Business Schools Launch Space Programs for Executives

Business Schools Launch Space Programs for Executives

As commercial space exploration blasts off, there’s a growing need for management knowledge and skills

Space is the next frontier for executive education. As commercial space exploration blasts off, business schools are launching space programs to propel people working in this blossoming sector and support those interested in entering the growing space economy. Morgan Stanley, the investment bank, reckons the global space industry is already worth $350 billion and could surge to more than $1 trillion by 2040.

Space technology is also expected to play a key role in addressing challenges including climate change, as well as the delivery of global internet.

The growing number of new actors in the space sector — including Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin — has increased the need for business education. That is because many firms start with great ambition and ideas but lack the management knowledge and skills to build more sustainable companies.

While the sector has traditionally been keen to hire recruits from technical backgrounds, it is becoming increasingly evident that companies need business leaders, too. Business schools are, therefore, responding with new courses for executive participants.

The growing need for executive education in the space industry has led three top schools to collaborate with the European Space Agency (ESA) to launch the Space for Business executive education program. Those schools are the Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands (RSM), the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, and NOVA School of Business and Economics in Portugal.

Space: the new economic frontier

“Space is seen as the new economic frontier,” says Rene Olie, the Space for Business program director at RSM. “The number of space ventures is growing rapidly,” he says. “Startups attracted over $15 billion in financing in 2021, breaking the record of the previous year.”

The space industry has traditionally been the domain of public investments, space agencies and government programs, but Olie says the rise of private actors in recent decades means that many space companies are in “dire need of business knowledge”.

“People that have good knowledge of both fields – space and business – [are] therefore highly needed,” he says. The Space for Business program aims to provide in-depth knowledge of the space industry and its opportunities for companies, as well as a deeper understanding of innovation, management and the entrepreneurial challenges in this sector.

The course will also help participants to apply these insights to their own company and projects, and grow a peer network of professionals in the space industry.

However, it is a relative outlier, with a recent report by the European Space Policy Institute (ESPI) showing that there are still only a handful of business schools focusing on the space sector. That said, “excitement is building”, says Andreas Wittmer, the Space for Business program director for St. Gallen.

This year, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Technical University of Munich (TUM) are launching a New Space Economy online executive education program that will provide an overview of production, services, and new business models in the global space economy.

The SDA Bocconi School of Management in Italy has the Space Economy Evolution Lab, which offers some executive courses. “We imagine in a few years there will be more offerings in business school education,” says Wittmer at St. Gallen. “And as someone coming from the industry — I can tell you business school education is definitely needed in space, more than elsewhere. There’s a lot of dreamers in the sector.”

He argues that engineers have been overrepresented in the space sector in past decades, with a greater focus on technological achievements than business or applications. But he adds that very business-savvy billionaires have demonstrated the sector is worth paying attention to. “What SpaceX has done with low-cost, reusable launchers — and others with cheap satellites — is amazing,” Wittmer says. “The amount of investment, innovation, and start-ups has been remarkable.”

Back at RSM, Olie says the space sector already plays a role in many non-space industries, including energy and mining, agriculture, telecoms, insurance and pharmaceuticals. For instance, farmers receive more accurate information on the quality of the soil, the need for irrigation and predictions of agricultural output from satellite data. Conducting experiments in microgravity helps drug companies to develop better medicines, he argues.

And through earth observation, energy companies are better able to monitor methane emissions. “Generally it is expected that we need space technologies [such as] earth observation [and] carbon capture to battle the grand challenges of our time such as climate change, hunger and poverty,” Olie says.

Moreover, he adds: “The shift towards commoditizing space-based goods and services for users will push more non-space companies to integrate space-technologies and data into their business models.” That is likely to lead to greater demand for management knowledge, and business school programs to satisfy it. 

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