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Air and Space: The Next Great Platform for Growth

Rich Phillips
Rich Phillips
July 26, 2023
5 min read

More than a decade ago, our firm won its first NASA contract to host a forum in Austin, Texas on the emerging opportunities in space. The Space Economy Leadership Summit was one of the first meetings of its kind bringing together leaders from academia, business, and government to discuss the trends driving space as the next great platform for applications and services.

U.S. competitiveness depends on a vital economic engine of job creation – and one of the greatest opportunities for job growth is fueled by our commitment to scientific discovery and our leadership position in the global space economy.

Space is not only a platform for discovery and exploration – it is a platform for applications and services – applications in advanced communications, environmental monitoring, renewable energy, and national defense.

The Space Report, published by the Space Foundation since 2006, is the authority on the global space ecosystem and benchmarks the size of the space economy which today totals nearly half a trillion dollars in value. As a comparison, NASA’s budget is only 6% of the total space spending in the space economy.

According to Robert Jacobson, entrepreneur and author of Space is Open for Business, “The industrialization and development of space has become vital to helping our society thrive in countless ways. Space has never been easier to leverage than one might initially think. Today, virtually any business or arguably organization can leverage space in a useful way. The space industry is the only market sector likely to create quadrillions in value.”  

The Space Economy is both public and private. It is the sum total of all products and services that are enabled by space. It includes federal and international government investment, commercial space infrastructure, launch services, satellite services, and a variety of growing support industries.

The Space Economy is not new. It has evolved over the last century and continues to grow as policymakers, scientists, entrepreneurs, and engineers seek to explore, create, inspire, and discover. As our economy changes, the Space Economy has become an integral part of our future.

But space is not the only growth opportunity. Aviation is also undergoing the same revolution in services. Air and space together are the next great platform for growth driven by private space launch systems, drones, electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing vehicles (eVTOLs) and the rise of Urban Air Mobility (UAM), advances in software-defined satcom and satellite technology, and private space exploration.

Private Space Launch Systems: Redefining Access to Space

Private space launch systems have emerged as one of the most significant catalysts for the space economy's growth. Launch innovation in space has taken center stage, transforming the way we access space and sparking a new era of competition. Companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman have a rich history in space exploration, but new entrants like SpaceX, Firefly Aerospace, Rocket Lab, and BLUE ORIGIN are now challenging the status quo, significantly reducing costs and increasing launch frequency.

Private Sector Innovation in Space: A Historical Perspective

The history of private sector innovation in space dates back to the early days of the space race when companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman collaborated with to develop cutting-edge space technologies. These companies played pivotal roles in building rockets, spacecraft, and other critical components for various space missions.

Over time, the private sector's involvement in space exploration expanded beyond government contracts. Commercial satellite launches became a lucrative market, with aerospace companies offering launch services to private satellite operators. The commercial satellite industry thrived, creating a foundation for further private sector involvement in space.

The Rise of SpaceX and Blue Origin: New Players, New Approaches

In the 21st century, a new breed of space companies emerged with bold ambitions and innovative approaches. SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk in 2002, sought to revolutionize space travel through reusable rockets and the vision of making humanity a multi-planetary species. Blue Origin, founded by Jeff Bezos in 2000, shared a similar vision of advancing space exploration while also focusing on space tourism.

The entry of SpaceX and Blue Origin signaled a paradigm shift in the space industry. These companies aimed not only to compete with existing players but also to disrupt traditional business models. Their focus on technological innovation, cost reduction, and reusability set them apart from the established aerospace giants.

Shift in Business Models: From Cost-Plus to Competitive Services

One of the most significant changes in the competitive market for space launch systems is the shift in business models. Historically, government contracts primarily followed the cost-plus model, where companies were reimbursed for their costs plus a predetermined profit margin. This approach provided a level of financial security for contractors but often led to inefficiencies and cost overruns.

With the emergence of new players like SpaceX, the space industry witnessed a transition towards competitive services-based contracting. Instead of fixed-price contracts, companies now compete for customers based on the performance, reliability, and affordability of their launch services.

