Americans support entrepreneurs in space

Spaceflight News
Steve McGrath, October 2017

But want improvements on Earth

Space, once the government’s exclusive domain, today poses one of the most exciting economic, scientific and humanistic opportunities for the private sector in decades.

Investors are pouring money into small satellites, launch vehicles and space tourism plans. Yet, as with other new technologies, the average American has a lot to learn about business in space. And hungry entrepreneurs need to understand what he or she is thinking.

To find out, the Brodeur Space Group conducted the Brodeur Space Entrepreneur 2017 Survey of more than 600 Americans across the country, and learned that they:

  • Still see national security as the top space priority;
  • At the same time, support private sector activity in space;
  • Yet want some degree of government regulation, especially privacy protection;
  • Expect space development to directly benefit Earth; and
  • Think the U.S. is a leader, if not the leader, in space technology.

“Americans still view space technology through the old lens of defense and national security,” said Jerry Johnson, head of planning for Brodeur Partners. “But we also found that there is support for commercial activity in space, even government funding for that activity, if those businesses are reasonably regulated and can demonstrate benefits on Earth.”

Here are some of the details:

Private Sector Role

While historically space has been a government activity, Americans today actually prefer private over government investment in space-based activities, according to the survey. A majority of Americans actually support government financial incentives for private space companies.

Earthly Benefits

At the same time, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Americans believe that government investments should be in those space programs that have an immediate benefit to life on Earth.

The survey also found that space tourism needs to make the case that it will benefit the majority of the population: Three-quarters (75 percent) of Americans think that space travel will only benefit a few wealthy people. Support is also tepid for government investment in deep space exploration: less than a majority (46 percent) of Americans support spending government money to send a mission to Mars.

Privacy Paramount

Everyone expects the skies to soon be filled with small satellites capturing increasingly detailed data about activities on Earth. Americans are wary of the privacy implications: Strong majorities believe there should be privacy limitations on satellite companies capturing this data (72 percent), and government should have a regulatory role regarding private companies engaged in space enterprises (61 percent).

National Security

Space-based systems operators promise to improve life on Earth in a variety of ways, including communications, climate, navigation and crop monitoring. None is more important to survey respondents than defense, the clear priority among seven services mentioned. At the same time, the survey suggests that people may not realize the important role that space commerce plays in everyday activity like GPS and navigation systems.

Global Leadership

A solid majority of Americans believe the U.S. is a leader in space technology, with over one third of Americans saying we are “the clear global leader.” Fewer consider us the clear leader in medical technology, energy, automotive and environmental technology.

“This new data reveals a tricky communications challenge for the Entrepreneurial Space industry,” said John Brodeur, chairman of Brodeur Partners, who is leading the Brodeur Space Group.

Communications Challenge

As Frank White outlined in our webinar yesterday, “Entrepreneurs in Space: The Communications Challenges,” a new company’s battle for the minds of prospects, the media and the public entails three stages:

  • Awareness: Americans today simply aren’t tuned into space, so unless you’re already a famous entrepreneur – like Bezos, Branson and Musk – you first need to introduce yourself.
  • Knowledge: Once they’ve heard of your company, audiences are ready to hear the value you bring to the world. Preach benefits, not features. For example, you provide real-time pictures of the Earth’s surface for a variety of audiences who need them; you don’t launch constellations of satellites.
  • Behavior change: Once they know you, you need to ensure their perception is positive and convince them to cover you, invest in you, support you, or buy your service.

“The industry has a lot of education to do,” says White. “For instance, space tourism offers people an opportunity to gain a totally new perspective on our planet and is much more than a ‘joyride for the rich.’ Similarly, there are many earthly benefits to space activities. We just need to tell the stories that illustrate these facts.”

This is where we can help. Say hello.

Survey Methodology

The Brodeur Space Entrepreneur 2017 Survey was conducted using Toluna’s online panel in the U.S. (n=615) from Oct. 4 to Oct. 11, 2017

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Toluna surveys. Figures for age, sex, region, and income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the census population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in Toluna surveys, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.