What We Are Watching: Space Economy Lawsuit Continues in Washington

It is a complex situation, but one that is definitely on our radar… and should be on yours.

The Circumstances: Last year, the U.S. District Court in Washington enforced a ruling from an International Chamber of Commerce tribunal that awarded more than $1 billion to an India- based start-up company called Devas Multimedia. The ruling was against Antrix Corp., the Indian Space Research Organization’s marketing arm, following a decade-old dispute over a canceled deal to lease satellites. Just this month, Antrix Corp. filed a petition with the U.S. District Court looking to revoke a temporary restraining order it received back in February by Washington Judge Thomas Zilly. The temporary restraining order was set up to avoid any “collusive” behavior that might terminate the award or the Washington court’s judgment.

Why should Washingtonians care? While the ongoing corporate clash appears to involve companies not even based in the U.S., the precedent set by this lawsuit is a troubling omen for a growing sector of our state’s economy: the modern space economy.

The change from government-centric space programs (i.e. NASA) to a more entrepreneurial space sector has jumpstarted the growth of this economy, with the private sector acting as key players in this commercialized market. Building spacecraft, satellites, and other related products involves a complex system of activities that rely on goods and services across the entire economy. In fact, in the U.S. eight other regions compete with Washington for space sector jobs and activities.  

However, Washington is strategically positioned to lead commercial space exploration and development. In a report released by the Puget Sound Regional Council, they looked at the space economy and highlight how “the region’s mix of high-tech manufacturing resources and information technology assets creates significant opportunities to compete in this growing sector.” The concluded that the “business activities tied to direct, indirect and induced impacts of the space industry will contribute an estimated $1.8 billion in economic activity,” supports an estimated 6,200 jobs and $610 million in payroll. In addition, the space sector contributes about $62 million annually in state and local tax revenues.

It is an industry we should be building up and prioritizing statutory action to support for the long-term.

However, as this industry grows, it also becomes more globalized and interconnected. That is why lawsuits and nefarious behavior on the part of corporate actors – and the countries that back them – are so dangerous. These actions undermine the legitimacy of this market and threaten investor confidence, a key driver of its growth over the last several decades. In turn, these seemingly innocuous lawsuit could hurt future growth that Washington would be first in line to benefit from.