Whats Going on with Commercial Space: Space for Beginners
Photo Credit: NASA
25 Jan 2019

Oh boy, what a great time to be alive! My generation is fortunate. It is the one that had typewriting and computing classes, a generation where you had to call your friends home and say hello to their parents but at the same time started playing the snake Nokia game. It is the generation that used a map to get from point A to point B but were the first to use Google maps. It is also the generation that will see humans landing on Mars and maybe cities on the surface of the Moon from our senior living facilities.

I am confident that if you are not related to the space industry, whatever you have heard about it in the past comes in the form of the following: Neil Armstrong, Yuri Gagarin, 1957, 1969, the Space Shuttle, the Challenger tragedy, the Hubble Space Telescope and its great pics of colorful galaxies, nebulae and globular clusters. More recently, I am sure you have heard about Musk's, Branson's & Bezos' ambitions to conquer the skies. Maybe you have even read Morgan Stanley's remarks that 2019 will be the year of space.

All in all, when you think space I am sure you still think of something abstract, far from your reality and something out of reach. Well, I am here to tell you that space is about to explode and get closer to you than any other time in our history. What's changed? In my view, two great tsunamis contributed for the commercial space industry to really wake up: miniaturization of components and a decrease in costs of spacecraft launch. These two have opened the App store of space.

But where is this really happening? It is happening in the interaction between Earth and LEO (Low Earth Orbit), a place between 160 and 1,000 kms above your head and with small satellites from different sizes travelling at around 7.8 km/s (28,000 km/h). Just think about these killer applications:

  1. Launchers: someone has to get these satellites up. Today, many of these micro/mini satellites are launched on piggy back opportunities as secondary payloads on heavy launchers like SpaceX, Arianespace and Roscosmos. Some new dedicated mini-satellite launchers are already in business, some others are getting ready.
  2. Earth observation: knowing when to short a retail stock when you have received fresh images from their parking lots and have compared them to those of the same quarter last year.
  3. Remote sensing: help the oil & gas industry save billions of dollars annually. How? Having methane leaks in check with ultralight small satellites.
  4. Internet: having broadband access worldwide at all times with constellations that range from the hundreds to the thousands of satellites in LEO.
  5. Manufacturing: as we speak, some tool might be currently 3d printed in the ISS (International Space Station). Some day in the very near future, we might no longer need to elevate things to space, we will have additive manufacturing facilities that will ease the job for us.
  6. Tourism: 2019 will be the year space tourism will take off. Three different platforms lead the way: Virgin Galactic (Branson), Blue Origin (Bezos) and SpaceX (Musk). Space tourism will help people that go up there to have a sense that we are ONE, that we have to take care of Earth but that we also have to invest to explore even more.

For the next five years the exciting things, economically speaking, will happen in this area of influence: Low Earth Orbit (LEO). After that, say five to eight years, in space action will get very interesting with:

  1. Recurrent in space manufacturing
  2. Satellite servicing and de-orbiting for space debris purposes
  3. Satellite refuelling
  4. Tourists having a tour around the Moon

Nine to fifteen years later, you'll start seeing things like:

  1. Commercial space stations with leisure and science objectives.
  2. First chunk of water electrolyzed on the south pole of the Moon and converted to liquid hydrogen and oxygen; then used as fuel to propel a sample return mission to Earth.
  3. The first attempt of humans landing on Mars (my bets are on Musk) and a comeback of human kind on the Moon (my bets are with the Chinese space program).

From the above you can see that:

  • Space is hot and is no longer science fiction. Private enterprise is all in.
  • There are already cash flow generating business models in LEO with respect to earth observation, value added data and remote sensing.
  • The combination of several technologies in space like AI, robotics, IoT, additive manufacturing, space propulsion innovation will just make things easier for commercial space.
  • There will be trillion dollar business models regarding space resources (Moon, near Earth asteroids) farther in the future.

It doesn't matter if you are a teacher, an investor, a lawyer, a CEO of a large corporation. Chances are, you will be touched by space or even disrupted in some way or the other by it. It might be a good idea to start reading more about it just as you read about AI, IoT, SaaS, biotech. If you are 40ish, boy what have you seen and what you are about to see. We are lucky to be alive! Ad astra! twitter: @rodrigovees

Photo Credits: NASA

Rodrigo Villa

| self employed

During his first 10 years of career Rodrigo was immersed in corporate finance and business development positions. He worked both for Deloitte… More