This competitive model has spurred innovation and cost-consciousness, leading to more efficient and cost-effective space launch solutions.

But traditional aerospace companies like Aerojet Rocketdyne, Boeing, and Lockheed continue to innovate in this new market. The result is a dynamic and competitive opportunity that promises lower costs and greater availability.

The Trend Towards Reusable Rockets: A Game-Changer

One of the most transformative innovations in space launch systems has been the development of reusable rockets. Traditionally, rockets were used only once, leading to exorbitant costs for each launch. However, SpaceX revolutionized the industry by successfully landing and reusing the first stage of its Falcon 9 rockets.

Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, expressed the significance of reusability, stating, “The cost of access to space will be reduced by a factor of 100 when full reusability is achieved.”

The concept of reusable rockets has not only dramatically reduced launch costs but has also opened up new possibilities for frequent and sustainable space travel. Other companies, including Blue Origin and Rocket Lab, have followed suit, further solidifying the trend toward reusability in the space industry.

The accessibility to space has not only enabled satellite deployment for communication and Earth observation but also paved the way for private space stations and asteroid mining ventures. By fostering innovation, these companies are creating a competitive environment that benefits customers and stimulates economic growth.

Drones: Pioneering New Frontiers on Earth

Drones have rapidly evolved from toys to sophisticated tools with numerous applications. From air photography and surveillance to package delivery and agriculture, their versatility is reshaping industries. According to the Space Foundation, the global drone market is projected to reach $43 billion by 2025.

Jeff Wilke, CEO of Amazon's Consumer Business, highlights the transformative impact of drones: “We envision a future where drones will deliver packages to customers' doorsteps within minutes, revolutionizing the e-commerce and logistics industries.”

Furthermore, drones are being integrated into urban air mobility concepts, enabling air transportation within cities. With the rise of eVTOLs (electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft), companies like Archer and Joby Aviation are driving this transformative change. The market for eVTOLs is projected to reach $1.5 trillion by 2040, according to Morgan Stanley.

Urban Air Mobility (UAM): The Future of Urban Transportation

As eVTOL technology advances, Urban Air Mobility (UAM) is poised to become a reality. UAM envisions a network of autonomous air vehicles transporting passengers and cargo in urban areas, alleviating traffic congestion and revolutionizing transportation. However, as these innovative flying machines become a reality, the need for other companies to address critical challenges in air traffic control, logistics, and security becomes increasingly urgent.

A eVTOL (electric helicopter) flies across the city to land at a vertiport in the city.
Volocopter GmbH’s VoloPort solution is a ready-made, compact, and functionally independent urban vertiport concept for urban eVTOL traffic.

Archer, a California-based eVTOL manufacturer, has set ambitious goals to revolutionize urban air mobility. Their fully electric aircraft is designed to take off and land vertically, offering a cleaner and quieter alternative to traditional helicopters. With a top speed of 150 mph and a range of up to 60 miles, Archer aims to provide a fast and efficient transportation solution for congested cities.

Joby Aviation, another prominent player in the eVTOL industry, is also making significant strides in transforming transportation. Backed by strategic partnerships with Toyota and the U.S. Air Force, Joby's aircraft have a range of up to 150 miles and can reach speeds of 200 mph. Joby's focus on safety and sustainability has earned them a nod from the U.S. military, demonstrating the potential of eVTOLs beyond civilian applications.

With eVTOLs' ability to take off and land in restricted spaces, they offer a solution to the growing problem of urban congestion. Short-distance commutes that would typically take hours in heavy traffic can be completed in a matter of minutes, unlocking new possibilities for commuting and reducing overall traffic congestion on the ground.

By replacing fossil-fuel-powered vehicles with eVTOLs, we can take a step towards a greener and more sustainable future. And eVTOLs have the potential to connect remote areas and provide efficient transportation to underserved communities. By bridging the gap between urban and rural regions, these aircraft can stimulate economic growth and improve the quality of life for millions.

