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Event Details

Panel Discussion 3 — Outerspace governance systems, networks, polycentricity


Thursday, November 3, 2022


2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. CET (UTC +1)


Richard Tutton, University of York, UK


Jean-Frédéric Morin, Laval University, Canada
Guillaume Beaumier, Georgetown University, USA
Xiao-Shan Yap, EAWAG, Switzerland, and Utrecht University, the Netherlands
Richard Tutton, University of York, UK
Florian Rabitz , Kaunas University of Technology, Lithuania


The pre-recorded presentations mentioned below will be available ahead of the conference and need to be watched before the panel discussion takes place.

Pre-recorded Presentations
The Governance Of Debris in Space (GODS) index

Jean-Frédéric Morin, Laval University, Canada and Ekaterina Turkina, HEC Montreal, Canada

Abstract: The outer-space governance system is not centralized around one global institution. Instead, it is fragmented into hundreds of institutions of various forms, sizes, and types. This fragmentation creates challenges for a rapid transition toward sustainability, but it also creates opportunities for institutional innovation. This presentation is based on a network analysis of 1874 international space agreements (including treaties, memorandum of understanding, executive agreements, codes of conducts, resolutions, etc.). First, it traces how the space governance system has evolved toward greater polycentricity since the 1970s. Second, it maps the limited distribution of commitments related to sustainability. The conclusion discusses the missing ingredients for a functioning polycentric governance system.

How did the space industry emerge? The speciation of new organizational forms

Guillaume Beaumier, Georgetown University, USA, and Jean-Frédéric Morin, Laval University, Canada

Abstract: Once a domain primarily governed by a handful of governmental agencies, outer space is increasingly populated by private space organizations (PSOs). PSOs launch rockets, operate satellites, and even bring tourists to outer space. Few studies have thoroughly investigated the factors that drove the emergence of PSOs. This paper builds on organizational ecology theory to explain the emergence of PSOs. Empirically, it draws from an original dataset of 1539 space organizations and 41 semi-structured interviews. It finds that mutualist relations among PSOs (i.e., commensalism), but more importantly between space agencies and PSOs (i.e., symbiosis), contributed to the development of PSOs. This finding contrasts sharply with the popular image of PSOs growing thanks to technological innovations and visionary entrepreneurs. It also contrasts with the idea that dynamic PSOs are outcompeting a sclerosed public sector. Space companies are not superseding governmental space agencies. They are nurtured by and grow with them. This paper contributes to the literature on organizational ecology by linking environmental constraints to mutualist strategies, and the literature on interactions between public and private sectors, by showing how the latter can emerge from the former.

Earth-Space Sustainability: An emerging theme and a methodological proposal for addressing opportunities and challenges

Xiao-Shan Yap, EAWAG, Switzerland, and Utrecht University, the Netherlands

Abstract: Humanity today is facing unprecedented earth-space sustainability challenges. On the one hand, rapid space-based activities have driven new opportunities to transform manifold systems on Earth towards addressing grand challenges. On the other hand, such rapid progress has shaped new anthropogenic challenges, including the accumulation of space debris as well as atmospheric pollution back on Earth.
Achieving future earth-space sustainability is challenging given the lack of clear system boundaries for governance purposes and the complex interests among a growing set of global actors. The objective of this talk is two-fold. First, it focuses on proposing a socio-technical perspective to delineate boundaries of analysis for the emerging satellite sector based on infrastructure uses and purposes, e.g., earth observation, navigation, and telecommunication. Second, it proposes a discourse-based network analysis method, namely the socio-technical configuration analysis (STCA), as a tool to code and map value interests expressed by leading actors in each of those infrastructure systems.
The talk will draw on preliminary insights based on analyzing a large set of coded international news articles, which unfold similar or conflicting interests among actors shaping the development of space-based infrastructures in the Earth’s orbit. In so doing, this ongoing study seeks to identify opportunities and challenges for reconciling the diverse interests of actors to help address future orbital sustainability and equal diffusion of space-based infrastructures for sustainable transition purposes on Earth.

Promising Spaceports: Expectations and the Making of Space Economies in the UK

Richard Tutton, University of York, UK, and Eleanor Armstrong, Stockholm University, Sweden

Abstract: While the UK’s original space programme is seventy years old, recently, we have witnessed a renewed level of interest and investment in Britain’s place in outer space. We explore how the British Government is constructing space as an economic opportunity for the UK, with a specific focus on its long standing expectations that this will be realized in part by creating commercial spaceports. Informed by research in sociology of expectations (Martin 2015) and assetization studies (Birch and Muniesa 2020), we focus on policy discourse to analyse how actors in the UK space sector have articulated expectations about space as an important domain for future economic growth. We argue that the UK Government as a key actor in the sector has turned access to outer space into an asset that commercial actors in the UK space economy can capitalize on as a revenue stream, through a series of policy interventions, regulatory measures, and investment decisions. Further, as we go on to explore, these spaceports are linked to other kinds of assets from which future economic benefit is expected to be derived, in the form of knowledge and inspiration. Taken together, we suggest that these tangible and intangible assets constitute new forms of capital within the structure of contemporary neoliberal and technoscientific economies.

Transnationalization in the Satellite Industry

Florian Rabitz and Vidas Vilcinskas , Kaunas University of Technology, Lithuania

Abstract: The emergence of private actors in what used to be within the exclusive purview of nation states is a central theme in recent social scientific research on outer space. While the transnationalization of the emerging space economy is widely understood as an issue of both political significance and theoretical interest, robust methodological, empirical and theoretical accounts of the phenomenon are largely absent. Focusing on collaborative patterns in the satellite industry, we measure geographical variation in degree of transnationalizations via social network analysis. Community detection highlights five geographical clusters that are sparsely interconnected and show marked variation in the centralities and local densities of private organizations. The analysis highlights, first, a relatively large degree of transnationalization for the North American and European cluster; low degrees for the Russian- and Chinese clusters; and moderate degrees for the Japanese- and Israeli-Indian cluster. Second, we find a spatial delimitation of transnationalization dynamics in correspondence with wider geopolitical patterns. Three implications follow. First, the satellite industry shows an extent of transatlantic integration between both public and private organizations that appears to be substantially larger than in other high-tech sectors. Second, transatlantic integration and the strong structural positions of private actors indicate a greater geopolitical and economic clout for North America and Europe in the current space race than commonly assumed. Third, the emergence of private actors in the satellite industry faces a hard limit from national security considerations in the context of wider geopolitical rivalries, which implies that transnationalization likely masks substantial continuity at the structural level.