Profits in Space


Do you know there are not many markets in the space business that are profitable?  At least that’s the spin of this Space Daily article.  It gives a few examples of areas in space business  and operations that can continue to grow and/or have potential to grow.

The area of space business which is growing like gangbusters, at least according to the post, is the communications sector.  This sector includes the continued use of communications satellites orbiting the Earth in geosynchronous orbit (GEO).  While the post doesn’t define exactly what the communications sector is, let’s assume it’s one full of internet relay, television broadcast, and telephone services.  There are quite a few commercial players in this particular field such as Dish, Arabsat, InMarsat, etc., so this kind of information shouldn’t be too shocking.

The growth part is in something we’ve already heard so much about:  space debris.  The post writer admits there really hasn’t been much done to fix the debris issue.  Sure, there are plenty of plans and announcements, but the writer believes there currently is no marketplace incentive to remove debris orbiting the Earth.

While I’ve always wanted some attention and eventual solution to the space debris problem, I do think that a solution won’t be built until something truly terrible happens.  That’s when there’s suddenly a market, because nations will be desperate to remove any other potential disasters.  Or, that a solution will come forth, but it will be a “dual-role” satellite.  This satellite would be able to not only clean up space debris, but it could also be used to take out satellites from other countries in time of war.

But back to the post–sure, if there’s nothing happening in the space debris market right now, then any growth will be a positive in business, right?  There’s an obviousness to that kind of prediction.  That’s kind of like mobile phone analyst “predictions” that the new iPhone will have a better screen, faster processor, etc.  Of course, these analysts still get paid for that kind of thing…

The writer of the post also mentions, almost curtly, the space tourism market.  Companies like Virgin Galactic and XCOR are working hard to get the millionaires into a sub-orbital flight.  I say millionaires because there are few “real” people who can afford the $75,000 to $250,000 price tag per seat on those spacecraft.  Perhaps the writer recognizes there’s a limited market for such space tourism–at least until prices begin to tumble.

Curiously, there’s not much focus on the launch market.  Someone has to get all of these satellites into orbit, and companies like SpaceX and Orbital are aggressively moving into it.  Ms. Gwynne Shotwell of SpaceX is saying the company is aiming to at least build two rockets per month by the end of the year to help it cope with a backlog of launches it needs to do.

There’s also the smallsat market, which is innovating at such a speed, it’s very difficult to keep up.  And these satellites will also need a way to get up into space.  So, yes, there is a chance to make profits in space.  But why limit it to just the obvious space communications and debris market?  There are definitely more opportunities out there in these other markets, too.


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