The Space Reviewin association with SpaceNews

Boeing 702
Companies that build and launch satellites like the Boeing 702 (above) are obviously part of the space industry; should companies that simply use these satellites also be included? (credit: Boeing)

What is the “space industry”?

There is no shortage of articles that discuss the current state of (and usually the problems with) the space industry. Yet, most often, these articles make little effort to define exactly what the “space industry” really means. The term is used so widely, and so loosely, that one wonders if the term has any real meaning. The usual problem with the phrase “space industry” is that it is too inclusive: it encompasses any number of companies for whom space may not necessarily be at the core of their business, in an effort to make the industry look as large, and thus as prominent, as possible.

An example of this use—or misuse—of the term can be seen in an essay by David Cavossa published in the May 19 issue of Space News. In the essay Cavossa, the director of external relations for the Satellite Industry Association (SIA), argues that one reason why the industry has lost the prominence it held back in the 1960s, when it had “the ear of the president”, is that there is an excessive number of industry organizations. These organizations, ranging from Cavossa’s own SIA and other industry groups like the Space Transportation Association and the Mobile Satellite Users Association to quasi-governmental groups like the Florida Space Authority and the California Space Authority, created a fractured environment ill-suited for lobbying Congress and the President, he argues. By contrast, other industries, like communications, broadcasting, and electronics, have a handful of large industry groups like the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA) and the Electronic Industry Alliance to get their message across to policymakers.

Any influence that industry once held with the President was lost for geopolitical reasons with the end of the Space Race and shifting relations with the former Soviet Union, not because of a lack of powerful industry organizations.

Cavossa believes that what the space industry needs is a period of consolidation—not of companies, but of industry organizations. By creating a small number of larger, more powerful groups, he believes, the industry—which “contributes hundreds of billions of dollars to the global economy” annually—will be more effective in getting its message delivered to the powers that be in Washington. This consolidation is necessary in order to give the space industry the “voice, visibility, and vision” it deserves. (A phrase perhaps unwittingly similar to the California Space Authority’s “Voice, Visibility, Edge…” motto.)

This argument does initially look compelling, particularly when one compares the power, or lack thereof, of the space industry versus its larger, better-organized counterparts. However, the argument has several fatal flaws. First is the dubious claim, unsupported in Cavossa’s essay, that the fractured nature of the industry and its lack of powerful trade organizations caused it to lose the influence it once wielded in the White House. When the “space industry” had influence with the President, it was back during the 1960s, during the heated race with the Soviet Union, and a time when the commercial space industry consisted of contractors for NASA and the Air Force. Any influence that industry once held with the President was lost for geopolitical reasons with the end of the Space Race and shifting relations with the former Soviet Union, not because of a lack of powerful industry organizations.

A second problem with Cavossa’s argument is that other industries are nowhere near as unified in their industry organizations as he claims. As an example, look at the aviation industry, a close cousin to the space industry but considerably larger in size and influence. A check of one list of aviation industry organizations shows that aviation is just as fractured as space appears to be. There are industry organizations for airlines, pilots, flight attendants, aircraft owners, shippers, and even passengers! Yet elements of this industry, in part through these associations, have had some success communicating their issues and concerns to legislators and regulators though the years.

Aviation is not an exception to this rule. In the telecommunications industry, for example, the CTIA is not the sole industry organization representing the industry, as this extensive list of associations and organizations shows. Even if one focuses on a single aspect of the industry, wireless communications, the CTIA is joined by groups like the Wireless Communications Association International, the Wireless Industry Association, the American Mobile Telecommunications Association, and more. Every industry has a collection of organizations, each serving the needs of particular groups or market niches.

page 2: redefining the space industry >>