- The US shot down three unidentified objects over the weekend, following the downing of a Chinese balloon earlier this month.
- The White House said they could have ties to the commercial space industry.
- The space economy was valued at nearly $500 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow to over $1 trillion by 2030.
Over the weekend, the US shot down three unidentified objects over Alaska, Canada, and Lake Huron. On Tuesday, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said there’s no evidence any of them were connected to Chinese intelligence collection, unlike the spy balloon shot down earlier this month.
Though the government has yet to analyze the wreckage, Kirby said a “leading explanation” in the US intelligence community is that the objects “could be balloons that were simply tied to commercial or research entities and therefore benign,” comments President Biden echoed Thursday. On Monday, Kirby said that “a range of entities — including countries, companies, research and academic organizations — operate objects at these altitudes for purposes that are not nefarious at all, including scientific research.”
These entities, none of which have claimed ownership of the objects, include the 90 countries and roughly 10,000 companies currently involved in the global space industry. Over the past decade, investments from governments, corporations, and billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have propelled the industry to a nearly $500 billion valuation as of 2021. By 2030, it’s expected to grow to over $1 trillion, according to a January Bank of America report.
BofA defined the space economy as the “full range of activities and the use of resources that create and provide value and benefits to human beings in the realm of exploring, understanding, managing and utilizing space,” including research and development, the manufacturing of space infrastructure, and the scientific research tied to the industry.
The report said roughly 80% of the global space economy was connected to commercial space products and services as of 2021, while 20% was tied to government investments.
In 2022, the European Union announced it would be investing roughly $15 billion over the next five years in space exploration, earth monitoring, and satellite launch programs. In the US, NASA and the Department of Defense are the industry’s biggest customers, awarding contracts to companies like Boeing, SpaceX, and Lockheed Martin.
To what extent the space industry uses balloons and similar objects is unclear. But on Monday, the White House said President Biden will establish a team to analyze unidentified objects in the US airspace. According to Kirby, this will include reaching out to companies that produce weather balloons or similar objects to learn “who is up at that altitude, doing what, for completely legitimate purposes.”
“I think we all recognize we need to probably have a better sight picture on that, and that’s why the president wants this interagency effort to take a look,” Kirby said.
But given the US has had over 500 sightings of “unidentified aerial phenomena” since 2021, according to a January national intelligence report, some people have questioned why this team is just being established now.
“On the one hand, the administration is saying we don’t yet know what these last three objects are and we don’t want to characterize until we recover them,” Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton told reporters. “But on the other hand, it wasn’t a threat. Both of those things can’t be true.”