Enrique Sosa
President
Aeronautical University in Queretaro (UNAQ)
/
Expert Contributor

Mexican Higher Education and the Future of the Space Industry

By Enrique Sosa | Fri, 04/08/2022 - 13:00

The space industry will be a trillion-dollar business in the coming years but there are different opinions regarding the potential that the space industry offers Mexico. The Mexican Space Agency (AEM), in its "Space Activities National Program 2020-2024," mentions space telecommunications and states that "for every dollar that is invested, 60 are recovered” (AEM, 2020). Morgan Stanley estimates that “the global space industry could generate revenues of US$1 trillion or more in 2040,” compared to the US$350 billion generated at the end of 2020 (Zamarrón, I; 2022).

Space systems cover a wide range of equipment and technologies that provide many direct or indirect benefits to our daily life. The most relevant impacts include preserving our survival against events such as climate change and its consequences by providing meteorological information related to hurricanes, fires and floods.

However, it’s the field of telecommunications and the services around it that will generate a real opportunity for Mexico; for example, everything related to cellphone communication. According to Morgan Stanley's analysis, "broadband will represent 50 percent of the projected growth of the world space economy by 2040.” (Zamarrón, I; 2022).

Given this scenario, at the end of 2020, the AEM and the Federation of the Aerospace Industry (FEMIA), which has more than 120 members (including iconic companies such as Airbus, Bombardier and Safran) that contribute 80 percent of the country's aerospace exports, signed an agreement whose objective is to develop companies in the sector, promote job creation and position Mexico on the global stage by promoting the manufacturing of satellites and, among other things, forging a new generation of specialized profiles (AEM, 2020).

The fulfillment of the last objective is described in the agreement “forging a new generation of specialized profiles” will require extensive coordination among government, industry, and academia. Their efforts will be directed toward the provision of knowledge and skills among students, professionals, academics and researchers who will be required for Mexico to decisively enter the space industry.

One of the first steps to be able to provide this human capital is to carry out a radiography of the specialized higher education sector, in order to know the inventory of capacities of these institutions (universities and technological institutes). With this in hand, we can define the actions that must be carried out to strengthen these institutions, allowing them to generate the availability of these specialized professionals and promoting the attraction of investment to Mexico.

Specialized Higher Education in Mexico

As part of the development work of the Aeronautical and Space Strategic Agenda of Higher Education Institutions 2030, a project led by the Aeronautical University in Queretaro (UNAQ) in conjunction with 30 institutions that have an aerospace educational offer from all over Mexico, an inventory of public and private universities and technological institutes with capacities for space education was carried out (including infrastructure and educational programs).

Of the 43 Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) reported in this inventory, only five have infrastructure that is focused on space education. The HEIs with better infrastructure were the National Autonomous University of Mexico and the National Polytechnic Institute with 100 percent and 94 percent of the minimum necessary infrastructure, respectively (see Table No. 1). The institute with the least infrastructure has only 22 percent of what is desirable. In general, the average coverage of infrastructure necessary for space education averages 54 percent among these five institutions, which represent only 11 percent of all HEIs with a specialized educational offer.

1
Chart provided by the expert

Regarding the location of higher education institutions with educational offerings related to the space industry 

2
Photo provided by the expert, shows an executive summary.
3
Photo provided by the expert, shows their location by state within the Mexican republic.

Table 2 shows the inventory of doctorates, master's degrees, specialties and engineering degrees for the space industry, as well as the university, technological institute and research center that have them available.

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Chart provided by the expert
5
Chart provided by the expert, The distribution of the programs by educational level.

Radiography of Education for the Space Industry in Mexico

As can be seen in the tables and graphs presented, the educational offer related to space represents only 36 percent of the inventory of aeronautical and space programs available in the 43 higher education institutions that have ventured into this sector. It is interesting to observe that 79 percent of these programs are post-graduate and that there are no educational programs at the Higher Technical University level, or a bachelor's degree totally designed for this industry (see Graph 1).

The figures that we observe in the educational sector go hand in hand with the development of the space industry in Mexico, which is very small. The existing educational offer is directed in the first instance, to cover the needs of the government, mainly to the science of geolocation and the geospatial field. Those that are directly related to satellite communications, whose objective is to provide communication services, such as broadband, are practically non-existent.

Conclusions

The educational offer, location and infrastructure of higher education institutions that have educational programs for the space industry in Mexico are few and not aligned with the opportunities that the space industry is offering in the medium and long term. It is necessary that we become aware of this reality and promote a joint effort among academia, industry and government to define a strategy to change the status quo.

What would be the right strategy?

It is difficult to say, but a feasible beginning could be to support the Mexican Space Agency in the creation and deployment of a high-impact strategic plan that launches us onto the world’s space landscape and to provide public universities with a special budget to open new programs and infrastructure for the creation of space skills. The best way to develop a Mexican space industry necessarily involves investing in the development of capabilities.

 

References

AEM. (2020). Anuncia SCT lanzamiento de la Industria Espacial Mexicana. 10/03/2022, de AEM Sitio web: https://www.gob.mx/aem/prensa/anuncia-sct-lanzamiento-de-la-industria-espacial-mexicana-257179?idiom=es.

AEM. (2020). Programa Nacional de Actividades Espaciales 2020-2024. Ciudad de México: Agencia Espacial Mexicana.

Zamarrón, I. (2022). La industria del espacio no es el negocio del futuro, es el de hoy… y será trillonario. 10-03-2022, de Forbes México Sitio web: https://www.forbes.com.mx/negocios-la-industria-del-espacio-no-es-el-negocio-del-futuro-es-el-de-hoy-y-sera-trillonario/.

Photo by:   Enrique Sosa