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Space exploration is making headline news again, thanks to the Cassini-Huygens mission to Titan. Such public attention is vital, not just because it helps the industry to move on from major setbacks, such as the Columbia tragedy in 2003. A look behind these spectacular space missions shows an industry that has been bedeviled by cost overruns and painful reductions in public financial support.

Launcher and satellite manufacturers, as well as providers of launching and other upstream services, have been hit particularly hard in recent times, according to Space 2030, Exploring the Future of Space Applications. Downstream, firms have done better. Telecommunications and satellite-based location and navigation services, such as the Global Positioning System (GPS), have experienced fast growth. Telecommunications and navigation services represent more than 95% of the total revenues of the space industry, which have risen by 140% between 1996 and 2002. So, where will future upstream demand come from?

While new technological innovations will emerge, there may be other possibilities. Take tourism, whose growth depends on reducing the high cost of travel, and making both private investors and passengers safe and secure. Resolving these issues might not be as far-fetched a prospect as many believe, as has been shown by pioneers like South African-born scientist and entrepreneur, Mike Melvill, who on 21 June 2004, piloted the first ever, privately financed, suborbital vehicle into space.

©OECD Observer No 246/247, December 2004-January 2005

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