Anticipating Future Opportunities in Space
Emergent behaviors in space, driven by reduced barriers to entry, an influx of private capital and new players, and increasing geopolitical competition, are creating cross-cutting challenges in the space enterprise fundamentally different in nature and complexity than ever before.
The space enterprise is in a state of great transformation. Fully commercial human spaceflight missions, the emerging potential of a multitrillion dollar space economy, and promises of humans returning to the moon are driving opportunities and challenges for humanity.
Our increasingly interconnected world is leading to new behaviors and new complexities. Strategic foresighting provides a diverse set of tools and techniques that help face the challenge of future uncertainty and make better decisions. It is particularly useful when applied to systems that are volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, known as “VUCA” in foresighting circles — well-matched to the evolving space enterprise.
Our Lead Futurist, Kara Cunzeman, heads the Strategic Foresighting team. We caught up with her ahead of the release of the interactive Pathfinder’s Guide to the Space Enterprise, a map of potential future outcomes in space based on current forecasting signals.
What exactly does it mean to be a futurist? What does the job entail?
My job is to ensure that the space enterprise is ready for the future, exploring ideas for new possibilities that can create abundance for the nation and humankind. While my job title as lead futurist may give the impression that I’m always thinking 50 years ahead, I spend a lot of my time figuring out how that long view ties back to present day.
I do think I have one of the best jobs — not only at Aerospace, but in the industry. The work is very interdisciplinary and creative, and I get to work with some of the brightest minds on the planet. I’ve been able to mastermind videos and interactive maps to help visualize future possibilities and have assembled a team focused on scaling foresighting competencies at Aerospace.
Our team works on some extraordinary projects for our customers to help them solve some of the hardest problems for the nation. Where Aerospace is positioned, between government and industry, enables us to serve the enterprise in a really unique way. I also get to inspire others, which is inspirational in itself.
What does strategic foresighting work involve, and why is it important?
Foresight is the term for using better decision frameworks to manage uncertainty. My team continuously searches for signals of change and synthesizes the insights and impacts from those changes.
We provide recommendations to our leaders on strategically sound actions they can take in present. Our team is helping to scale application of foresighting to the space enterprise, and bridging the gap between systems engineering, architecting, flexible roadmapping, and vision and strategy. Given the complexity of the environment, these elements all need to work in harmony to succeed in driving transformation.
Our team can be seen as pilots of this transformation. We are in the cockpit, we have our sensors telling us about the environment and how it is changing, and we steer the decisionmakers in a better direction. No autopilot here!
How do you approach predicting the future of space?
I always tell anyone that I work with that I don’t predict the future; I help them prepare for it. Our team fuses quantitative and qualitative data with best-in-class foresighting frameworks that help serve us when the data isn’t there.
One of my favorite quotes is from renowned futurist and dear colleague Jim Dator, “there are no future facts.” The future is full of surprises and cannot be known in definite terms. This is a hard truth for many decisionmakers. It’s also why thinking about multiple possible futures is essential, because we cannot predict one definitive future. We look across future states to gain insight and build resiliency into our plans to be better prepared for many potential outcomes.
How do you measure the success of strategic foresighting? Is there any science or calculation behind this to determine how well the projections are working?
Success in foresighting is hard to measure because under some circumstances it can take lifetimes. One way to assess is how well are your signposts align with reality over time; also, how well is your organization using the signals to pivot what it’s doing for maximum effectiveness and achieving its vision. These can provide confirmation of certain pathways over others.
A more important metric might be whether our activities spurred decisionmakers to ask better questions. Did those questions help reveal deeper insights that translated into actionable and tangible present activities? Down the road, did those actions help better prepare the organization for what’s to come? Foresighting is a process and an operating system; the value it brings to living the process is far more important than predictions.
Give us an example of a recent signal most of us might have missed. What are some of the interesting thought threads and considerations for the future of space that emerged for your team as a result?
Interestingly enough, we had global pandemic on the first version of our Futures Map released prior to COVID-19. We categorized it as a “space shock” since we recognized it would systemically disrupt a range of connective tissues from the workforce, to the supply chain, to economics, etc.
While I don’t hang my hat on predicting the future, we certainly called out that a pandemic at scale would be highly disruptive for the space enterprise. I am humbled to have learned from this very precious teaching moment.
Even though we may have flagged it as a possibility, how would a decisionmaker know or want to do anything about a high-impact but perceived low-likelihood event? This is where balanced, yet persuasive narrative and storytelling need to happen. We can illuminate possibilities to move from reactionary approaches to more proactive and resilient states of being.
If our decisionmakers were more focused on proactive measures such as readying our supply chains, healthcare infrastructure, and warning mechanisms, some of the negative impacts we saw from COVID-19 could have been reduced.
Space is quickly becoming increasingly present in all of our everyday lives. What are some areas where space enthusiasts might want to pay closer attention?
There are a lot of exciting things happening right now in the space and technology sectors. The recent set of launches of private citizens and the implications for a potential boom in space tourism.
I’ve got my eye on the ways in which on-orbit manufacturing, space-based solar power, and quantum could drive game changing architectures, uses, and business cases for space. On-orbit computing and sensemaking coupled with on-orbit data storage has some interesting future use cases. And, of course, the role of space in the meshed network and the internet of things.
There’s a lot to be excited about. Our team is focused not only on scanning these specific areas, but also in considering the implications of their convergence. That’s really where the surprising and transformational magic is going to happen.
Kara Cunzeman is the lead futurist for Strategic Foresight for the Center for Space Policy and Strategy. Strategic Foresight for the Space Enterprise details the use of foresighting frameworks to navigate toward preferred futures in space.