But several key challenges still need to be addressed. With a significant increase in air traffic, especially in densely populated areas, effective and reliable air traffic control systems are crucial. Companies, governments, and aviation authorities need to collaborate to develop advanced air traffic management solutions that ensure safe and efficient operations of eVTOLs in our skies. In 2021, I personally launched a company, Minerva AI, aimed at transforming heliports and vertiports into “smart” landing platforms. By replacing traditional radar with AI-enabled sensors, air traffic, and service providers could provide a more efficient, secure, and safer system by providing situational awareness on the ground.

As eVTOLs become an integral part of urban life, the issue of security and privacy needs to be taken seriously. Companies must invest in robust cybersecurity measures to protect these aircraft from potential threats, while also ensuring that passenger data is handled responsibly.

As the UAM industry matures, it is likely to create thousands of jobs, attract significant investment, and drive further technological advancements. However, addressing regulatory challenges and ensuring safety will be critical to the sector's success.

Expansion of Satcom and Satellite Technology: Enabling Global Connectivity

Satellite communication (satcom) has long been instrumental in enabling global connectivity, offering internet access, broadcasting, and secure communication services. With the advent of mega-constellations like STARLINK, OneWeb, and Project Kuiper, the satellite industry is experiencing a revolution.

Satellite technology has undergone a profound transformation in recent years, with Low Earth Orbit (LEO) emerging as a game-changing platform for a wide array of applications, from remote sensing to global logistics. The rise of small satellites, particularly cubesats, and nanosats, has democratized access to space and opened up unprecedented opportunities for innovation. Additionally, the evolution of ad hoc smart software for satellite networking is enabling enhanced capabilities and efficiency in satellite operations.

Low Earth Orbit: A Platform for Innovation

Traditionally, satellites were placed in Geostationary Orbit (GEO) at a fixed position above the Earth's equator, providing continuous coverage of a specific region. However, LEO satellites, positioned at altitudes between 180 and 2,000 kilometers, offer several advantages. The reduced distance to Earth results in lower signal latency, making LEO ideal for applications requiring real-time data transmission, such as communication and Earth observation.

LEO's proximity also enables satellite constellations, where multiple small satellites work together to create a network with global coverage. This concept has transformed satellite technology, paving the way for exciting applications in various industries.

Remote Sensing and Global Logistics

Remote sensing is one of the most significant beneficiaries of LEO's advantages. Earth observation satellites equipped with high-resolution imaging sensors can monitor our planet's surface with remarkable precision. These satellites are instrumental in agriculture, environmental monitoring, disaster management, and urban planning. The near real-time data they provide helps governments, businesses, and organizations make informed decisions and respond swiftly to changing conditions.

With LEO satellite constellations, companies can track and manage assets, fleets, and supply chains on a global scale. Ubiquitous data coverage ensures better situational awareness, improved route optimization, and enhanced security for goods in transit. This newfound connectivity is revolutionizing how businesses approach supply chain management and enabling efficient and cost-effective global logistics solutions.

The Rise of Cubesats and Nanosats

Cubesats and nanosats are a class of small satellites that have disrupted the satellite industry. Cubesats, standardized units in the form of cubes, typically measure 10x10x10 centimeters and can be stacked together to create larger satellite configurations. Nanosats are slightly larger and more capable but still significantly smaller than traditional satellites.

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Starlink is a satellite internet constellation operated by aerospace company SpaceX providing satellite Internet access coverage to over 56 countries.

The development of these small satellites has dramatically lowered the cost of access to space, allowing universities, startups, and smaller companies to embark on space missions.

Evolution of Smart Software for Satellite Networking

As satellite constellations grow in complexity and scale, traditional networking approaches may prove inefficient. Software-defined satellite networking (SDSN) is an emerging solution that enhances the autonomy and efficiency of satellite operations.

SDSN enables satellites to intelligently communicate with the ground segment and each other by dynamically forming and reconfiguring networks based on mission needs. It allows for more resilient and adaptable satellite constellations, optimized data routing, and reduced communication delays. Moreover, it can adapt to changing space and ground environments, ensuring continued functionality and improved performance.

