Understanding the factors that will influence the future in the space industry
The space industry is transforming itself. Ever since the launch of Sputnik in 1957, space activities have been driven by innovation. But now it is booming due to the insertion of commercial market demands, which gained momentum towards the end of the Cold War. As a result, the direction of this industry changed to leverage new business opportunities, which reached a pivotal point in the last decade. While we are witnessing a lesser magnitude of nationalized programs and more private initiatives in this sector, there are several emerging factors like lower costs of materials, AI, and others, that are anchoring it to new heights.
These factors have resulted in not only paving the way for specific trends beginning in the first place but speeding up and becoming more necessary. For instance, the invention of nanotechnology helped in reducing the cost and weight of satellites from hundreds of kilograms to mere grams. Further, as global economic predicaments shift, raising questions on the federal spending on space-based projects, the private sector is grasping this opportunity to fill the gap.
Key Trends in Space Technology
Proliferation of Small Satellites: The traditional barriers preventing access to space have disappeared. Today, more and more startups, companies, and governments have the capacity to have their own satellites. Companies like Planet, Hawkeye360, Spire, Capella Space, BlackSky, and Swarm have successfully raised cash, launched satellites. Though their business models vary, from tracking radio signals and gathering radar data to imaging every inch of the Earth to communicating with internet-of-things devices, their number is going to triple in the next years.
Space sustainability: The space debris has long been an area of concern, hence addressing the issue of sustainability in space is crucial. Space is currently populated with a growing amount of debris that comes from old satellites, launch vehicle stages, and collisions, and so on. It is evident that cleaning this mess is challenging. Therefore, maintaining space ecology will be given the utmost priority. Various firms and international ties are already working on this issue. Swiss startup ClearSpace plans to begin leading a European consortium focused on capturing a Vespa payload adapter in 2025 and dragging it into Earth’s atmosphere.
The recovery of decommissioned satellites in space will also involve a strategy to recycle and reuse them. E.g., Northrop Grumman’s Mission Extension Vehicle-1 was launched in October 2019 and is scheduled to dock with Intelsat-901 in early 2020 to extend the life of the communications satellite.
Commoditization of Space Data: Electro-optical, synthetic aperture radar and radiofrequency data will be combined with information drawn from airborne and terrestrial sensors as well as social network feeds to create new data products for customers. And with the data collected in space will continue to increase in value over the next decade as volume, variety, velocity, and veracity increase. And this data will be instrumental in identifying and driving new business opportunities across different industries. Moreover, CubeSats will be deployed for high data processing and transmission capacities. For achieving this, CubeSats include Ku-Band and Ka-Band transmitters, with rates of several hundred megabits (Mb) per second, or even gigabits (Gb).
Macro Technologies to gain center stage: Nine technology forces viz., cloud, analytics, experience, blockchain, cognitive, digital reality, core modernization, cyber, and the business of technology will lead innovation in the space industry. An amalgamation of these technologies can enhance mission resiliency, lower operational costs, or service more markets.
Artificial Intelligence to go mainstream: AI has the ability to propel the space industry by leaps through automation, data mining, and many more- thus fostering innovation and boosting profitability. AI can perform tedious, time-consuming, yet necessary tasks, such as cleaning satellite parts, updating data, assembly of the satellite. AI can identify areas of surveillance using machine learning, extend mission and battery life, and produce higher-quality environmental image data, all at a fraction of costs. It is leveraged to monitor telemetry and provide feedback to control satellites. AI’s deep learning can be used for space-to-Earth transmissions and has wide-ranging implications for simplifying coordination and avoiding collisions.