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Exploration and in-orbit economy

Human presence in space was made possible by extraordinary technological and scientific advances: material and physical science, propulsion, and much more.

Science in space and international collaboration

Space exploration beyond Earth’s orbit, including research into solar system formation and the search for Earth-like planets and exoplanets, leads to a better understanding of how our universe was formed and of fundamental scientific principles. National or regional initiatives like the Curiosity Rover or the European Extremely Large Telescope have already emerged. However, international collaboration is increasingly indispensable to sustain scientific programmes, for technological and economic reasons: ESA partnered with NASA for Jason and with ROSCOMOS for ExoMars; the US Orion spacecraft uses a service module from the European ATV; and the James Webb Telescope, designed to replace Hubble, involves 20 countries.

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Suborbital flights

Suborbital flights are expected to travel at an altitude of around 100 km above sea level (Karman line). Though several private companies such as Virgin Galactic (VSS) or Blue Origin (New Shepard capsule) are currently testing suborbital flight vehicles, no manned flights (apart from SpaceShip 1, winner of the Ansari Prize in 2004) have yet been made. This technology looks promising, both to enable scientific experiments in microgravity and for space tourism. Legislative changes are currently being made in order to ensure the seamless introduction of these new methods.

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Privatisation of the ISS

With over €100bn invested in it by the five leading space agencies (NASA, ROSCOSMOS, JAXA, ESA and CSA), the ISS was first launched into orbit in the late 2000s. Serving as a microgravity laboratory, the ISS has been the venue for experiments in biology, physics and astronomy. However, the private sector is gradually taking over the ownership and managing role of the station, formerly the domain of space agencies. Certain activities have already been outsourced and new commercial activities are emerging: inflatable space habitats (Bigelow), deployment of cubesats (NanoRacks), hosting of external payloads (Bartholomeo), space manufacturing (Made in Space), etc. As the ISS is expected to retire by 2024- 2028, the opportunities for private players to invest in this project are expanding as public investment is expected to decrease.

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Gradual involvement of commercial players and PPP

Exploration missions and space outpost maintenance are very expensive, and space agencies struggle to finance all their scientific programmes. Commercial players can thus be valuable partners to share investments and risks. Current potential opportunities for these types of synergies include the development of commercial space habitats under NASA’s NextSTEP programme, the construction of infrastructure in microgravity, realisation of partnerships to be the first customers of commercial missions and, more generally, the allocation of competitive grants for the industry to develop equipment.

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The Moon as a gateway for Deep Space exploration

The global space exploration roadmap shared by worldwide space agencies envisions ambitious missions to the Moon and Mars as the next steps. The Earth’s gravity well raises strong space mechanics barriers, making these missions extremely expensive and challenging. The Lunar Orbit Platform Gateway, often presented as the “next ISS”, would allow the agencies to overcome this challenge. In addition to being a science driver, it represents a new opportunity for global cooperation on an endeavour that will benefit all humankind.

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Use of Space resources

The development of exploration activities will require an increasing amount of equipment to be transported, with strong constraints on mission feasibility in terms of both engineering and cost. The use of in-situ resources (volatiles and solids) for propellant and infrastructure manufacturing will be key to the success of this endeavour. The first step to which being the enhancement of our knowledge of the elements available on the Moon and near-Earth asteroids, followed by the development of the necessary mining and processing technologies.

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Our specialised service offering


  • Business case assessment and revenue projection for commercial exploitation of space stations
  • Gap analysis and identification of market barriers for ISRU value chains
  • Definition of technology roadmaps for future space exploration missions

Socio-economic impact assessments

  • Assessment of market spillovers and technology spin-offs from ISRU development
  • Impact assessment for Moon exploration programme and Global Exploration Roadmap

Governance & Operations

  • Analyses of investor satisfaction in human spaceflight programmes
  • Requirement and configuration management for multi-agency exploration programmes
  • Definition of roadmap for additive manufacturing in micro and partial gravity environments


  • Analysis of the legal framework for space mining

Selected credentials

Study on potential future markets and value chains of Space Resource Utilisation (SRU)

This study was undertaken to identify potential future markets and value chains associated with the exploitation of space resources. We examined the main challenges and gaps relating to knowledge of resources, sizing of demand, mission architectures and costs, as well as the relevant technologies. Our analysis covered each stage of the value chain, from prospection to mining, processing and manufacturing, with a timeframe extending up to 2040. It provided the Government of Luxembourg with an exhaustive picture of the areas that could benefit from public support and a quantification of the associated socio-economic benefits.

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Socio-economic review of ESA’s participation in the ISS programme

On behalf of ESA, PwC analysed the impact of ESA’s investment in the ISS and the possible impacts of disengagement. A large-scale economic impact assessment was performed using ESA’s data. Using the data derived from this assessment, we then created an economic model to produce GDP multipliers. We also conducted an assessment of the catalytic impacts and wider benefits for Member States, with different categories including space technology, fundamental and applied research, international cooperation and inspiration.

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Ex-ante socio-economic assessment of ESA’s new partnership proposals for space exploration

In the context of its position as a business partner to select private sector initiatives in the field of space exploration, ESA asked PwC to assess partnership proposals covering a wide range of topics including use of the ISS, exploitation of LEO and lunar exploration. We began by assessing the expected economic impact, to provide a high level review of the proposed business plans, and continued by evaluating major components used in negotiations (business model, financials). PwC also provided an ex-ante socio-economic impact assessment addressing wider impacts.

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Photo: NASA | ESA | CNES | SpaceX | Blue Origin | RocketLab | Maxar Technologies

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Luigi Scatteia

Luigi Scatteia

Associé Consulting - Responsable activité spatiale, PwC France et Maghreb

Tel: +33 1 56 57 58 46