5 Developments in NewSpace for 2018
The 21st century. This is to be the century of flying cars and warp speed engines that will take us to other worlds. There are a growing number of companies working on the former, but as far as we know, humanity is far from developing the means of traveling faster than the speed of light. Heck, we’re still trying to get back to the moon and maybe plant a flag on a dusty red planet next door to Earth. Still, exciting things are happening in the space industry, from private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin building reusable rockets to other startups that are planning to mine asteroids or even the moon. Some are predicting that NewSpace, the transition of space missions from governments to the private sector, will turn into a trillion-dollar business in the coming decades.
Such long-range prognostications are a bit too bold for us. Instead, we’ve put together our predictions for the top five developments in NewSpace to watch in 2018.
A Private Company will Land on the Moon
The White House recently announced its latest directive to NASA: Get back to the moon, ASAP. There are few details and no deadline, but any mission, the administration promised, will involve private industry. While the Lockheed Martin and SpaceX-type companies build out their massive rockets and lunar landers, we expect to see a private company touch down on the moon in 2018. Possibly.
It’s been 10 years since the Google Lunar XPRIZE first announced the competition, with $30 million in prizes awaiting the companies that could put a lander on the moon’s surface. The original deadline of 2012 has been extended multiple times, with the latest wheels down date now set at March 31, 2018. Competitors have come and gone, with five startups remaining. The perceived frontrunner is Moon Express from the United States. Moon Express co-founder and serial entrepreneur Naveen Jain (who has also started a company that offers personalized nutrition advice using artificial intelligence) has said the launch will definitely take place next year. A team out of India has also promised it will be ready to launch in 2018.
Of course, Jain wouldn’t be the first company executive to oversell his chances of success. Still, Moon Express reports that it does have permission from the U.S. government to land on the moon and the company has raised $53 million in disclosed funding to date. However, one of its competitors, Tokyo-based ispace Technologies, just picked up a $90.2 million Series A this month, bringing total funding to about $92.2 million. The ispace team, called Hakuto, won’t be ready to land a robot on the moon until 2020. Both Moon Express and ispace have their eyes on an even bigger prize: extractable lunar resources that could be worth quadrillions of dollars.
SpaceX Will Do Something Big
First, let’s be clear: We’re not Elon Musk fanboys but do appreciate a good head of regrown hair. Second, let’s be vague: We’re not entirely sure what SpaceX will do in 2018, but it seems the company is poised to make some big strides and will certainly continue to dominate all the news on Futurism.com.
The company has already doubled its rocket launches compared to last year’s schedule, with plans to complete up to 20 by the end of 2017. Space News reported that SpaceX hopes to perform 30 launches in 2018. It remains to be seen whether any of those missions will include the Falcon Heavy, which will be one of the most powerful space rockets ever built if it’s able to get off the ground. A maiden voyage is on the books for January.
Perhaps a more intriguing development, especially from the perspective of the retail investor, is a possible merger of Musk’s public company, Tesla, with SpaceX. The latest analyst to start beating that drum is a guy named Adam Jones from Morgan Stanley. Bloomberg reported that Musk has poo-poohed the idea in the past but apparently there has been more direct cooperation between the two companies while Tesla hit some bumps in the road this year with production and its leadership. In a further bit of foreshadowing, the first Falcon Heavy into space will reportedly carry a Tesla roadster. It was only a year ago when SolarCity merged with Tesla, enabling stockholders to double down on green energy investments. Why not just add SpaceX (and even throw in The Boring Company) into one mega space-energy-transportation corporation?
Satellite Business Will Continue to Dominate
In our teardown on NewSpace exploding into a trillion-dollar industry, we noted that the satellite sector, which includes everything from manufacturing spacecraft to providing communications services, represents about 75 percent of the total commercial space industry. The industry is valued at about $350 billion today. There’s no reason to doubt that ratio will change in 2018.
Data from Crunchbase show that 40 percent of the 56 deals to satellite startups since the beginning of the new millennium have come in the last two years. We’ve covered many of these companies this year, such as those launching fleets of small satellites into orbit or doing geospatial analysis with satellite data. More recent deals include a $3.2 million Seed round to Loft Orbital out of San Francisco in November. The startup, founded only this year, leases space on its satellites for various Earth-observing missions. It even handles the red tape on issues such as licensing and insurance. Another relatively new NewSpace startup, Analytical Space, took in $3.5 million in September for its satellite relay system that uses laser technology to beam data in orbit back to Earth cheaper and faster.
No doubt the demand for data will continue to buoy the satellite sector, whether we’re talking about teasing out business analytics by applying artificial intelligence to imagery or the practicalities of moving data from point A to point B.
That brings us to our next big development …
One Big Step for Global Internet
We’ve written previously about our need for global internet and some of the projects already under way to connect the roughly four billion people not wasting time on Facebook. Some of the more interesting concepts involve instruments aboard space-faring balloons that connect mobile devices to ready-to-deploy voice and data systems via drones. Meanwhile, SpaceX and OneWeb have both pledged to begin blasting hundreds of satellites into orbit beginning in 2018 in competing efforts to weave a communications web for the Web in low earth orbit. Global internet, here we come.
However, other solutions for worldwide coverage don’t necessarily require high-flying balloons or massive numbers of satellites. For example, a startup called OmniSpace, founded 2012 out of Virginia, has raised about $46 million, including $30 million in June, for its non-geosynchronous satellite platform that flies closer to the Earth to reduce latency and improve communications. One of the company’s chief investors and partners, Intelsat, claims it already operates the world’s first globalized broadband network.
More Startups (including China) Will Join the Space Race
That might seem like a “duh” statement, but we want to emphasize that the industry is heating up and a robust ecosystem is taking shape. A number of new firms and investment funds have recently emerged dedicated to the NewSpace industry. For example, Seraphim Space Fund recently launched a $100 million initiative and Starburst Ventures, part of Starburst Accelerator, raised a $200 million fund to invest in 35 space startups over the next three years. Meanwhile, the Space Startup Ecosystem plans to help launch 100 NewSpace companies each year. Let’s put that into perspective: Only about 140 angel- and venture-backed space companies have been founded and funded since 2000, according to Bryce Space & Technology, an analytic consulting firm.
And let’s not forget about the new Startup Nation—China. In the first 11 months of this year, more than 3,400 new venture-capital and private-equity funds in China raised $241.76 billion, more than double the amount of 2015 and more than 10 times that of 2006, according to consultancy Zero2IPO Group. We recently discussed the meteoric rise of self-driving electric vehicle startups in China over just the last two years. We expect to see a similar trajectory in NewSpace. In fact, a Chinese space launch company called ExPace just raised $180 million in Series A funding this month. Founded just last year, ExPace is reportedly the first private company in China to offer professional launch services. We bet it won’t be the last.