How to Monetize Space Beyond Expeditions and Research
Space – the final frontier. So, begin the famous lines from Star Trek. These four words epitomize the fascination of Space. Space is as fascinating today as it was 60 years ago when Sputnik was launched or almost 50 years back when Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon. Space still fascinates the 3-year-old and the 75-year-old alike.
Entrepreneurship always demands risk-taking, space entrepreneurship requires an extra dose of risk tolerance as a thing can literally blow up like a spectacular fireworks display. Given the risks associated with Space, why get into Space entrepreneurship?
Space entrepreneurs exploit the opportunity to solve problems that have not been solved before and reap the rewards associated by being early movers.When something is launched in space, it has to be light, robust, highly energy efficient and has a long life. This opens avenues to innovate in areas like manufacturing, exotic materials, launch services, earth observation, navigation, communication, etc. As per NSR, over $ 1.7bn has been invested in New Space ventures in 2017 alone. This compares to a total of $ 10bn in the entire 2000 – 2016 period.
Gradual deregulation and Privatization
Till about 10 years back, space was the exclusive realm of governments. It required extremely deep pockets and investments in science which only governments could provide. Space used to be defined by exploratory events like the first satellite in space, the first human in space the first moon landing, etc. And space endeavors were led by national scientific organisations like NASA, ISRO, ESA, etc.
Today, the business of space is shifting away from governments. Space is now personified by rock-star technology entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Sir Richard Branson and New Space companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, Planet Labs and Team Indus. These entrepreneurs and companies are driving the commoditization and monetization of space.
Using space-tech beyond research missions
Gone are the days when this sector was only limited to research done by governmental space agencies like Nasa and ISRO. Space is of strategic importance to countries today. It allows countries to monitor security threats, manage natural resources, enable communications and quick disaster response. Investments in space are seen as strategic enablers for developing a country’s technology capacity and talent. For instance, UAE is building a Mars orbiter as one of the means of preparing UAE’s technology sector for a post-oil world.
New Space companies and entrepreneurs are leveraging this domain to gain advances in consumer electronics, smart manufacturing, cloud computing, machine learning amongst others to achieve engineering goals while reducing costs. The efficiencies of space engineering can also lead to equally efficient and highly profitable solutions for Earth applications.
Some interesting examples of monetizing space :
- SpaceX landing and reusing rocket stages to reduce the cost of launches thus enabling cheaper and faster access to space
- Planet Labs using components from consumer electronics like cell phones to reduce the size and the cost of manufacturing and launching satellites by almost ten-fold
- OneWeb planning a factory for manufacturing high volume, low cost nano-satellites for a constellation of over 600 communication satellites
- Insect Research Systems using the compact and highly efficient mass spectrometer from the Rosetta Comet Lander to build commodity bed bug detectors for hotels and airlines
- Orbital Systems enabling water conservation by making highly efficient showers for homes by using water recycling technology developed for Mars missions