From Elon Musk to Jeff Bezos: the fast pace of the space business

Translated from an article originally published in Forbes France

What’s up in space?

The space sector is taking off like a rocket. In recent years, launch technologies have become more and more accessible. Elon Musk’s launcher is joined by Rocket Lab’s Electron launchers, which raised $ 75M last March, and in the coming weeks will raise launch its load payload in the coming weeks for less than $5M, and by other launchers like Virgin Orbit and Vector R.

Nowadays the main six state agencies (US, Russia, China, Europe, Japan, India) are still the major source of financing in space, but many private projects are also active: space does not belong to anyone (yet). In 2018, the International Orbital Station (ISS) is offerings to support private projects, which paving the way for ecosystem-based experiments. There will be more than 150 missions in 2018, including 50 in the United States (30 from Space X), 40 in Russia, 35 in China, 17 in India, and 14 in Europe.

The birth of space start-ups

Little by little, start-ups are spreading, accelerators are being formed, and funds are being raised. The European Space Agency supports 140 start-ups a year. An ecosystem is being built.

Like the global communication or internet connectivity booms before it, the historic space market — satellite manufacturing — is undergoing a major shift. The number of private players is exploding, due in part to increasingly lower costs. The sharp drop in prices has caused the acceleration of the development cycle. Some start-ups are building satellites weighing less than a kilogram using consumer electronic components. These start-ups are inspired by the Californian project Planet Lab, established in 2010 and based in San Francisco. 450 of the 1800 or so active satellites identified by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) were launched in 2017.

This is of course happening on the west West Coast of the United States, but also in in Israel, Australia, and Luxembourg. The microstate in particular has made space a priority. As proof, the passage of a law on mineral exploration and numerous sources of financing established suggest that it wishes to occupy a place of choice in this new market. An ecosystem is undoubtedly being created there because owing to of the voluntarism enthusiasm of the duchy, as well as new jobs bearing future.

The European case

Europe has beautiful start-ups like Thrustme, which makes systems propulsion for micro-satellites, and AirMems, that produces RF switches for satellites. If While 360 Capital Partners has invested € 3m in the Earthcube start-up that optimizes satellite image analysis, no other continental European fund has valued this market sector in priority. At the private level, it is the Corporate Ventures (like Airbus Venture which has invested in Astrocast) and the Family Offices that have seized the project. In Britain, Seraphim Venture has raised £ 70m in this sector.

New market sectors

Space tourism is a coveted business: supply and demand have managed to meet for some time now, for as people wishing to go for a walk in the space have the wealth to achieve it. SpaceAdventures.com has already sent seven tourists to the orbital station for about $ 75M each. In 2018, Blue Origin is expected to send its first test passengers aboard the New Shepard spacecraft, at to 100km altitude for ten minutes. Virgin Galactic and several other projects also want to democratize this access. The estimated price? A few hundred thousand euros to go for a ride in the upper atmosphere, where gravity is weaker.

The refueling of space stations and maintenance around satellites are segments accessible to private investments.

Objective moon

The Moon is a destination that is becoming realistic. Google has announced the launch of the first $ 20 million Google Lunar XPrize for the first private project that would place a vehicle on the moon, travel 500 meters, and deliver high-quality images to Earth. 5 projects have already applied.

To make all this possible, many areas have given rise to the creation of start-up: including transmission (the antennas company Phasor just raised $ 16M), storage, visualization, and information processing. Earth Observation has made tremendous progress recently with companies like Orbital Insights (which just raised $ 50M), Digital Globe, and Spire (which just raised $ 70M from the Luxembourg Future Fund). But companies like Urba Space are also starting to use radar frequencies (SAR) to access data on reserves of raw materials, including oil.

More distant projects such as asteroids mining have also found funding in Luxembourg, like such as Planetary Resource, which raised $ 28M.

Space research

Gravity is the only factor that has not changed since throughout the existence of planet Earth. It shaped life as we know it. We already know that drugs do not work in space in the same way as on Earth, and that the vast majority are ineffective. Digestion and cell development do not proceed in the same way.

One particularly fascinating experiment is the NASA’s “Twins Study”: a large part of the DNA of a twin brother has mutated during his one-year stay in space, a significant fraction of which is definitively due to the effect of micro-gravity, but also solar radiation, which is very strong beyond the altitude of the Van Allen belt that protects the Earth.

Taste and space

New forms of development of life can be seen in space, as well as new forms of nutrition that can be absorbed more effectively by the body, and through experimentation, that seeks to identify ways to reproduce them.

New flavors are being created, and companies like Budweiser are interested in fermentation in micro-gravity, because it will necessarily happen differently. More efficient yeasts could emerge, able to act more quickly at lower temperatures and give off different flavors. It also appears that the terpenes of whiskey will assemble differently.

Space research, which until now has been conducted by public agencies (and very oriented on fundamental research) has the distinction of being non-deterministic: we do not know what we will find. The lowering of prices is going to increase its spectrum and open it to new areas. Private players, including such as major pharmaceutical companies and agro-food companies are already taking an interest. Dozens of laboratories are ready to experiment with micro-gravity. Here, too, entrepreneurship has its say. The start-up Space Cargo Unlimited aims to facilitate access to space research for candidate laboratories.

A domain to watch

The same thing is happening here that happened 25 years ago with the internet: the subject is leaving the public sphere and major industrial actors, and entering the domain of young start-ups. 2018 will be a pivotal year in the space field. Much quieter than cryptocurrencies, space already presents concrete and attractive opportunities. Economic spin-offs on many terrestrial research areas are to be expected.

The example of Luxembourg is inspiring, as it mobilizes private and public funding to create a cluster that in turn will give rise to an ecosystem.

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Co-auteur de “La Fabrique des Start-up” (Pearson, dec 2018). about.me/jfcaillard