Understanding the opportunities available in the space industry — especially for early-stage companies and new founders — isn’t easy.
The pool of people who have deep aerospace technical expertise isn’t huge, and like any community that requires a high degree of specialist knowledge, it’s a tightly-knit field that relies on social connections. But space is increasingly opening up, and we’ve already reached a point where the most valuable new entrants might come from industries that aren’t specifically aerospace or aerospace-adjacent.
In fact, we could be reaching a stage where the parts of the space industry requiring actual rocket scientists are more or less saturated, while the real boon is set to come from crossover talent that develops new ways to leverage innovations in other areas on space-based operating platforms.
“We have enough low-Earth launch vehicles, we have enough rockets,” Bessemer VP Tess Hatch told me in an interview at the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Conference last month. “In 2020, we have even more coming online and a lot of the ‘fantasy’ ones [an industry term used to describe spacecraft that have been conceived and designed but not yet flown] are planning to launch, and I think maybe one of them will come to fruition.”
Hatch says she still sees much of the demand side of the industry cluster around existing and proven suppliers, even if new entrants, including Astra and Firefly, actually begin flying their rockets this year, as both have been planning. Companies like Rocket Lab (in which her company has a stake) will increase their volume and cadence and benefit from having a proven track record, taking up a lot of the growth in launch vehicle demand. “I don’t think there’s room for any more rockets in the industry,” she said.
Instead, Hatch is looking to payload variety and innovation as the next big thing in space tech. Satellites are becoming increasingly commoditized, and companies like Rocket Lab are looking to take this further by providing a satellite platform (Proton) as part of its launch offering. There’s still immaturity in the small-satellite supply chain, which is what led small-satellite operator Kepler to build its own, but the bigger opportunity isn’t in building satellites — it’s in equipping them with new, improved and radically redesigned sensors to gather new kinds of data and provide new kinds of services.