Hei Rex, the asteroid has fallen: it's time to adapt! Quick guide to survive into the new age of Space Business

Hei Rex, the asteroid has fallen: it's time to adapt! Quick guide to survive into the new age of Space Business

1. Yes, spacecraft are commoditizing: cheaper, quicker, smaller and more performing, but also more fragile, less reliable and durable

2. Yes, entry barriers are definitely lower, as space is much more accessible now than ever

3. And yes, tens of unprecedented solutions based on space assets can now deliver valuable products, generating profitable business

Space market is changing and old good space companies are confronted by new players, very focused, determined and agile. Shall they still rely the biggest share of their running business on the usual institutional market? This would definitely be the wisest choice in addressing point 1 and 2 (In parallel with internal cost heavy optimization), but what about number 3? Shall they then accept the challenge of emerging markets, considering that commercial customers will not absorb any development cost?

To answer yes, detailed and extensive business plans need to be deployed to convince owners, investors and supporters of every nature about the sustainability, profitability and predictability of the proposed opportunity in a domain where business models often have no benchmark and market forecast uncertainty is objectively high. And such plans have to speak the financial language, not the scientific language, despite the pure technical background of most of the new space entrepreneurs.

To be attractive, this endeavours shall show a lean company cost structure; by no surprise the resulting ecosystem of start-ups, incubated either by large companies (directly via internal Venture Capital schemes) or by independent Angels – with the perspective of a future acquisition.

Yes, the truth is that we are navigating unchartered waters, and which domain is more used to this feeling than space? Pioneers, to survive, must certainly be prepared and creative, so that they can find solutions using the toolbox in their trunk. And the available tools will never be enough or matching, but you have to work it out, maybe using them in a different way or sequence.

This is to say that a successful idea sometimes just need to aggregate existing technologies, maybe across different markets, in a way never done before. Cross-fertilization of different domains can be an excellent catalyst of disruptive innovations.

The In-Orbit Servicing is a perfect example on how existing technologies, not necessarily space-exclusive, can be synthetized to generate a new branch of services –such as space logistics– dedicated to all existing space assets owners, private and institutional, offering the possibility to safeguard and keep their investments fully operational.

Developing remotely-controlled dexterous in-orbit operability can also enable specific business relevant to industrial manufacturing processes in low-gravity environment, characterised by very low pressure and temperature. Application to physics, chemistry and biology are the most interesting, especially for Pharma and Semiconductors industries. Moreover, lower cost, reduced size and re-usability of launchers are favourable conditions to the supply chain that will feed raw material to orbit and deliver finished product on ground.

Orbiting 3D printing factories are intended to manufacture structural elements for the extra-terrestrial assembly of very large space infrastructures, unfeasible with a single launch. Solar system colonization needs it, but all hostile environments –likewise oceanic depths– can exploit such capabilities.

Secure and high capacity communication networks are mandatory infrastructures to relay information either around earth or in the frame of interplanetary missions. In this respect, key technological enablers are Laser Terminals, electronic steerable antennas, high stability platforms (with relevant AOCS), supported by quantum cryptography and blockchain protocols (which implies extreme computational capability on-board).

The same technology can be adapted to propose robust and secure transaction to a variety of non-space customers, majorly in the financial market and in emerging banking systems (cryptocurrencies), but also in logistics or wherever an exchange of instances or authentication among private and public entities occurs.

Non-intuitive quantum mechanics properties pave the way to quantum sensing applications. This technology allows global precision timing and positioning (extremely important in case of GPS denial) as well as electromagnetic or nuclear sources detection (in radiofrequency-denied environment, e.g. underground or underwater).

Similarly, quantum computing (possibly space-based) offers an incredible potential for companies working with massive data processing; mandatory capability to take profit of the full computation potential is the programming of quantum algorithms.

Massive data storage and processing are typical features of all earth observation industries and institutions. Declared goal here is to achieve the full spectrum (optical, hyperspectral and radar) observability in real-time for ISR purposes, as well as planet monitoring, and this requires a secure and high capability data backbone.

Two promising raising waves are there to be ridden: launch market is adapting to the general commoditization of space assets; quicker and cheaper launch solutions based on small rockets are already available, and more to come. Main technology to evolve is clearly on the rocket engines and reusability. New rocket engines will consider nuclear propulsion, in particular in the frame of interplanetary missions of mars/moon colonization and resource exploitation. Sub-orbital launches are also a complementary solution, especially to better address the time-to-launch market demand.

Nuclear technology will be soon re-instated to generate the power needed by interplanetary outposts, solving at the same time the issue of solar cell dust coverage, reduced solar exposure, and battery size; power generators based on higher energy density source will be a mandatory feature to support the ambitious interplanetary exploration plans of every nation.

The above payloads and enablers could appear a list of promising but uncorrelated businesses. There is instead a common thread: they are all dual-use technologies, from the more obvious serving the earth observation domain, to the financial-oriented ones.

This is the key: in the same way smaller size, high reactivity and quick adaptability increased survivability chances of mammals in the post-asteroid ice-age, small and agile companies will be the most successful companies addressing the evolving space market. Being able to offer the same technology both civil and defense market, in the shortest possible term, shall be their mantra. No need to be perfect, but just quicker than competitors, if any. Perfection can be anyhow achieved later on. And –why not? – the business model of the next big space companies will be a network of several federalised space start-ups.

Weekly Brief

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