Set for lift-off in the 2020s

TTI Europe‘s vertical marketing director for defence, aerospace and space, Lee Thompson, examines long-awaited aerospace and space advances that will soon be realized.

There is a perception the aerospace market is slow to change. However, the last decade makes it clear this is not always the case. In fact, things have happened relatively quickly. For example, the US F-35, European Typhoon, French Rafale and Swedish Gripen have seen increased international sales, with orders expected to reach 4,000 aircraft over the next 10 to 15-years, valued at approximately $260 billion.

Air defense develops as nations modernise and expand their defense capabilities. New technologies, including airborne cyber-warfare and hypersonic missiles, will also provide additional protection to warfighters and civilian populations. Technological advances will see increased spending on military technology.

Whilst entering these fighters‘ second decade of development, the 2010s saw a handful of drones enter service. Over 1.5 million have been registered today, with around 420,000 registered for commercial use and the balance seeing active military service. As we look to the new decade, this pace of change is set to continue. Military expenditures are rising, with global defense spending expected to grow three to four per cent annually. The world’s major economies will expect to see a combined annual expenditure of around $350 billion in 2025.

Countries such as the US, France, Germany, UK, Russia and China are moving to develop 6th Generation jet fighters (such as the UK Tempest) in five-year cycles using the best technology available today, versus the multi-decade design cycles of the past. With the growth in battlefield connected computing, these next-generation air defense systems will rely on networking and sensing technology to keep drones and piloted aircraft aware of changing conditions in real-time.

Looking back at commercial air travel, we see 2020 as the point where key technologies crossed from possibility to practical reality. As hybrid and electric vehicles make shipping and ground transportation cleaner, we are also on the verge of aircraft electrification, with hybrid-electric engines and improvements in battery technology making the future of air travel less damaging to our atmosphere.

We are also getting closer to urban air transport. While these might not be the ‘flying cars’ of science fiction, projects like Uber Elevate are bringing the idea of intra-urban air travel to cities across Europe. With these projects and technologies such as electric vertical takeoff and landing, we will see new opportunities around environmental sustainability and urban planning. As technologies improve airframe design and efficiency, the 2020s may
also see the return of supersonic passenger jets, improved cockpit automation and AI/predictive analytics making travel safer and
more efficient.

After the Space Shuttle retired in 2011, the US relied on Russia to bring astronauts to and from orbit. We have now seen the first commercial rocket from SpaceX and Boeing carry astronauts to the International Space Station. Private space exploration has also continued to grow: SpaceX now has nearly 200 satellites in low Earth orbit with many designed and produced in Europe from University projects. Other innovative start-ups and established satellite and launcher producers include Airbus Space, Arianne, Thales Alenia Space and OHB. There are also plans to fly private citizens around the moon in 2023.

Expect the next decade to bring revolutionary developments in both human and unmanned space flight including commercial space travel with trips to low Earth orbit. Meanwhile, there are plans to return humans to the moon by 2024 in preparation for a manned mission to Mars. In fact, NASA itself predicts the next economic revolution will happen outside Earth’s atmosphere. This a future heralds ‘a space economy
built on mining, tourism and scientific research that will power and empower future generations‘ according to a statement on Mining asteroids for precious metals may seem like science fiction, but this decade will likely see technologies that make those fantasies come to life.