Alix 2

Money! In! Space!

Aug. 10, 2020
Now that near-Earth space has become a real marketplace and environment for development, there is more opportunity and challenge up there than was previously possible.

Money! In! Space! 

By Alix Paultre 

There is a revolution brewing in the space business, and it only begins with reaching orbit. Recent developments in the space business have resulted in more and cheaper access to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) than ever before. Now that near-Earth space has become a real marketplace and environment for development, there is more opportunity and challenge up there than was previously possible.  

The challenges range from the issue of space junk rendering the new frontier uninhabitable before it even gets started, to the dangers of militarization in the orbital environment. Opportunities exist in creating the intraorbital systems and infrastructures being deployed as you read this. AI-enabled Edge-Computing satellites, Cloud-enabled aerospace systems, and consumer astronautics will become the norm up there. 

The engineering community will be called upon to address them, and the result will be new solutions, which in turn will enable newer applications, requiring better solutions, and so on. Of course, test, measurement, and evaluation systems must rise to that challenge as well. In the case of space businesses, the engineering community will have several interesting aspects to address. 

Design engineers will be confronted with a situation where mil/aero specifications must be maintained, but consumer-level functionalities are provided, We’ve pointed out before that even the most demanding mil/aerospace project doesn’t have to worry about their platform having to sync with iTunes, or use V2X infrastructures to order lunch for the astronauts. Consumers will go into space, especially the well-heeled early adopters, expecting to find the same level of digital access they did at home. 

This means more RF testing, EMI and EMC qualification, system compatibility, protocol compliance evaluation, power management, multimodal communication solutions, and more. The list of application verticals in the space (no pun intended) is long, and growing longer every day. Just the intraorbital taxi or rideshare business, something that didn’t exist a few decades ago, will provide a tremendous opportunity to the engineering industry for solutions.  

One of the indicators of the explosion in space business is the recent launch (pun intended) of an online B2B platform that helps match payloads with available launch capacity. Developed by German IT company HOSTmi, the platform will address hosting payloads across a wide range of space platforms around the world, including orbital, suborbital, and deep-space launches.  

Every rocket has a certain capacity of payload it can carry to a specific orbit, and the mass of the primary payload will usually be less than the mass that the rocket can lift, leaving spare capacity. Manufacturers and operators try to sell this extra capacity for smaller payloads, which are then added and launched at the same time. 

There’s even a place for green technologies. Beyond the obvious application vertical of space junk, its tracking, and its clearance, which will also require a lot of slide-rule work, there are a lot of other ways to keep space clean(er). For example, Benchmark Space Systems, developer of green in-space propulsion systems for small satellites, announced an exclusive services agreement with rideshare provider Spaceflight Inc. to provide a range of non-toxic chemical propulsion solutions.  

These are designed to accelerate satellite rideshare deployments to prime orbital locations aboard next-generation Sherpa orbital transfer vehicles (OTVs). Benchmark’s scalable, launch-vehicle agnostic propulsion product and services offer alternate rideshare options over electric propulsion and other legacy systems. 

This and other market examples underscore the broad spectrum of application verticals and development opportunities in space today. The intraorbital marketplace has many facets, and each of them require a highly-engineered precision solution.  

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