Market in low Earth orbit
The group of experts at the Future Trends Forum identified numerous, future business opportunities in the creation of an LEO market:
- Develop capacities as well as the infrastructure that would be necessary in order to establish R+D programs in LEO.
- Develop a space tourism industry that goes beyond the suborbital-flight market currently occupied by Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic. Companies could build private space stations like those planned by Bigelow Aerospace. The firm's BEAM module has remained docked to the International Space Station since the summer of 2016 and has proven to be quite a viable option, so much so that the ISS has decided to keep the module for storage use. Occasionally, experiments are conducted inside.
- Offer services to governments and space agencies to take the burden off them regarding some tasks. For example, Northrop Grumman, SpaceX, already carry out supply missions to the ISS; Sierra Nevada Corporation will join them shortly. Soon, private companies will transport crews to the ISS. Throughout 2019, Boeing and SpaceX are expected to launch manned capsules. There may be other business opportunities in the construction of service satellites that would supply fuel to satellites already in orbit or that would eliminate space waste. The business of satellite and probe launches is becoming increasingly open to private companies. Rocket Lab and Space X are carving out their niche in a market that, historically, has been dominated by large, mature aerospace firms.
- Cut the costs of electronic parts and encourage the standardization of the CubeSat for the development of smaller satellites. These are opportunities for a growing number o academic institutions and even NGOs to reach space by launching these small devices. They could do so, either from Earth or from the ISS. In the latter case, they could use the NanoRacks launchers aboard the space station. They could also design and develop experiments to be conducted aboard a space station or satellite. Our experts believe that is this a tremendous opportunity by which academic institutions can attract their students to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields. Companies could participate in this sector of the market by creating the tools that academic institutions would need to develop and launch their miniature experiments and satellites. Companies could also get involved by providing funding through their corporate social responsibility initiatives.
- There may also be a place for advertising in LEO. Academic initiatives could need sponsorship, or it could be as simple as launching products to be consumed in orbit. Brands could appear on the surfaces of rockets, space stations or satellites
The greatest challenge would be that of creating demand for all of these products and services. The first step would be to clearly communicate the value proposition in each of the aforementioned opportunities to potentially interested parties as well as the key characteristics of those sectors of the market.
In order to achieve this level of communication, one must be able to not only identify the existing products and services in the market but also impartially seek out new ones, assess them and determine where they would be of use. It also crucial that one examines entry costs, both regarding the launch and final location of projects.
These entry costs are not financial, though those are certainly important. Rather, they refer to the potential difficulties that stem from a regulatory framework that does not always make things easy. NanoRacks saw this firsthand when it began working on the launch to the ISS of an experiment created by Chinese universities.
In this context, governments would need to encourage and facilitate investment. Ultimately, they must step aside once the market is sufficiently mature.
The factors that drive a commercial space station.
Michael explains the reasons why it is necessary to develop a commercial space station.
- LEO market
Creating a market in low Earth orbit
Creating new materials and building structures in orbit.
- Global connectivity
Building Earth's communication infrastructure from space.
- Access to space
Democratization of access to space
- Data leveraging
Capitalizing on data collected in space.
- LEO market