Said Aslan Tricha, VP, Orchestration Strategy at ALL.SPACE, “By autonomously learning and adapting to evolving space and ground conditions, software can help us avoid specific issues that can arise in satellite networks. The ability to mitigate interference, for example, helps maintain signal integrity and maximize satellite throughput, ensuring smooth and uninterrupted operations.”

Private Space Exploration: A New Frontier for Humanity

The private sector's involvement in space exploration is transcending traditional boundaries. Companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX are actively pursuing missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond, alongside NASA and other space agencies.

Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, envisions a multi-planetary future: “Our ultimate objective is to make humanity a multi-planetary species and ensure that life exists beyond Earth, safeguarding our species from extinction.”

More than a decade ago, working with Aerojet Rocketdyne, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, and other space leaders, my firm helped found the Deep Space Alliance focused on helping advance best practices in policy and technology to go beyond the Moon and onto Mars.

Today, as the possibilities of space exploration continue to expand, the future of human exploration beyond Earth's boundaries has never been more promising. Recent advancements in the private sector, along with NASA's ambitious goals, are driving humanity's journey to return to the Moon, venture to Mars, and explore deeper into the cosmos.

Return to the Moon: Private Sector and the Artemis Mission

The Moon, Earth's closest celestial neighbor, is a pivotal stepping stone for human space exploration beyond our planet. NASA's Artemis mission is at the forefront of this effort, aiming to return humans to the Moon by the mid-2020s. The mission seeks to establish a sustainable human presence on the lunar surface, utilizing innovative technologies and international collaborations. Artemis will not only deepen our understanding of the Moon but also serve as a testing ground for technologies crucial for future missions to Mars.

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Orion is a partially reusable crewed spacecraft used in NASA's Artemis program designed by Lockheed Martin.

The Journey to Mars: NASA's Long-Term Goal and Private Industry Initiatives

Mars has long been a captivating destination for human space exploration. NASA's long-term goal involves sending astronauts to Mars in the 2030s, building on the knowledge and expertise gained from previous missions to the Moon and the International Space Station (ISS).

Private industry is also making significant strides in Mars exploration. With reusable rocket technology and advanced spacecraft design, SpaceX aims to make interplanetary travel a reality in the coming decades.

“Sending humans to Mars in the 2030s is an achievable goal," stated Explore Mars Inc. CEO Chris Carberry. “But this time we won't be using the Apollo model. When we send humans to Mars, it will be a collaboration between government, commercial, and international players working together to benefit humanity. There is the potential for extraordinary scientific discovery including ‘life on Mars’, as well as the technological innovations that will result from a Mars mission that promise to benefit humanity for decades to come. One of the most compelling reasons to send humans to Mars is to improve the quality of life here on Earth.”

Explore Mars, Inc is a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to advancing the goal of a permanent human presence on Mars. The organization has been one of the most impactful space exploration non-profits for over a decade by building consensus between key players in the space industry, inspiring STEM education programs, highlighting innovations required for human missions to Mars that can benefit humanity, and articulating why Mars is important for humanity. Explore Mars is frequently called upon by NASA, industry, Congress, the Administration, and other players to provide valuable input to advance the goal of a human future on Mars. I am proud to serve on the Explore Mars board.

Space Railway: The Revolutionary Concept of the Space Elevator

As we envision bolder missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond, the concept of the space elevator emerges as a potential game-changer for low-earth and near-earth orbit. Unlike traditional rocket-based launch systems, the space elevator is a revolutionary idea that involves a cable-like structure extending from the Earth's surface into space. Using advanced materials like carbon nanotubes, the space elevator would enable cargo and even humans to be transported to space in a more cost-effective and environmentally friendly manner.

Headquartered in Dallas, Space Railway Corporation is a new space start-up that has developed a revolutionary new concept compared to legacy space elevator systems. The new architecture is centered on nanocarbon materials with proprietary power,

Headquartered in Dallas, Space Railway is a new space start-up that has developed a revolutionary new concept compared to legacy space elevator systems. The new architecture is centered on nanocarbon materials with proprietary power, propulsion, and vehicle configuration. The performance goals are to deliver ten times the mass of SpaceX Heavy Lift and five times the speed of legacy elevators with launch cycles measured in days rather than months.  

