January 20, 2021

Rocketing for a Crowded Orbit

Rocketing for a Crowded Orbit

The family, donned in an intra-vehicular activity space suits, strapped in a capsule, are ready for 384,400 Km. Within minutes their own weight doubles and in just eight and half minutes, they are completely weightless.

Inflatable orbiting habitat rented for their holiday in space! Welcome to the future!

It is not new to travel into space using a private space jet. Ever since 2010, when the crew size of the International Space Station was increased, several ordinary people have travelled into space. The idea was novel then but not today. We have many private space leaders coming up wanting to make space travel and exploration mainstream.

Nonetheless, commercialization of space is not just about sending the elite on extra-terrestrial excursions. It is about the space industry transforming itself from monopolies to global space competitors being able to be self-sufficient, come up with different innovations and getting space completely commercialized! It is about the aging infrastructure or ideas to step aside for the technology to breathe-in again.

However, in the pursuit of exploring the future in space, the global space competitors are growing too rapidly..

The Space Race – Happening right NOW!!

While space has been the subject of human interest and a quest for discovery for a very long time, today we are at a pivotal stage. Many national governments are launching ambitious space strategies. Private-sector players are making major breakthroughs to open the space sector to common man.

Bigelow Aerospace aims to build an enormous cargo space habitat that can accommodate about six individuals for many months. Then there is another company, Sierra Nevada, working on a three-story inflatable space habitat prototype. This inflatable habitat serves multiple purposes like having a garden for fresh produce for space travelers, manufacturing facility, a lab, and a hotel.

It is not all about human travel to space… there is a huge set of companies trying to get into data transmission in space as well

Elon Musk has a plan to blanket the Earth in high-speed affordable internet. And SpaceX proved it by launching 180 satellites for internet faster than any other company in the world. This is going to provide ultra-high-speed web access in rural and remote regions around the globe.

Instead of beaming it to the ground and back, there are also space lasers that transmit data directly to each satellite in orbit. It is possible to transfer hundreds of gigabytes of data at once, making Starlink the fastest data transfer solution available.

Furthermore, this ambitious journey has started to become competitive. Now, Bezos also wants to launch his own constellation (3,236 internet satellites to be precise). And yet another bankrupt company, OneWeb seeked to increase satellite constellation up to 48000 satellites. Feeling crowded? Not yet? Check this out!

NASA’s next big move is to search for life on Mars. It has launched a rover that is also responsible for trial technologies for future expeditions including oxygen production. Actually, Elon Musk is pretty confident that it would take only two more years for SpaceX to fly the first cargo mission to Mars, with the first humans landing there by 2026.

These latest initiatives suggest that space is an area where we will see significant development soon. It is potentially addressing opportunities with respect to surveillance, mission deployment, cyber, and artificial intelligence.

At this rate, by the time the next world war comes around, the war will be fought in space! All jokes aside, space is growing exponentially and, in more ways, than you think.

The Global Space Economy

Space as an investment will impact several industries in a huge way. The global space industry will generate revenue of more than $1 trillion by 2040 , up from $350 billion, currently. The most significant short- and medium-term opportunities will come from satellite broadband Internet access.

The demand for data is growing at an exponential rate. The largest opportunity will come from providing Internet access to the unserved parts of the world. There is also going to be an increased demand for bandwidth from autonomous cars, the internet of things, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality.

In fact, as data demand surges, the cost of wireless data per-megabyte will be less than 1% of today's levels.

In addition, today we are using satellites for GPS, navigation, and various other applications. More than half of Earth’s operational satellites are launched for commercial purposes. About 61% of those provide communications, including everything from satellite TV, Internet of Things, connectivity, to global internet.

Second to communications, 27% of commercial satellites have been launched for Earth Observation (EO) purposes, including environmental monitoring and border security.

Beyond the opportunities generated by satellite broadband Internet, the new frontiers in rocketry offer some tantalizing possibilities. Packages today delivered by airplane or truck could be delivered more quickly by rockets. Private space travel will become commercially available. Mining equipment could be sent to asteroids to extract minerals—all possible, theoretically, with the recent breakthroughs in rocketry..

Adding on, Space X has reduced millions of dollars per seat travelling to space. Here is an infographic showing the cost since 1961 till the time Space X entered the game.

Looking at such exciting space explorations and possibilities, I have the following predictions to make for space in 2021 and beyond.

1. SpaceX will face tough competition in Space Tourism

Virgin Galactic is ready for their final series of test flights early in the year and expects to begin its space tourism flights soon. Blue Origin is also planning its first space flight with people this year, as it was ready last year but wanted to perform a few more test flights without people on board first. Not just private companies… India and China have their own space programs that will make it much cheaper to visit space.

2. FCC prepares to run public C-band auction

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decided to run its own auction of satellite C-band spectrum instead of letting satellite operators handle it. The FCC has emphasized a desire for speed in transferring 280 megahertz of C-band spectrum for use in 5G cellular networks.

