SpaceTech is a quickly growing area of GovTech, with far more applications than many realise. This week, Alp Kuleli is looking at SpaceTech in focus.
The space industry is one of the fastest growing commercial enterprises of the last decade, with 2018 bringing upwards of an outstanding $3.2 billion in total investment alone. With this investment only set to grow, and plenty of innovative startups transforming the sector, it is an area of GovTech we are keen to hone in on.
Thanks to technology becoming significantly cheaper and barriers to entry decreasing, the SpaceTech market has become increasingly accessible in recent years. Overall, the global space economy market is valued at £155-£190 billion, but this is projected to more than double to over £400 billion by 2030. While US companies have received 64% of the past year’s funding – a share that did not grow much on the previous year, European companies have increased their share of the funding from 13% to 18% over the same period. The UK itself currently captures over a third of this European funding and the UK Space Agency-backed Satellite Applications Catapult hopes to increase the UK’s global share of the market to 10% by 2030.
SpaceTech Market Map
The space tech sector can be segmented into four main categories: Earth Observation, Satellite Development & Launching, Data Analytics, Processing & Management, and Communication. The space industry encompasses a wide variety of both upstream and downstream fields, from antenna production, to satellite launch services, to data collection, security and management. The UK’s Critical National Infrastructure already uses the space sector for defence, the emergency services, environmental monitoring, flood response, and other essential functions such as communication.
The UK also recently passed the Space Industry Act, providing a framework for future activities within the UK such as initial satellite launches. The act is considered to be a streamlined upgrade to the 1986 Outer Space Act, which had detailed a drawn-out, lengthy licensing process that had previously deterred satellite development, leading companies to conduct satellite activities outside of the UK instead. Although the Space Industry Act is considered to be relatively skeletal, details such as liability and licensing are primed to be addressed by secondary legislation post ongoing consultation.
The current SpaceTech startup market also focuses around the carving out of satellite data procurement and management. Many startups focus on geospatial information collection through a wide variety of tools, most notably the launching of Low Earth Orbit Satellites, which incur lower startup costs than traditional GEO satellites. Geographical imagery data has commercial uses such as crop, agriculture and environmental protection, reflected by companies like Hummingbird Technologies, who provide farmers with high resolution maps of their crops during critical decision-making junctions of the farming season. Other applications include military defence and safety, as well as risk management. Startups such as Geospatial Insight, who analyse aerial imagery to provide insurers and investors with the tools required to monitor and respond to risks accordingly, are in this area.
Alongside the prevalence of drone and satellite based technology, several startups have focused around the consolidation of these new technologies. Altitude Angel offers regional airspace management and a National Drone Registration System, while others such as Open Cosmos promote an entire top-to-bottom satellite service system for their customers. As these services become increasingly popular and production is increased, there will be a growing demand for companies that are able to realise and fulfil these economies of scale.
Another factor at play is that as underdeveloped countries begin to require further connectivity, Low Earth Orbiting-based satellite systems may be used to provide such services in areas where setting up traditional telephone land lines is too costly or unfeasible. Companies like Hiber provide low-cost modems that connect to LEO nanosatellites, allowing for those in developing countries to reap the benefits of data collection as well. So far, Hiber has provided 38 million Tanzanian farmers with data from soil and rain sensors. This has allowed for more profitable production from increased yields, as farmers know when to sow their seeds for ideal efficiency.
At the same time, other SpaceTech startups are attempting to improve on pre-existing technology. Some are focused on increasing efficiency with lighter and more simplified technology, like UK-based Orbex Space – they are creating a microsatellite launch vehicle 30% lighter than other vehicles within the same category, while cutting carbon emissions by 90%. Similarly, Oxford Space Systems has developed cost-effective deployable space antennas for the satellite industry that cut down on complexity, mass, and lead times, even pulling design techniques from the art of origami. Others are generating images previously considered unobtainable, utilising already developed tech, such as ICEYE employing Synthetic-Aperture Radar to create images under any sort of weather conditions.
The Space Tech industry is also seeing substantial progress from the established companies as well. US-based SpaceX has continued development of its Falcon Heavy, able to put more weight into low earth orbit than any other previous rocket, having its first successful launch in early 2018, improving rocket reuse technology at a steady rate. Meanwhile, London-headquartered OneWeb is gearing towards launching its own OneWeb satellite constellation, a 600 satellite system that aims to provide global satellite internet broadband services through the 2020’s.
Looking into the future, the SpaceTech market is structured for both SME and large company growth. With advances in science and technology, current space exploration research has transformed what was once seen as only a science fiction plot into a realistic, accessible commercial venture for companies to pursue.