similar to those found in «normal» high-tech businesses – and far from the peculiar conditions prevailing in the upstream industry. Downstream activities have benefitted greatly from developments in modern information technology, with expanding opportunities for data processing applications, Internet-based communications and mobile telecommunications equipment. Although downstream and upstream activities are completely different, the two segments of the space sector are closely linked. One key factor for downstream success is a clear understanding of how satellite systems work, so as to foresee technical, end-user and commercial opportunities. Often, the only way for a company to gain such insight is to take part in major satellite infrastructure projects. Downstream players, therefore, are not just passive users of technology developed upstream; they are active participants in the development of new satellite infrastructure. A key reason for the establishment of Galileo and Copernicus, the EU’s major space programmes, was a desire to position Europe’s downstream industry in the competitive international market for satellite-based products and services.

To understand what is driving the changes we see in global space activity, it’s helpful to examine what motivates countries and organisations to invest in it. Apart from the objectives of pure basic research, which remain important for Norway and many other countries, the rationales may be grouped roughly in three dimensions: economic value creation, independent strategic capability and sustainability.

Value creation has been a factor in space activity from the very beginning, in the 1950s and 1960s. The Apollo programme ushered into existence a space sector of comprehensive scale, which in turn lifted the technological level of the entire US economy – a boost with long-lasting effects. In the maritime and media industries, to take two examples, satellite communications have contributed to value creation since the 1970s. In the past two decades, though, the effect of space activities has changed. Instead of being important to only a few distinct sectors, what goes on in space now has implications for all parts of the economy, an influence so extensive that it is difficult to imagine how today’s globalised economy could function without it. Value creation occurs well outside the traditional production of satellites, launch vehicles and ground infrastructure. It occurs on an even larger scale through the sale of satellite-related products and services, through spillover into other technologies and through the stimulation of economic activity in such fields as transport and natural resources. Space activities add a great deal of value to businesses involved in oil and gas exploration, transport, agriculture and road and rail tunnelling. As the economic impact of space activities has widened, value creation has become a stronger and more explicit rationale for public investment in the sector everywhere in the world.

Independent strategic capability was the original rationale for space operations. From the 1950s onwards, it was the primary reason for the big space programmes of countries like the United States, the Soviet Union and France. During the Cold War, space programmes were tools for developing missile technology, gathering intelligence and demonstrating technological strength to rival powers. Although the geopolitical situation has changed a lot since then, the strategic importance of space has not diminished; more likely, it has grown. Space-based infrastructure today affects vital civilian and military activities. Critical aspects of civil preparedness such as emergency communications, sea-rescue capability and disaster management depend on satellites for communication, navigation and surveillance. The same can be said for modern network-based military operations. Countries and organisations as diverse as the EU, the United States, Russia and China feel compelled for strategic reasons to invest heavily in the development and control of their own space infrastructure. Such control is deemed important to shoring up their security and independence.

Sustainability is a more recent consideration, but in recent years it has become an increasingly important rationale for public investment in space activities. That’s because observation satellites have proved very effective in measuring phenomena that affect our climate, such as greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, forest degradation, ocean currents, melting ice, wind systems and cloud cover. By monitoring the flow of industrial pollution or spilled oil, for example, these satellites help us to understand and mitigate its effects. Satellite-based communications and navigation are essential to the prevention of accidents and spills associated with shipping and offshore oil and gas activities. In arid regions, precision farming techniques based on data from navigation satellites help reduce water consumption. The use of satellite data in development policy is widespread and growing, as seen in UN-directed projects. Several major international initiatives, such as the EU’s Copernicus earth observation programme, are primarily motivated by the need for information to support sustainable development policies.

The influence of space operations on modern society is intricate, with ramifications in fields that are not always obvious. Comprehensive policies are therefore warranted. To get the most out of our space activities, we must coordinate policies and skill sets that are not always perceived as clearly linked. These include technology, value creation, security, communications, transport, international relations and the environment.

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