Innovation in space is not only democratizing access to space, but is creating many exciting opportunities for new players to enter the market. Geospatial tools and technologies (“geospatial intelligence,” as coined by the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation), with deep roots in the federal government and intelligence communities, have incredible potential for the commercial sector.
Making Space Accessible
Trends for several years have included the space industry moving towards easier and less expensive access to space, enabled in part by NewSpace companies, which has allowed university students to launch smallsats and NGOs to access the International Space Station – and now we have Silicon Valley-based Loft Orbital and United Kingdom-based Open Cosmos.
While not exactly the same, these two new companies are providing space infrastructure as a service. They make it possible for companies to get direct access to space-derived data without having to become a space company. They own and operate satellites and lease space onboard to fly sensors and instruments on behalf of the customers. They handle all the “hard stuff” that is needed to get a sensor or instrument into space and operational: finding the right bus; handling launch; and integrating the payload, the on-board processing, and the data downlink. The customers then have direct access to, and control of their mission-critical space-derived data and important information about our planet.
Loft Orbital was founded by satellite industry veteran Antoine de Chassy, who was U.S. President for France-based SPOT Image (now a part of Airbus Defence & Space), and two partners. Alex Greenberg, Co-founder/ Operations, was involved with the first contract signing between the U.S. federal government and a commercial company for satellite-based weather data. Pierre-Damien Vaujour, Co-founder/Product has broad and deep technical and business experience including with NASA, and the X-PRIZE Foundation’s Google Lunar X PRIZE. My interview with Alex to learn more about their unique business model appears here.
This new way of operating a space company opens the door for many commercial companies that heretofore would not have considered having their own sensor on a satellite. The sectors that will be directly affected include real estate, insurance and financial services, agriculture and commodities, energy, global trade, shipping and supply chain, targeted marketing, autonomous driving, and security and risk management.
There is also buzz about exciting applications for consumers, as the April announcement of EarthNow demonstrates. This company founded by Bill Gates, OneWeb founder Greg Wyler, Airbus and SoftBank will offer real-time video of the entire planet from space, via constellations of small satellites similar to those of OneWeb. Anyone will be able to experience on their smartphone the extraordinary technologies that space enables!
The Value of Manufacturing Standardization
Another reason that costs are decreasing and more people and companies can get to space is the standardization in manufacturing, demonstrated by the increasing popularity of cubesats, and by the use of assembly line production. Dylan Taylor writes about the value this is bringing to the space economy with examples from York Space Systems and Altius Space Machines in his column, Spatial Capital, here.
The History and Future of SAR
We are thrilled to have satellite Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) industry veteran and leader Jörg Herrmann’s historical perspective about the inception of SAR, as well as his thoughts about the exciting future for SAR beginning here. Significant technological advances and the ability to use smallsats for SAR are creating optimism and excitement for this little-understood but high-potential data.
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-Myrna James Yoo