Starman

Adaptability or the astropreneur’s new advantage

There is a plethora of websites informing us about the rising stars within the space industry, for instance Fastcompany. So, what is this article? Just another update on newly arising companies? No! This article is not another listing of emerging companies, but it provides  an update on the new business endeavors that the well-known NewSpace companies embark on.
Adaptability is one of the major cornerstones to success in almost any business. As NewSpace expands, new players continue entering the market challenging the competition. As a matter of survival and to remain competitive, some companies began to focus on core businesses while others have decided to diversify. The star performer in diversifying activities is SpaceX, and in comparison, the worst performers, such as XCOR, failed to adapt and ran out of business. Goals are changing quickly in the NewSpace race!

  1. SPACEX – KNOWN FOR REDUCING THE COST OF REACHING ORBIT

With the successful inauguration of the Falcon Heavy giving it renewed momentum and credit, SpaceX now seems to focus its energy on the development of a new, even more powerful rocket, the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR). This launcher will be another milestone in the company’s vision to colonize Mars. But, it is not just another heavy-lift rocket. Elon Musk has visionary goals for this vehicle. Not only shall it be capable of sending crews to the Moon and Mars, but also sending a crew or upto 150,000 kg of equipment to the Low earth orbit. Musk also envisions providing an ultra-fast transportation system on Earth, which aims at connecting any two points on the globe within 30 minutes average and maximum one hour. First “hopping tests” for the BFR are scheduled for next year, using the company’s own spaceport, currently under construction in Boca Chica, Texas. Because colonizing Mars remains the primary goal of the BFR, SpaceX intends to further commercialize the launch market to finance its primary mission to the Red Planet by providing launch services for future constellations, providing access to the International Space Station, and launching heavy payloads, such as telescopes like the James Webb Space Telescope.

Beyond fostering its leadership in commercial launch services, SpaceX is tapping into the telecommunication market and expanding its technical capabilities to the production of satellites. The first step is the production of the first two prototype satellites to validate the internal technologies implemented which should be launched within a few months, the launch campaign is scheduled for 2019 and the second step features to operate a constellation of 4425 communication satellites into Ka and Ku band within the next five years. Collaboratively, the satellites will provide internet communication services all over the globe with the opportunity to concentrate capabilities over heavily-populated areas. The first operational services should be provided as soon as the deployment of the first 800 satellites has been completed, in the course of 2020 or 2021. Satellites in the constellation will use laser optical links to communicate with each other. The added value is that customers will have the ability to aggregate satellite capacity in a high demand area or to disseminate it over remote areas.

  1. SPIRE – KNOWN FOR DELIVERING BETTER WEATHER INTEL
  • Selling weather data and maritime services

Spire is another example of an expanding and diversifying NewSpace company. Currently operating a fleet of 48 cubesats, the company sells GPS-based weather data, being a true pioneer in this regard, and provides ship tracking services. With the goal of achieving a permanent coverage of 97% of the Earth, the company is working its constellation up to 150 cubesats. The company produces one satellite per week in its Scottish factory. At the same time, the company is aiming at expanding its network of 27 ground stations to 50 stations, to accelerate the speed of data delivery to its customers (within 30 minutes from their request). Spire also plans to develop commercial applications in the field of meteorology based on radio occultation data from signals from the Galileo system.

The company’s commercial potential attracts external investors, including a  $70 million dollar investment by Luxembourg Future Fund (LFF). This financial contribution should allow the company to establish itself in Luxembourg, a promising European hub for NewSpace companies, with the aim of developing the company’s capacities via the data obtained by its constellation of cubesats.

  • Supercomputers in space

In addition to expanding on its core competencies, the company seeks to exploit new markets. The company just recently received a contract worth $5.6 million by the UK space agency to develop future space technologies. Spire aims to develop parallel supercomputers in space that will provide advanced computing capabilities in space, required for computationally-intensive operations.

  1. PLANET – KNOWN FOR GETTING IMAGES FROM AROUND THE GLOBE ON A DAILY BASIS
  • Mergers and Acquisition

2017 marked a year of merging and acquisition driven by the objective of reducing costs in the space sector. Among the most notable deals was Planet acquiring the Google-backed company Terra Bella operating an Earth-imaging satellite constellation, the SkySat constellation. In the same deal, Google committed to purchasing Planet’s imagery data for several years to come.

  • Intelligent Data Analysis

Now, with 140 medium-resolution Dove CubeSats, 5 medium-resolution RapidEye satellites, and 13 high-resolution SkySat satellites, Planet is collecting 1.4 million images every day, equivalent to 300 km² and making up 6 terabytes of data. During the NewSpace Europe conference in November, Planet announced that it had completed its Mission 1 and now wants to focus on developing its own data analysis capabilities, leveraging machine learning techniques.

