What is going on up there?

by JMill. March 15, 2024 | Space for Earthlings 🌏🛰️

Space is no longer just the playground of the stars, whether of the celestial or celebrity variety. The Space industry is expanding its focus beyond ‘Space exploration’. From logistics to agriculture, communications, privacy, to risk management and competitive intelligence, business activities on Earth will be increasingly influenced by activities occurring in Space. The industry is diversifying. Its sources of investment from solely the realm of well-funded nation-states is now enjoying an influx of capital from private sources. Additionally, the Space industry is maturing beyond the “New Space” hype of the late 2010s/early 2020s into the emergence of Space-capable organizations that are prioritizing their focus on benefiting all of us. Business leaders would be wise to understand what new capabilities are becoming feasible that were previously only part of science fiction or for billion-dollar budgets. Likewise for government agencies, the commercial era of Space is necessitating changes to their strategies, too, as a February 2024 report from BCG details.

Newly-accessible capabilities such as earth sensing and imagery, zero-gravity manufacturing, new pharmaceuticals, and industrial mineral extraction are beginning to influence how we do things here on Earth. 

When you view a map on your smartphone, the blue dot marking your current location is the result of billions of dollars of space infrastructure. “Sure it results in food delivery, dating apps and so many innovations in daily life, but none of this would be possible without the boundaries of exploration into space,” says Van Espahbodi, managing partner and co-founder of Starburst. It is unfeasible to lay copper or fiber optic cables over every mountain, under every sea, and certainly not possible to tether airplanes, automobiles, or most maritime vessels. For the billions of people globally who are beyond the physical reach of hardwired Internet connections, “you have no choice but to drop internet beams from space,” says Felix Ejeckam, CEO and founder of Akash Systems.

For example, few of us use expensive satellite phones that have existed for decades, but many of us expect nearly-globally-accessible broadband Internet connectivity. SpaceX’s Starlink service is rapidly establishing itself as critical communications infrastructure, with public awareness increasing due to its role in hotspots of global conflict and in providing accessibility in cool spots beyond “the last mile” of traditional terrestrial Internet providers. In fact, most of these articles were composed while connected to a consumer-grade Starlink terminal in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania.  

Another example of a newly-accessible capability is having a manufacturing facility in a sustained low-gravity environment. Sounding rockets have provided us with an ability to conduct, short-lived, low-gravity experiments, but the drastic reduction in launch cost and increase in performance of small satellites is enabling terrestrial companies to develop new forms of pharmaceuticals (e.g., Varda Space Industries), synthetic biology (e.g., Yuri Gravity), and other health and living systems in sustained microgravity and zero gravity environments. The return of these grown and manufactured substances back to earth can enable new life science applications that were previously infeasible and nearly unimaginable. If a leader of a pharmaceutical company is not tracking how to conduct zero-gravity operations, the leader may find the organization at a significant disadvantage as the industry begins to see a step-up in off-planet manufacturing capability. The possibility of an entirely new class of ‘Space-enabled’ drugs, both biologic and small molecule, could uncork huge areas of market growth.

The Space Industry’s rapid expansion means change, which is potentially lucrative for those who pay attention and devastating for those who ignore.


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