Part I of v: Prologue

Part investigative journalism, part informational piece, this series explores what it takes to start a commercial space agency in North and Central America, and the Caribbean region. Future installments of the series will explore the creation of space agencies around the globe and determine the feasibility of creating a private space agency. For all intents and purposes, this series defines “private space agency” and “commercial space agency” as a non-governmental commercial space program. In addition, this series defines “space program” as:

“The development, realization and testing in flight of a launch system (i.e., a launch vehicle) which can put a payload into orbit.” (Spagnulo, al., Space Program Management: Methods and Tools)

In the inaugural part of this series, we explore the process of starting a private space agency in the Caribbean. The series will continue with the creation of private space agencies in Central America and North America, respectively. However, before the Caribbean installment begins, this prologue sets out the criteria we will be using for establishing a private space agency and addresses the burning question “Why even start your own Space Agency?”

Credit: NASA

Why even start your own Space Agency?
Casey Dreier, the Planetary Society’s Director of Space Policy, referenced Australia’s recently announced space agency to provide some insight into the reasons for starting a private space agency. According to Mr. Dreier, Australia is able to leverage the nation’s space capabilities to benefit other nations as well as their own space industry because they focused on the opportunity to strategically invest in specific capabilities (i.e. artificial intelligence and the ability to capitalize on international partnerships with government and non-governmental organizations). Mr. Dreier cites the European Space Agency’s existence and the BepiColombo Mission as examples of this model in what he refers to as “the opposite of zero-sum”. While Mr. Dreier was referring to a national space program, there is no reason to think this logic would not apply to private space agencies as defined in this article.

Space Agency Criteria
The criteria this series uses to explore and analyze the region-specific commercial space agency case studies are based on 4 factors:

  • Corporate governance
  • Strategic importance
  • Extent of international participation
  • Specific industrial and specialized sector

Absent corporate governance, the criteria listed can be found in Professor Marcello Spagnulo’s book Space Program Management: Methods and Tools. These factors are what Professor Spagnulo considers the main characteristics that define a space program both in the government and commercial context. Moreover, this series purposely does not address budget and profit considerations due to the hypothetical nature and unknown factors such as the market for commercial space agencies for the next decade. However, it is worth noting reports show that funding into commercial space as well as space startups is at an all-time high due to invest firms and Angel investors. In 2017, $3.9 billion was invested into commercial space companies and between 2012 and 2016 $7.6 was billion invested specifically in space startups.

Corporate Governance
There is no doubt that corporate governance (structure) is important for every Astropreneur to consider simply because it serves as the foundation for every business. Not only does corporate governance function as a way for a company to police itself, but it helps facilitate productive, entrepreneurial, and sensible management that allows a company to achieve long-term success. This structure is extremely paramount when it comes to the topic at hand because traditionally space agencies are government entities funded by tax-payers. The most famous example of this in the North America, as well as the world, is NASA. The focus of this series is on establishing a private space agency, we have to determine the type of corporate structure from each region that not only allows the agency to thrive commercially, but offers degrees of protection from liability that government space agencies utilize.

Strategic Importance

“Location, location, location” is a real estate cliché that has been around since the 1920s. It denotes the top three important rules in determining the desirability of a property. This cliché also applies when it comes to starting your own space agency because location deals with the autonomy of access to space as well as market access to the space sector expressed as the availability of satellite technology (Spagnulo, al., Space Program Management: Methods and Tools).   It should be noted that when discussing strategic importance, Professor Spagnulo framed the discussion through a military lens, as military and civilian applications are often intrinsically linked through the space sector (the use of GPS is a classic example). However, instead of framing strategic importance through a military lens, we will focus on autonomy of access to space and market access. The capability to design, realize, and launch space programs is an essential element when it comes to giving a private space agency political and economic leverage at the global level (Spagnulo, al., Space Program Management: Methods and Tools).

Extent of International Participation
Somewhere between a guiding principle and another cliché is the concept of ‘power in numbers.’ It’s not difficult to recognize the importance of power in numbers when it comes to international participation in the space industry. As stated above, the very existence of many ESA missions relies on establishing international partnerships. The extent of international participation can not only determine the success of a private space agency on a political/international spectrum, but also in regard to technical aspects (such as missions on the International Space Station).

Specific Industrial and Specialized Sector
The space industry may be considered one of the most niche industries to date. As mentioned earlier, different sectors of the space industry strive because they focused on strategically investing in specific capabilities. Basically, if you want to start a private space agency you must use your unique advantages and establish specific competences (similar to Mr. Dreier’s thoughts on Australia’s space agency). This approach is important because while competition is healthy in an industry as niche as the space industry, it becomes difficult to compete when the market becomes oversaturated. However, do not fret Astropreneurs, even in an oversaturated market there’s bound to be opportunities to capitalize on market gaps.

Be sure to follow this series and stay tuned  as we go more in depth in the next installment of So you want to Start your own Space Agency? Part II: Caribbean Corporate Structure & Strategic Importance.

Posted by Mclee Kerolle