I had the opportunity to attend The New Space 2.0 conference last month in Seattle and was impressed by how much this industry is changing. The conference focused on the next generation of space flight and the dramatic changes happening today, covering a number of dynamics around the commercialization of space flight. When many of us think of space flight, we envision exploration programs run by entities like NASA and JPL with huge budgets and timelines measure in decades. New Space 2.0 embraces private endeavors from such pioneers as SpaceX (Elon Musk), Virgin Galactic (Richard Bronson) and Blue Origin (Jeff Bezos) who are working diligently to make space flight a consumer experience and move missions from exploration to exploitation.
Given that Datalight’s software has been included in a number of space projects, I’ve had a strong interest in the industry, both personally and professionally. Datalight software can be found in the International Space Station, reusable rockets, a number of communication and navigation satellites and many ground-based test stations that support the space industries.
The cost of space flight is decreasing dramatically. It used to be that a trip to space would cost around $500 million, while today the trip costs closer to $50 million. This dramatic cost reduction is due in part to the use of Common Off-The-Shelf (COTS) parts for space flight, instead of the bespoke designs crafted for missions past. These COTS parts may increase the likelihood of failure for a satellite launch by a fractional percentage, but one can argue that those odds are acceptable for a flight at one-tenth the price.
More affordable access to space is providing an opportunity for smaller companies to leverage space for commercial endeavors. At last month’s conference there were a number of discussions regarding investing in space for commercial gain, and governments are also excited to participate in this commercialization. In a presentation by an Israeli representative we learned that the Israeli government would underwrite a company’s efforts to develop new space technologies in Israel by 85%, if an Israeli company was contracted by a US manufacturer Israel could underwrite 50% of the effort.
This video from Blue Origin (https://www.blueorigin.com/astronaut-experience#youtube-YJhymiZjqc) provides a good example of what a trip to space would feel like. From the prep and testing of the rocket booster to the feel inside the cabin during the flight, all the way to the holding in space and the parachute descent to earth, this experience would be a daredevil’s dream.
A project from Planatery Resources demonstrates the consumer’s fascination with space. The crowd-funded effort planned to put a small satellite into space that could display your picture on a screen. The system would then capture a photo of your visage floating in space, with the earth in the background and send it back to you on earth. The level of interest in this novelty was amazing – the campaign had hundreds of thousands of supporters.
One of the ways you can judge a show is by the coolness of the giveaways. The New Space 2.0 conference was pretty hard to compete with on this front. The picture below shows an attendee giveaway, offered by Ravenna Interactive (www.ravennainteractive.com), of an actual space helmet with its own manufactured skull holder, which would be a conversation starter on any desk – but it unfortunately won’t be gracing my desk.