  • Collision Avoidance to keep space clean

Planet partnered with LeoLabs to monitor space debris that could jeopardize its cubesats. Both companies agreed to share satellite tracking data to identify potential risks of collision and compute collision avoidance maneuvers. This service uses the information-sharing information provided by the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC), supplemented by radar observations from LeoLabs. In its efforts of using commercially-available data to create collision avoidance capabilities, Planet is a pioneering NewSpace company in the field.

  1. VECTOR – KNOWN FOR LAUNCHING NANOSATELLITES
  • Providing affordable launch opportunities for SmallSat developers
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The Vector-R P-19H engineering model during an aborted launch in April. Credit: Vector

Vector is developing a launch vehicle dedicated to small satellite missions, which are currently launched as secondary payloads. Being the secondary customer often implies compromising on their needs to get a launch opportunity. Vector follows a vision of being flexible to launch from almost any launch site in the United States and internationally. This ambitious goal started with the agreement announced for five launches between 2019 and 2023 of Vector-R on behalf of UK-based Open Cosmos. The inaugural flight is scheduled for July 2018. Vector plans to initiate the construction of a manufacturing facility this year in Arizona’s Pima County and could produce up to 100 launch vehicles a year.

nexus-vector
Credit: Nexus

In addition to creating affordable launch opportunities for small satellites, Vector is contributing to bringing cryptocurrencies to space. Expanding its capabilities beyond launch services, Vector created a business unit to develop the GalacticSky virtual satellite platform. It will enable customers to perform software testing in space without requiring hardware development. This is the second partnership of Vector’s GalacticSky satellite division after the contract signed with Citrix to develop a data center and cloud-based virtualization technology for use in space on the company’s orbital platform. In December, Nexus signed an agreement with Vector to host Nexus’s NXS decentralized cryptocurrency on the software platform. As part of the agreement, future customers will have the ability to pay for Vector’s launch services via the cryptocurrency. Vector also announced the opening of its facility in Silicon Valley, intended to further develop the GalacticSky division.

  1. BLUE ORIGIN – KNOWN FOR SPACE TOURISM

Blue Origin is expanding in multiple directions exploring a variety of potential markets.

Inspired by the success of the New Shepard, Blue Origin is currently developing the New Glenn heavy launch vehicle including the BE-4 rocket engine. In October 2017, the company successfully performed a rocket engine test for its BE-4 engine to be used on its future New Glenn heavy launch vehicle. The New Glenn launch vehicle, largely inspired by New Shepard for reuse in particular, would now feature a 7 meter diameter core (previously designed at 5.4 meters) to allow for larger payloads. New Glenn, whose first launches are planned for 2020,  already has customers such as Eutelsat (one launch) and OneWeb (five launches).

  • Research and Development in  space

Blue Origin aims at providing space tourism using its New Shepard suborbital launch vehicle. Not only will the vehicle be used for space tourism purposes, but also for performing research and development. In December 2017, Blue Origin and PARC, a company from Xerox Group, announced their partnership in performing research in the field of R&D including advanced manufacturing, energy systems, human-machine interaction, and predictive analytics.

  • Transport system to the Moon
Blue Moon lander
Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lander. Credit: Blue Origin

Recently, Blue Origin released its plan on developing a commercial transportation system for the Moon. Like Amazon, the company wants to become a service provider for future exploitation of the Earth’s neighbor and to support future human settlements on the Moon.

  1. VIRGIN GALACTIC – KNOW FOR DEVELOPING COMMERCIAL SPACECRAFT AND PROVIDING SUBORBITAL SPACEFLIGHTS

Virgin Orbit has created a subsidiary, Vox Space specializing in the provision of low-satellite orbit launch services for small satellites carrying out national security missions for both the United States and the allied States (LauncherOne launcher).

  1. MADE IN SPACE – KNOWN FOR MANUFACTURING IN ORBIT
MadeInSpace
Kobalt Wrench for Lowe’s Home Improvement built by Made In Space’s Additive Manufacturing Facility on the International Space Station. Credit: MadeInSpace

As the first company to 3D-print a tool on the International Space Station, MadeInSpace is now building a serious business case around manufacturing optical fibers in space for terrestrial applications. In this regard, the company signed a “one-of-a-kind” agreement with Space Florida to finance its entry into the fiber optics market. In December 2017, the company already sent its Fiber Optics payload on board the International Space Station (as part of the SpaceX ISS CRS-13) to further develop the technology.  According to the company, it should make it possible to produce a terrestrial optical fiber (ZBLAN) of a quality impossible to create on Earth, at a price remaining competitive.

  1. PLANETARY RESOURCES – KNOWN FOR MINING ASTEROIDS

As a result of a missed opportunity in a major fundraising event, Planetary Resources announced that it will refocus it activities towards tangible near-term goals.  While space mining remains a long-term objective, the company wants to leverage its Arkyd-6 satellite to generate revenue streams through Earth-imagery and selling satellite data.

Posted by Emeline De Antonio and Timo Rühl