The role of space agencies is evolving, with industry and the private sector now engaging in types of activities traditionally initiated and developed by governments and their space agencies. The NewSpace wave is bringing challenges and new ambitions in space, injecting a new spirit into the ecosystem, a new way of doing thing in space, where reusability and economies of scale are key drivers. With space activities growing increasingly commercial due to greater private sector involvement, science and exploration are gradually becoming drivers for economic growth.
Over the past 15 years, a new method for developing space technologies has been tested under various forms. Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) models are being implemented as a new way to achieve access to space, with the goals of lowering costs, increasing efficiency and boosting economic growth. And since the New Age of Space Exploration translates into space exploration through economic development, PPPs will play an increasingly important role in developing the in-space infrastructure required.
The success of NASA’s programs demonstrated how the effective use of PPP models of “acquisition of commercial items” (“procurement” of space systems and services) can facilitate the transfer of capital and expertise to the private industry for technology development and operations, so that sufficiently mature technologies can be developed by companies and startups under new formulas, escaping the old cost-plus contracts.
Experience with PPPs in the European space sector is growing, but so far limited only to the Satcom sector. Still, these valuable examples and case studies represent the foundation for future partnerships to be implemented in other areas of the space sector.
The Call for Partnership Ideas, issued by ESA in 2015, had led to the selection of a series of projects to enter a pilot phase. Through strategic partnerships with industrial and private partners, ESA is learning how to exercise new roles, such as business partner, investor, and technical advisor. Highly valuable lessons have been extracted in this process, insights that will improve the development of future partnerships.
With the most recent initiatives announced, it is expected that the Moon would become a Gateway to our Solar System over the next decades, representing a transit/transfer point and a stepping stone for missions to Mars and beyond. These initiatives invite the private sector to collaborate and contribute in order to build a common (public-private) infrastructure that would represent the backbone of future space exploration. And once we start looking at the Moon through an economic prism, we can identify several roles our “eighth continent” could play in the grand scheme of things.
Needless to say, these models will have a direct and profound impact on the legal framework, shaping the future of the “Moon Agreement” and the subsequent regulation to be developed and implemented by various entities around/ on the Moon; the implications are manifold and at all levels (national, international, ESA policy level, etc). Therefore, this study is concerned with the matters outlined above and explores some of the main legal, political and economic implications of PPPs.