Has reached the Now point out where a handful of angel investors can put a space company on the map. But the same changes that have made the industry accessible have made it increasingly complex to follow trends. By default, all space startups are exciting, but companies vary widely in risk, capital intensity, and maturity. Here’s what you need to know about the four main areas of the new space economy.
Launch: playground of billionaires and forward thinkers
Perhaps simply the most exciting industry to be a part of today, the orbital launch service has grown from a government-funded niche dominated by a handful of cousins to a vibrant and growing community serving insatiable demand.
There is good reason why it was dominated for so long by people like ULA, whose Delta rockets occupied a vast majority of missions for decades. The barrier to entry for launch is huge.
As such, there are three ways to enter the sector: brute force, stealth, and novelty.
Brute force is how SpaceX and Blue Origin have managed to achieve what they have. With billions in investments from people who don’t care if the money is made in the short term (or with Bezos, even in the long term), they can do the research and engineering needed to make a full-scale launch pad. . Few of these can actually exist, and participation is limited when they do. Fortunately, we all reap the benefits when billionaires compete for space superiority.
Stealth, perhaps best described as smart positioning, is where you’ll find Rocket Lab. This New Zealand-based company didn’t appear out of nowhere – look at its timeline and you’ll see that scaled-down testing was done more than a decade ago. But what founder Peter Beck and his team did was anticipate the market and stubbornly work toward a specific solution.
Rocket lab focuses on small payloads, delivered with a short response time. This avoids the hassle of competing against billionaires and decades-old space dynasties because, in reality, this market did not exist until very recently.
“Responsive space, or on-demand launch, will become increasingly important,” Beck said. “All satellites are vulnerable, whether by natural, accidental or deliberate actions. As we see the growth and aging of small constellations of satellites, the need for replenishment will increase, leading to the demand for unique spacecraft in unique orbits. The ability to deploy new satellites in precise orbits in a matter of hours, not months or years, is critical for commercial and government satellite operators alike. “
Invest in Rocket Lab At first it would have seemed unexciting as year after year they made measured progress but did not take charge or earn money. Patience is the main virtue here. But forward-thinking investors are looking back at the company’s many successful launches and bright future and marvel that they ever doubted it.
The third category of launch is novelty: completely new launch techniques like SpinLaunch or Leo Aerospace. The term may not inspire confidence, and that is deliberate. Companies that take this approach are high-risk, high-reward propositions that often need serious funding before they can test the basic physical feasibility of their pitching technique. That is not an investment that everyone is comfortable making.
On the other hand, these are companies that, if shown to be viable, could invest and collect a significant portion of the new and growing launch market. Not as much patience as extra diligence and outside experience is required here to help separate the wheat from the chaff. At first, something like SpinLaunch may sound quirky, but the Saturn V rocket still looks outlandish now, decades after it was built. Stepping outside the confines of established methods is the way we move forward, but investors must be careful not to end up simply putting their cash into orbit.