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Space industry forecasts far from perfect

February 12, 2024

It is always fun going back a few years and Pierre Lionnet, director of research at ASD Eurospace, has done exactly that and gone back to Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) forecasts for the space industry as they saw things in 2015.

Lionnet is too polite to say the forecasts were rubbish, but points out that the Administration’s challenge was to make predictions when there was no Starlink, no SpaceX, no OneWeb and no Blue Origin and it was anyone’s guess at how the Non-Geostationary (NGSO) launch market would evolve. Lionnet is not so far wrong when he states: “Forecasts are like astrology to me: a matter of irrational belief.”

At the time the FAA expected for 2023 that there would be ten NGSO launches. The reality was that last year SpaceX alone almost managed almost 100 launches (of which a few were to GSO).

Indeed, the 2015 forecasts had zero expectations of any Commercial Telecommunications NGSO launches for 2023. The FAA predicted zero Commercially Launched Satellites to NGSO for 2023.

One can only wonder at how well-connected the FAA’s researchers were to the actual industry.

Because there was some commercial activity around in 2012. For example, the precursor company to OneWeb (WorldVu) was founded in 2012. There were rumours that Google wanted to establish a mega-constellation of satellites in 2014. And the concept that was to eventually become SpaceX was bubbling under as early as 2002 (SpaceX was incorporated in 2002) and took out a licence to launch rockets from Vandenberg in early 2004. Despite a few initial set-backs with the Falcon 1 design there was a steady improvement and to such an extent that by 2012 SpaceX was offering its now proven Falcon 9 launcher at a price of $57 million per launch. SpaceX had 3,000 staff by early 2013.

One wonders what trade publications the FAA were reading in those early days…

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