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Remarks by U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Space Summit: Industry Taking Off


Thank you, Caroline, for that kind introduction, and good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It’s great to be back at the Chamber of Commerce. You’ve had an exciting day of discussions.


It’s an honor to follow to the podium NASA Administrator Bridenstine, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, and even Commerce’s own Dr. Neil Jacobs from NOAA. They will be key to the future of human activity and development in space. And when we speak about leaders who have been very influential in space, we cannot forget President George H. W. Bush. He was a zealous advocate for the space program and created the first National Space Council within the Executive Office of the President in 1989.


Almost 30 years later, President Trump resurrected the Space Council. It is an honor to serve on it under the leadership of its chairman — Vice President Pence. The Space Council is doing an incredible job of bringing together key members of the Executive Branch to support policies, and actions, that will ensure America remains the flag of choice for commercial space activity.


It’s imperative to our economic growth, American jobs, human development, and national security.


President Bush also advocated for America’s return to flight after the loss of the Challenger. He wanted STEM education to become a bigger priority for U.S. schools. And he supported commercial space pioneers pushing further into unexplored regions and untapped markets of the universe. As a Navy pilot, the words President Bush most liked to hear were: “Ceiling and visibility unlimited.” That phrase perfectly summarizes the outlook for our space endeavors.


Last week, I attended the Aerospace Industries Association’s Board of Governors’ annual meeting in Orange County, California. I heard about incredible industry advancements. On Monday, we saw a sample of those first-hand. SpaceX launched a payload of 64 cubesats. In many respects, this is a harbinger of things to come. 


First, it was the third time the rocket’s boosters have been used. The boosters constitute about 70 percent of the capital cost of a Falcon 9. If rocket boosters could be reused for just five missions, the total capital cost savings per launch would be about 50 percent — a huge savings. Similarly, the multi-satellite constellation concept will provide more ubiquitous coverage from space at a much lower launch-cost per satellite.


Indeed, the combined weight of the 64 cubesats is probably no greater than one big satellite from generations past. Unlike large satellites, damage to one small satellite would not handicap the entire system. The end result of all this is better technology, lower costs, and less risk. Those are the ingredients for success in space. And it’s how we must approach space if we are truly going to establish a continued presence on the Moon and look to Mars.


So, how do we get to the $1 Trillion space economy? This is not a casual question. I frequently raise it with my staff. A $1 Trillion space economy is not a lofty goal. Morgan Stanley projects the global space industry could reach $1.1 Trillion by 2040. One estimate from the Bank of America places the space economy at almost $3 Trillion by then. Today, the global space economy is roughly $400 Billion, about 80 percent of which is commercial activity. But that number is already up from $340 Billion when I started my job as Commerce Secretary.


And the United States is responsible for almost half of global commercial space activity. This work used to be concentrated in Florida, California, and Texas. But now, there isn’t an area of the country that is not impacted by the space industry. Today, we have a convergence of technology, capital, and political will that is creating opportunities at an unprecedented speed.


We must seize this moment. Here are the five ways we will get to $1 Trillion.


The first is to decrease costs. We must continue finding ways to make space more affordable. SpaceX is not the only company cutting costs through reusability, sustainability, shared services, and economies of scale. Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance are also developing systems for reuse and inflight refueling. Last month, Rocket Lab broke open the small sat launch world with its successful first commercial launch.  Their smaller, electron rockets will launch for under $5 Million per flight — a lower price point for very small satellites. And notably, Monday’s SpaceX launch was purchased by Spaceflight, a wholesaler of launch capacity. They paid for the rights to the entire payload, and then resold it in small increments. This trend toward ride hitching is an excellent way to broaden the market for launch services.


All of these developments show how the industry is changing from custom-designed, “one-off” research projects to repetitive commercial use of standardized launch systems. The trend will lower costs by amortizing R&D over more units, and sparking learning-curve improvements as manufacturing volumes expands. And soon, tourism, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, mining, and lunar habitation will become a reality, as payloads increase and launch costs come down. These are not easy feats, but can and must be pursued if we are going to get to $1 Trillion. 


Though it might create a new Gold Rush, I’m told that platinum from one asteroid alone could bring in over $400 billion. And, earlier this year, a lander took the first rock samples from an asteroid. Maybe I chose the wrong profession!


Number two: To get to $1 Trillion, we must have continued disruption and innovation in “traditional” commercial models in areas like remote sensing, navigation, and even weather. Positive disruptions in technology for mapping, agriculture, and insurance are rapidly expanding both the terrestrial and space economies.


