As World Space Week 2020 draws to a close, Rob Spurrett, CEO of Lacuna Space, looks to the future optimistically, suggesting that new market entrants will push the boundaries of satellite technology beyond our current imaginations.
Ask many people how satellites improve life, and they will respond with a discussion of satellite navigation and comms, and maybe earth observation. It is true that those areas of satellite technology have made very significant contributions to improving life over the previous decades. But I think we are heading into a really interesting period of time where we will see a far more diverse range of applications, most of which we cannot begin to imagine today.
The cost of providing space infrastructure previously restricted space to being an endeavour of governments, which then became within the reach of larger companies. Now we see that it is within reach of much smaller entrepreneurial companies, and this is where the major innovations will come from. We will see space move from the domain of government services and large companies (mainly comms companies) to one in which many smaller businesses are able to sell services at scale, directly to consumers (B2C).
The internet was the technical vehicle for a huge proliferation of ‘tech’ companies of which a handful have survived and grown to be hugely influential global businesses. That industry is changing and has become accustomed to much faster rising stars, such as TikTok.
Satellites provide another vehicle to accelerate the deployment of tech solutions on a global scale and open up many new possibilities.
The increasing private investment into the sector is key because it brings a new mindset and enables entrepreneurial ventures to push forward with completely different approaches. At Lacuna, the combination of open-source ground terminal designs based on low-cost commercial components is enabling us to scale for the oncoming wave of internet of things-powered devices in a completely different way than traditional satellite communications.
The space industry is now attracting vast numbers of the younger engineers and coders who previously, by default, worked in the ‘tech’ industry. As satellites have become increasingly software platforms, and ground devices feature more elaborate embedded software, this new generation of specialists will push the art of the possible to places that we cannot image today. In the pre-Twitter, pre-Facebook era (only 15 years or so ago), could we have imagined the impact they would have on our lives? That is the position the space industry is in right now.
It is getting very much faster and cheaper to get hardware into orbit, though it’s still not cheap or easy. But on the current trajectory, it will be incredibility different in a decade, and that is when we will see a huge proliferation of space-enabled applications, at which point the question posed at the top of the article will seem as strange as asking ‘how does water improve life?’.