3. Satellite servicing and debris retrieval missions will move forward

Almost 60 years of space activities and more than 5,450 launches have resulted in approximately 23,000 objects remaining in orbit. This has a negative effect on future launches, and it has been theorized that sending objects into Earth’s orbit could become impossible due the risk of collision. This debris must be removed from orbit if the space industry is to continue to grow. The European industry is leading the debris removal activity with, ClearSpaceestablished by an experienced team of space debris researchers from many EU nations leading the activity.

However, with many leaders wanting to have their own constellations, space habitats or stations, this will either result in collisions or create a roadblock in studying space through telescopes.

4. New small launch vehicles will enter the market

Several companies working on small launch vehicles will likely attempt their first launches this year. Virgin Orbit announced its first orbital launch recently. Firefly Aerospace! will also begin static-fire tests! of the first stage of its Alpha rocket soon.

Other companies, like ABL Space Systems, Relativity Space, and Stealth Space Company will make progress towards a first launch, as the industry awaits a long-anticipated shakeout among the dozens of companies that have announced plans to build small launchers.

5. Flexible communications satellites will reign supreme

Satellite manufacturers have used the past few years of slow sales to invest in high technologies that offer more ability for better control. Manufacturers say the ability to offer “flexible” communications satellites that can adjust the power, shape, and position of their beams is now the de facto standard to do business. Airbus, Thales Alenia Space and Boeing all rolled out new flexible satellite lines last year.

6. Commercial alternatives will surface to NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System

The increasing human and robotic space activity in lower Earth’s orbit will prompt government agencies and commercial firms to invest in networks to relay communications to and from the ground.

There are many private firms who are planning to expand the production and delivery of Inter-satellite Data Relay System terminals, which it developed with satellite fleet operator Inmarsat. In addition, NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation program office will work to establish public-private partnerships aimed at creating resilient communications and navigation networks.

7. We will print living tissues in space

Coming-up long-term space explorations will involve great exposure of humans to space conditions. With increasing distances to Earth, there is no possibility of returning for medical treatment in time.

So, to protect human lives and health, the space agencies are looking at Bioprinting in space. It promises to offer treatment options for bad accidental injuries that are likely to happen during long-term space exploratory missions and extra-terrestrial human settlements, for example, aid for severe burns or difficult bone fractures.

8. The human genome will change to support human deep space exploration

Increased presence in space will enable us to conduct more medical research in zero gravity. This will provide opportunities to discover new treatments for conditions we thought weren’t possible. Furthermore, we may start to see the ability to deliberately alter the human genome to further support humanity’s sustained exploration of space.

9. Micro Satellites

The past ten years have seen the nano/microsatellite segment grow by a factor of 10x. The industry has matured rapidly, and nano/microsatellites are increasingly being used for commercial applications in earth observation, remote sensing, communications, and more. As operators continue to strike the balance between capability and affordability, future growth may also be split between the traditional nano/microsatellite segment.

Space Controversies

Even while these innovations are happening in the space market, there are some other controversial aspects of space for you to understand/know:

A UFO specialist has reportedly detected remains of an ancient jet engine on the surface of Mars saying that the advanced technology of a Jet engine is a proof that Martians exist. Moreover, a UFO has been sighted just recently . Pentagon formally releases the video.

Then we have people who think the epic landing on moon was a hoax. However, it is amazing to know that NASA is making plans to send astronauts back to the moon in 2024 by taking the Gateway — a mini-space station to be assembled in lunar orbit.


By 2030, I expect almost all businesses across all industries, whether related or not, to benefit from space, with many having dedicated space teams and resources.

Organisations will be experimenting – from medical research to manufacturing – in space, introducing new products and solutions into the market. This may include growing tissue and artificial transplants in zero gravity, as well as manufacturing fiber optics for communication.

And not just private companies, both China and India have also embarked on human spaceflight missions. They both have their own space programs that will make it much cheaper.

Be it optical imagery, infrared, hyperspectral, or synthetic aperture radar (SAR), Space datasets will have a critical role to play in everything from measuring greenhouse gas emissions, the early detection of and response to natural disasters, through to the monitoring of our forests, oceans, rivers, farmland, and weather.

By the way, Elon Musk is planning to launch all of us on Mars by 2050. Yes! 1 Million and 3 starship rockets will go every day.

Learning to do much more with less will be one of the defining mega-trends over the next decade. Lastly, I think we will soon have many masters and PhDs in space ecosystem because the space race is on!

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This post was written by Asokan Ashok, the CEO of UnfoldLabs. Ashok is an expert in driving customer insights into thriving businesses and commercializing products for scale. As a leading strategist in the technology industry, he is great at recommending strategies to address technology & market trends. Highly analytical and an industry visionary, Ashok is a sought after global high-tech industry thought leader and trusted strategic advisor by companies.

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