Space - the Final Start-up Frontier

In her keynote to Latitude59 in 2016, Erika Ilves, CoFounder of OffWorld – a company developing a robotic workforce for heavy industrial jobs on Earth, Moon, asteroids & Mars, talked about the space as the new Internet or the new infrastructure and the business possibilities that lay there. But as she also pointed out in her talk, the road to success when it comes to Space Tech, is anything but straight – there are many possibilities, but many obstacles as well. This post will outline some of them.

Situation in general 
There are three Entrepreneurial zones when talking about Space Business. First, the Perfectly Sane Grownup Zone (Earth orbit) where space start-ups with actual revenues from non-imaginary customers operate. Then there´s the Certifiably Insane Zone, where Erika lives and works. And, of course, the Totally Bonkers Zone.

These days most of the Space revenues come from the first zone and have to do with satellites, rockets or, as Erika put it: “the stuff that the satellites are doing in space.” Although space tech is still overwhelmingly expensive, there are now options for start-ups to enter this market.

For example – small satellites. According to Erika, the trick is that you can put all kinds of sensors on a satellite, including a camera. And satellite images are something that everyone, from agriculture produces to track the health of their crop to tax authorities to track unauthorized home extensions, want these days. But there´s much more than that.

Potentials of Space

  • There´s huge amounts of trash flying around space, some of them human-created, some not. If we want to proceed with our space conquer, we need a Space Janitor.

  • Micro-gravity research might be the secret source for invention - remove gravity as the dominant force and see what’s going to happen as everything behaves differently without gravity.

  • Mining (on moon, asteroids, space junk) allows us to build things in space. For example, we don´t have dead plants or animals in space, so we use water as a fuel. If we could have fuel stations in space, we could have space trucks. We could use our expensive rockets to get to LEO and from there onwards we would have normal reusable cheap transport.

  • If we could move around cheaply, we could could start building solar or server farms on orbit.

  • And if we get good at generating solar power at space, we could build a network of solar power stations and start beaming power down to Earth. It would also mean we could avoid day-night cycles and get solar power 24/7.

  • Agriculture: when you develop something for space, it usually has a commercial value on Earth, although sometimes in slightly different sector.

  • It’s very complicated to keep a human live in space. Symptoms that people have in space are quite similar to the symptoms of ageing on Earth. If you figure out how to solve health problems in space, they might find use in Healthcare on Earth as well.

Speculations 2016-2030

When speculating about the future, Erika says that the saddest scenario is that nothing exciting happens and/or some things are going to get worse. For example - the international space station might very well end up in the bottom of the ocean in 10 years if the partners don’t extend their cooperation.

Also, there´s some interesting beliefs around. Like – that there´s only one way something big can happen in space sector and it’s when launch cost would miraculously drop and then the highway to space would be open.

But – and if you´re an entrepreneur, there´s always a “but”:  

Erika says there could be positive surprises as well. Space mining could get going and could start building stuff there. Or microgravity research can lead to coming up with a totally new material. If the Mars Conquest succeeds, it would mean a huge step forward in space robotics as we would have to send an army of robots there before any human landings. And the Moon could be a test bed for that.

Even, if we would have to face killer asteroids or aliens, they too could be good for business, as they would mean an unseen mobilization of resources for space development.

What to expect this year?

At Latitude59 in 2017, we´ll be also exploring the future of different sectors and technologies. We´ll peek into the future of fin-tech, analyze acquiring possibilities and processes & speculate on what to expect from genome based treatments and virtual reality solutions in healthcare. Get your ticket from here and join us on May 25 – 26 in Tallinn, Estonia!