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What on Earth is the value of space?

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When you stare up at the night sky, does it ever cross your mind to ask how that vast expanse affects your life here on Earth? If you’re like most people, the answer is probably no. It’s a question too seldom asked – and too often left unanswered. Which is why Inmarsat commissioned the most in-depth research ever carried out on global perceptions of space.  

Now the full report is available to download. Taking in 20,000 respondents across 11 countries, it provides a comprehensive snapshot of global attitudes to space. The report also features some fascinating contributions from renowned figures in the sector. From the former astronaut and commander of the International Space Station, Scott Kelly – to the Director General of the European Space Agency, Dr. Josef Aschbacher.

The research findings mark a real wake-up call for the space industry. It’s clear that people have a low understanding of the breadth and richness of the work being done in space today. Perhaps because the technology deployed is essentially invisible, people do not appear to understand the role space is already playing in their everyday lives, nor its potential to deliver a brighter future for our planet. 

To download the full survey results please click below.

People are losing sight of the role space plays in their daily lives

Among the many questions addressed in the report, people were asked what they associate with space. The findings show 21% of people associate space with ‘aliens’, 14% with ‘science fiction’ and 10% with ‘Star Wars’ – compared with just 8% for ‘communications & connectivity’ and 3% for ‘broadcasting & television’. This suggests that perceptions are being shaped more by popular culture – and less by the true role space plays in today’s economy. 

There’s a clear generational divide

The report shows younger people (18–24) are more likely to link billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk with space than 55–64-year-olds. Perhaps this is because people aged 55+ remember the Space Race, NASA’s shuttle programme and all the wonder attached to space at that time. Whereas 18-24-year-olds have grown up associating technological innovation with the internet and are more likely to follow billionaires like Musk and Bezos on social media. 

“The lack of awareness on communications satellites surprises me. 29% of respondents said they don’t view them as essential. Plainly they don’t realise how the voice and data systems they rely on actually operate.”

Scott Kelly
Former Astronaut, Engineer & Naval Aviator

People have high hopes for space

The research highlights a small core of people globally who are aware of the potential for space to answer many of the world’s challenges. For example, 7% of respondents said that space can alleviate poverty. While another 7% thought space can support the goal of producing enough food to feed our growing population. 11% imagined space will have a role in researching and finding cures for diseases like cancer.

People seem to be pinning their hopes on space to solve many of our problems here on Earth. But that optimism doesn’t appear to be based on a strong understanding of the role that space can and is already playing in areas such as scientific research and exploration. 

They are also worried about the future of space 

The report demonstrates that people are nervous about what could happen in space – some even feel terrified. Globally, people consider these as the three biggest concerns about the future of space.

Clearly people see space junk as the number one threat. They worry that space will eventually be subject to the same pollution and exploitation that has occurred on Earth – with drastic consequences for both.

These worries are well founded. As Inmarsat’s CEO, Rajeev Suri, explains in his introduction to the report, for space to support sustainability on Earth there needs to be sustainable development in space. The myriad of low Earth orbit mega-constellations now being built present an opportunity but without proper oversight, they will create a massive amount of space debris. Not to mention the issue of orbital congestion or even the possibility of damaging the Earth’s atmosphere. Such risks must be properly understood and addressed through robust and enforceable regulation. 

“We chose to commission this report because we believe space needs to occupy a far greater share of the public consciousness. Both the magnificent possibilities and the potential risks.”

Rajeev Suri
CEO, Inmarsat

Explore the full story

Download the full report to discover more of the global demographic and cultural differences around space, the differing perceptions between countries, as well as business leaders versus the general public. And more importantly, understand how the data convincingly proves the following conclusions:

  • The digital generation has benefitted from technological advances that were by-products of the first Space Age. However, these innovations are so embedded in everyday life that they’re taken for granted.
  • The second Space Age has arrived, but the public are not wholly aware of its significance. Astonishing innovations in recent years are not welcomed with the sense of wonder, curiosity and hunger for knowledge that accompanied the first Space Age.
  • Space is attracting huge amounts of investment. We need to ensure that investment goes into activities that will improve the lives of everyone on the planet.
  • There is a widespread concern for the future of space, and a public desire for the principles of sustainable development to be applied in space, as they are on Earth. 

These insights are just a small fraction of the information available in the research. To explore the full story, download the comprehensive report.  

To read the full press release click here.