10 Reasons “Adjacent” Industries Are the Next Big Growth Sector in Space
By Dan Dumbacher
AIAA Executive Director
1. AIAA is the largest technical society for the aeronautics and astronautics professions. Why are you advocating for non-space, “adjacent” industries and professions in space?
On behalf of the 30,000 professional members of AIAA, we strongly believe in the economic opportunity for those who don’t work in the traditional space industry – yet see their future in space. ASCEND is unique in its ability to convene the space ecosystem – comprising these adjacent industries along with aeronautics and astronautics industry veterans. ASCEND is an interdisciplinary community that engages us all in discussions, testing, building, and problem-solving that will drive the intentional outcomes we need to accelerate progress toward our off-world future together. Powered by AIAA, ASCEND is building on-ramps to space for everyone.
One goal of ASCEND is moving beyond the conversations solely focused on how we get to space. We must also answer the existential questions, “How do we live in space?” “What capabilities and technologies do we need there?” “How do we stay there?” Adjacent industries that support extending the human neighborhood into low Earth orbit, on the moon, and beyond are crucial to answering those questions. It’s how we’ll ensure a bright future for generations to come.
2. What excites you most about the potential for adjacent industries and professions to benefit from advances in space right now?
On the horizon we see increasing opportunity. The unlimited potential of low Earth orbit, the moon, and beyond for economic growth and ability to address issues on Earth continues to excite. The space ecosystem is growing tremendously beyond what we have seen in the past due to more and more entrepreneurs seeing the possibilities. The overall industry is on an impressive growth path for economic development and settlement of space.
2021 is the year of arrival! ASCEND is timed perfectly this year amid the growing tempo of launches and space missions. Numerous spacecraft have reached Mars already. The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter made the first-ever powered, controlled flight on another planet. Meanwhile, spacecraft are in development to land on the moon soon. These steps – and more – are forming the basis for the long-term settlement and economic development of space.
We see pathways to success, the application of innovation, and economic opportunity in space for several adjacent industries – construction, agriculture, hospitality, medical, and manufacturing, to name a few. The interdisciplinary spirit of ASCEND is attracting others who see space as a new place to build, work, and live.
3. How does work in space advance work on Earth?
Building the space economy is a unifying priority for businesses, industries, and markets around the world. This priority drives innovation and technological progress, produces new goods and services, grows economies through investment in enterprises large and small, and inspires people everywhere. The space economy provides the sustainable foothold for the next steps of space exploration. Space exploration channels humanity’s innovative and entrepreneurial spirits and benefits our economy here on Earth – beyond just the space industrial base. It includes high-tech small businesses and start-up companies, all excited and invigorated by the prospects of activity in low Earth orbit, our return to the moon, and the possibilities of Mars. Human space exploration and robotic exploration, working together with scientific and technology R&D, continues to attract more industries to the adventure.
4. How do you think adjacent industry utilization of space and space-based technologies will change over the next 10 years?
The next economic horizon is beyond planet Earth. The emerging space ecosystem is creating a new supply chain based on commercially-driven space activities, not solely government-driven space activities. We know that with economic opportunity comes innovation, which will drive competition as more players join the community and realize the exponential value of interdisciplinary collaboration in space.
5. What steps should adjacent industries take to accelerate their own progress to the off-world future?
First, take the on-ramp to space! Think in the context of a human neighborhood. Ask the question, “What do we need for a viable community of people living and working on the moon, on a space station, or on other planets?” Adjacent industries have the answers – like new products, new services, new capabilities, all leading to economic opportunity by serving this off-world community. Think about it in terms of how local and national economies work today on Earth.
Next, accept the invitation to the discussion at 2021 ASCEND! Meet the leaders, innovators, and influencers you need to know – and who need to know you.
6. What types of business partners do adjacent industries need to succeed in space?
The new space ecosystem supply chain is evolving. Adjacent industries are looking for partners on projects. Finding partners with experience in space is a key factor for success. Those partnerships may be vertical or horizontal integration opportunities. They may be public-private partnerships with industry, government, and academia. Current space industry players – those who already operate in space and on Earth-supporting space activities – are precisely the partners adjacent industries need. By connecting with companies with proven space capabilities, adjacent industries can begin to attract private investors who are willing to take calculated risks to lay the financial groundwork for the large-scale space economy.
