Skip to Content

Inventing Outer Space: Innovation in future technologies

Lucy Mason
Apr 25, 2024

Outer space is the stuff of dreams: many people are inspired by the potential opportunities of future space travel, and the potential for space to unlock the solutions to huge problems such as energy, climate change and overpopulation. The initial landing on the moon in 1969 was a seminal moment for humanity. There have now been humans in space continuously on the International Space Station since 2000; and through the Artemis program, NASA are seeking to return to the Moon and deploy innovative technologies to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before. Technology is key to realizing these dreams and building the future of space.

So which technologies are we talking about? Well, all sorts of technologies could be useful in space in future or will be affected by what is happening in space. There are a number of ‘upstream’ technologies which together create the ability to launch rockets, maneuver, and land (radar, energy and propulsion technologies, robotics, software, automation, sensors, semiconductors, robust materials, ground stations, control systems, and position, navigation and timing (PNT) technologies), and ‘downstream’ technologies which use satellites in orbit to deliver their effects on Earth, such as satellite telecommunications, mapping and navigation technologies and data analytics. Collecting and selling space-derived data, such as Earth observations, is key to many businesses in industries such as agriculture and to monitoring environmental change. Defence also increasingly relies on space-derived intelligence.

In future emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, edge computing, synthetic biology, novel materials, nanotechnology, quantum technologies, 3D printing, and the rapidly expanding Internet of Things (connected devices) will all be relevant to the developing space ecosystem. An often forgotten – but crucial – element will be the application of human sciences – social and behavioral science – to develop models for cooperation, fair use and ultimately enable humans to live in space communities. We could see within the next decade the emergence and scaling of space-based semiconductor, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices manufacturing, benefitting from low-gravity environment to create molecular structures not possible on Earth. Improvements in novel materials could build modular solar panels in space, transmitting energy at scale back to Earth: while we might see the emergence of giant data centers in space to store the vast amounts of data being generated (benefitting from naturally low temperatures).  The possibilities are endless.

What do we need to get there?

Firstly, many of these technologies are being developed for other sectors and by a mixture of private and public sector organisations. The space sector doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel: it needs to tap into and leverage the work going on in other sectors and understand how to shape it for the future needs of space – there are strong synergies with technologies being deployed in the oceans, aviation, and the Antarctic, for example. Much of the expertise lies outside the ‘space’ sector and may not even realize their work has relevance in space. This needs investment in coordinating and communications and creating opportunities for cross-sector and multi-disciplinary collaborations.

Secondly, having a clear vision for the future helps to set the right direction of travel, and bring people along on the journey.  Creating and sharing technology roadmaps helps everyone to understand how future technologies might converge and be integrated into future capabilities. Taking an outcome- focused approach to building new space capabilities can galvanize people around solving a common problem set – for example a well-funded and high-profile multinational challenge to create a deployable, scaled and safe space debris removal capability by 2035 could inspire some brilliant innovation, both in technology and in international co-operation and regulation.

Finally, technology is not usually cheap at scale: it is one thing to put small amounts of money into finding and exploring initial ideas and creating proof-of-concepts; but quite another to find the scale of investment needed to scale up and deploy a fully mature capability. This is a classic ‘Valley of Death’ problem, and many private investors are starting to invest in space, but the sector is still seen as long-term and high-risk (as compared to other technology applications of AI in other sectors, which might be an easier investor proposition). Governments can play a key role as first customer and investor, perhaps with novel commercial and public ownership models.

There are huge opportunities in space, which can benefit all of humanity globally. But private sector and public sector organisations alike, around the world, will need to work together to turn this into a reality.

Meet our authors

Lucy Mason

Director for Innovation, Capgemini Invent UK
Prof Lucy Mason FRSA is a Director at Capgemini Invent leading on emerging technologies and innovation, especially in the defence, space and security sectors. She is the founder and former Head of the Government’s Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) which finds and funds innovation to create novel defence and security capabilities. Her interests include the threats and opportunities posed by AI and machine learning, the internet of things, quantum technologies, futures thinking, and the implications of technologies for people and society. Lucy is a Visiting Professor at Cranfield University, Chair of the Governance Board for the Security of Digital Technology at the Periphery (SDTaP) programme (formerly PETRAS), and Chair of the SPRITE+ Advisory Board. She is a member of the Advisory Boards for the Common Mission Project and CREST Research. Lucy was a former civil servant between 2009 – 2019 and has a doctorate in archaeological science.

Mark Chang

CEng, FRAS, MIoP, MINCOSE, PhD (Astronomy Instrumentation)
Mark Chang is a Director at Capgemini Invent, both leading the UK Space Sector business and shaping the company’s Quantum Technologies capability. He has led or been part of many international satellite missions teams from the UK and the USA, covering different stages from design, build, test to deployment, operations and end-of-life activity. Notable projects he has been part of include the NASA/ESA James Webb Space Telescope, ESA’s Sentinel 5 Precursor and EarthCARE missions. Motivated to bring innovative capabilities into service to transform the way we live, Mark is also an advocate for neurodiversity awareness and inclusion activities, with the intent of bringing together the best of our society.