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Space Railway’s concept vehicle is designed for daily “launches”.

“Humankind is currently in the ‘covered wagon’ period of space development,” said Major General Donald McGregor, retired U.S. Airforce and Co-Founder and Chairman of Space Railway. “Rocket-based systems drive payload, cost, and frequency, making any suitable space environment for humankind slow, risky, and costly. Moving goods and services to and from space must be rethought to conquer it truly. Our concept is the only affordable system to deliver billions of kilograms of mass to GEO and beyond.”

Economic and Global Benefits of Deep Space Exploration

The economic and global benefits of deep space exploration are vast and diverse. Investments in space technology and exploration drive innovation across multiple industries, fostering the development of cutting-edge technologies with far-reaching applications on Earth.

Space exploration also fuels economic growth by creating high-tech jobs, stimulating education and research, and inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers. The global collaboration required for ambitious space missions fosters international cooperation, breaking down political barriers and promoting peace on a global scale.

Moreover, space exploration is a catalyst for discoveries that extend our knowledge of the cosmos and our place in the universe. It helps us better understand our own planet, climate change, and the potential for life beyond Earth.

From the Internet Economy to the Space Economy

The Internet and space exploration may seem like vastly different realms, but they share striking similarities in their historical evolution and future trajectories. Both began as government-led initiatives and research platforms, only to later undergo a democratization process that opened the floodgates of private innovation. The result was an explosion of applications and services that transformed how we live, work, and interact. Today, as space becomes the new platform for innovation, it is following a path that mirrors the historical journey of the Internet, with profound implications for business, culture, geopolitics, and the future of humankind.

The Internet: From Government Program to Private Innovation

The origins of the Internet can be traced back to the 1960s when it was created as a government research project in the United States. Initially known as ARPANET, the network was designed to connect computers for military and scientific purposes. It wasn't until the 1990s that the Internet became accessible to the public, and private innovation led to the creation of the World Wide Web.

With the democratization of the Internet, a new era of private innovation began. Companies and entrepreneurs seized the opportunity to develop applications, websites, and services that revolutionized how we communicate, access information, and conduct business. The Internet rapidly transformed from a government research tool into a global platform that shaped nearly every aspect of modern life.

In many ways, the space economy is currently experiencing a similar trajectory. Space exploration and satellite technology were initially government-led endeavors driven by national interests and scientific research. However, in recent years, the private sector has taken center stage, making space more accessible and enabling new possibilities.

Implications for Business and Culture

The convergence of the Internet economy and the space economy brings forth profound implications for business and culture. Just as the Internet created new business models and disrupted established industries, the space economy is set to do the same. Commercial satellite deployment, asteroid mining, space tourism, and lunar habitats are only the tip of the iceberg.

As private companies invest in space technology and exploration, we can expect to witness the birth of new industries and services that will shape the future of commerce and human activities beyond Earth. The interplay between the two economies will also create new opportunities for collaboration and integration, expanding the scope of what is possible on both fronts.

Geopolitics and the Future of Humankind

The democratization of space raises important questions about geopolitics and international cooperation. As private companies and nations vie for supremacy in space, issues of resource utilization, space traffic management, and territorial rights become increasingly relevant.

Just as the Internet transcended national borders and connected the world, the space economy has the potential to foster global collaboration, uniting nations in peaceful exploration and scientific endeavors. However, it also poses challenges, such as space debris and the need for clear regulatory frameworks.

As we venture further into space and as air travel expands to support drones and eVTOL transportation networks, the future of humankind will be profoundly shaped by our ability to navigate these challenges and seize the opportunities that lie above us and beyond our planet.

As this sector expands, it will create new jobs, attract substantial investments, and provide transformative benefits for industries and individuals alike. The visionaries and leaders driving this revolution foresee a future where air and space is no longer a destination but an integral part of our daily lives, enhancing Earth's economy, environment, and humanity's destiny.

For more than 20 years, the team at Bold Narratives has helped aviation and space companies lead the world by helping them develop a communication strategy and messaging platform for growth and leadership.

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