The ASCEND interdisciplinary community brings these potential partners together – from cabinet members to company executives to scientists, engineers, economists, medical professionals, educators, legal professionals, artists, investors, and entrepreneurs. Connections are being accelerated through the influence of the ASCEND Guiding Coalition. Representing the highest levels of technical, scientific, and engineering leadership in government, industry, the military, and academia, the 33 Guiding Coalition members exemplify the community spirit of space. Their experience investing millions of miles and billions of dollars in space is informing and inspiring the ASCEND community.
7. What are the characteristics of a successful employee in space? What new space jobs are being created or are you anticipating will be created for adjacent industries to be successful in space?
The successful new space professional will be someone with multiple skills. We will still need the experts in specific disciplines like aerospace engineering, physics, life sciences, and materials science. The growing need will be for professionals who can work across multiple disciplines – systems thinkers and others who can address issues in real time. Future space workers will need to be able to adjust to changing circumstances and be incredibly flexible. Calling back to Earth for each next instruction just won’t be practical. Returning to Earth for medical treatment takes a three-day trip one way – also not reasonable for every ailment or injury. And waiting for supplies, resources, and parts to arrive from Earth will delay progress.
8. Are there things that make adjacent industries successful on Earth that won’t translate successfully into space? Likewise, are there things that hold them back on Earth that won’t be barriers to success in space?
Every terrestrial industry will encounter unique challenges and opportunities in space. ASCEND is showing us that through innovation, we will adapt and excel. For example, ASCEND Guiding Coalition member Michael Costas, general manager for Defense and Space at Bechtel Nuclear, Security and Environmental, pointed out in this recent blog post the challenge of mobilizing a large construction workforce in space and the unique training and safety issues inherent with performing physical work in an off-world environment. The other side of that challenge is a large-scale opportunity for autonomy and robotics.
Likewise, consider the supply chain challenges of shipping materials, food, medical equipment, and supplies from Earth versus manufacturing, growing, and producing adaptive variants and substitutes in space.
Advances in laser communication and fusion energy, such as those discussed during the recent ASCENDxSummit on “Accelerating Pathways to Space,” promise to overcome the challenges of vast-distance travel or transmitting massive volumes of data to, from, and across space.
And in addition to the physical challenges of living and working in space, let’s not ignore the psychological aspects that come with the territory. It’s an opportunity to advance our understanding of human behavior and the potential for artificial intelligence to anticipate and recalibrate the physical environment to help us “keep calm and carry on.”
9. How will adjacent industries’ participation in ASCEND accelerate their growth in space?
We have begun seeing connections between companies, trade associations, researchers, government agencies, and many others during ASCENDx events including summits, workshops, and webinars in 2020 and already this year. Conversations have started, teams are being formed, common ideas are being shared. Actionable steps are being created to lead humanity beyond planet Earth for commerce, discovery and exploration. The community has been activated to create tangible outcomes as a catalyst for innovation and progress. The on-ramp to space through ASCEND is a competitive advantage for professional growth, industry leadership, and market development – all accelerated by interdisciplinary partnership and collaboration.
10. On a personal note, what is the one thing that has made you successful in your career in space that might be instructive to others?
While technical engineering knowledge has enabled my professional accomplishments, a much more basic human experience has brought me true success. My career has been guided by the combination of passion, curiosity, and “The Golden Rule.” Loving what I do every day has carried me through the tough days, as I work to achieve more on the better days. My curiosity to learn more and ask questions has benefited me in my NASA career, leading others, and as a professor. You have to know what you don’t know. So learning from others has been key. Finally, working well with people is what drives success. The best place to start is treating others the way you want to be treated.
I believe the very fundamental human characteristics of passion, curiosity, and living by “The Golden Rule” apply to a successful, fulfilling, peaceful life on Earth – and likewise will be key for others to enjoy such a life in space.
About Dan Dumbacher
Dan Dumbacher is the Executive Director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).
Before joining the AIAA staff in 2018, Dan was a Professor of Engineering Practice in the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Purdue University.
Prior to Purdue, Dan led teams at NASA designing and developing space launch vehicle systems and technologies for 33 years. In his final leadership role at NASA, he served as the Deputy Associate Administrator, Exploration Systems Development Division, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate focused on the Space Launch System, the Orion Crew Vehicle, and Ground Systems Development and Operations.
Dan holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University, a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and he has completed the Senior Managers in Government program at Harvard University.