Today, the data collected from space is vast and valuable. The entire planet is imaged at least once daily. And commercial entities are collecting new phenomena and using novel platforms to gain unique information. Location-based services are expanding, and more precise weather predictions are helping farmers, shippers, and pilots.


GPS has redefined the economy, accounting for over $60 billion in direct economic benefit —and that’s not counting the indirect value to its users. All of us use satellite technology today to find a coffee shop, navigate through a major city, or catch an Uber to this event. It’s a wonder how we got around before smart phones, much less met somebody at the airport. There is no telling how much value is derived from the time, expense, and human capital saved thanks to GPS.


Element number three: We are going to need better financing and insurance for the space industry to get to $1 Trillion. There continues to be strong and growing venture-capital funding for the space industry. But missing from space finance are the bigger institutions, especially banks. Their participation will be necessary to execute longer-term commercial plans. To return to the Moon and get to Mars, we’ll need large-scale financing from all levels of the capital infrastructure.


To this end, the Commerce Department is hosting a Space Investment Summit next week to bring the entire U.S. capital community into the discussion. We look forward to meeting with key lending and investment institutions to discuss how space companies can better attract capital.


Number four: Space situational awareness (SSA), and space traffic management (STM) will be key to future growth. Yes, mega-constellations of satellites are exciting, but they make space even more congested. There is an urgent demand for an improved understanding of the threats to satellites and human spaceflight systems like the ISS. Today, that function is performed by our partners at the Department of Defense.


But as many of you know, President Trump’s Space Policy Directive 3 requires the Commerce Department to create a civil agency interface to provide basic SSA data services to commercial firms. This essential service will be free of user fees. The Commerce Department is excited to bring that mission into the 21st century. We’ve forged a strong alliance with DoD, the Air Force, and especially the U.S. Strategic Command.


Last week, I spent two days at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California meeting with General Raymond, Major General Whiting, and the Combined Space Operating Center.

We saw many ways that we can leverage commercial technologies and applications to improve STM and SSA services in the future. We’re already discussing new ideas about space sensing, analytics, visualization, automation, improved algorithms, and other capabilities. These are designed to greatly improve the accuracy of positioning, and other conjunction-related data.


One of the main things we are working on is an open architecture data repository where companies can showcase new capabilities, either on their own or with partners. We will build on a continued flow of information from DoD, and add novel capabilities for new services. Current technology cannot see space objects below 10 centimeters in diameter. But smaller debris traveling at high speeds can still be fatal to satellites — especially the solar panels that energize them. So, we are interested in new technologies and data-sharing agreements to track smaller objects in space. Improved SSA will enhance satellite servicing and space debris removal, and it will change the economics of space.


And, as I conveyed to our European allies several weeks ago, the mission will continue to involve our foreign friends, even as improved SSA transforms the entire U.S. space enterprise. Finally, the fifth element of getting to $1 Trillion is talent. The industry will need more skilled professionals like the good people in this auditorium here today. 


Current estimates place the employment figures for the U.S. space industry at about 200,000. Currently we do not have enough talent — and a diversity of talent — to satisfy the $1 Trillion space economy. In fact, the sector’s workforce has been on a decade-long decline.   Yes, some of this is the result of more automation, computerized controls, and robotics. But it is also due to a weakening of our talent pool, and the shortage computer engineers, software programmers, mechanics, and electricians.


We have to correct that.


Hopefully, America will once again emphasize the importance of vocational training, and of math, science, and technology in our educational system. The future depends on it. These have been at least some of the key elements that will be essential to the $1 Trillion space economy. But getting there won’t be automatic. Innovations in launch and spectrum, and how we manage them, are needed.


At the Department of Commerce — consistent with National Space Council direction — we are creating a “one-stop-shop” for industry’s advocacy and regulatory needs. Advancing commercial space is an all-hands-on-deck activity for us. Our newly formed “Space Team” meets weekly to leverage expertise from all Department bureaus — including the International Trade Administration, Bureau of Industry and Security, NTIA, NOAA, NIST, and the Patent and Trademark Office.


The Commerce Department’s space team is new, but the results already have been impressive.

Since 2010, Commerce’s International Trade Advocacy Center has recorded 24 project wins for companies across the globe valued at more than $4.3 Billion. And over the last two years, we’ve cut our NOAA remote sensing license timelines to 62 days, down from 140 days when I assumed office.


Getting to $1 Trillion is going to take the entire government working together to create a commercial space environment that allows business to do what it does best. Thank you for your efforts to drive toward the $1 Trillion space economy. I look forward to helping you get there.


I hear that Virgin Galactic is taking people into space before Christmas. I hope they’re taking Santa.


Happy holidays to all of you!