Out of This World: Opportunities for Entrepreneurs in the Space Industry
When it comes to business opportunities, the final frontier is fast becoming the new frontier for tech-savvy entrepreneurs and start-ups. Whilst privately-funded space stations, spacecraft, and space tourism might be the preserve of a small minority of multi-billionaires, there is a growing market for smart and useful solutions with solid applications in the space industry.
Take, for example, the UAE National Space Program, which plans to launch the first Emirati mission to the moon by 2024. On board, a Lunar Rover will be equipped with cutting-edge technologies – including an advanced motion system, sensors, a 3D camera, and solar panels. It also utilizes technologies for conducting scientific measurements and tests, such as the components of lunar soil and the thermal properties of the surface. There’s also the need for the rover to conquer potential natural barriers and to be made from materials robust enough to withstand changing temperatures.
A Galaxy of Possibilities
Clearly, there’s broad scope for technical innovations in space technology, particularly when considering the global economy for the industry as a whole was worth around $423 billion in 2019.
Even if you feel that smart solutions to space exploration might go beyond the reach of your early-stage tech start-up, take a moment to consider the number of technologies in our daily lives on Earth which were originally conceived as solutions to problems in space travel. From wireless headsets and camera phones to memory foam mattresses and ear thermometers, we have the space industry to thank for these and many other commonplace technologies.
Although in our lifetimes, most people on the planet are unlikely to see the inside of a commercial space shuttle or orbit the Earth in a space station, the future of space travel – and even space colonization – is leading many forward-thinking businesses to invest in innovative technologies with the potential to skyrocket as the industry advances.
So what viable business opportunities and potential future markets are out there in the space industry?
Different Kinds of Space
Potential markets in the space industry can be broadly divided into two: the communication sector and the research and commercial sectors. Communication, mostly consumer television, currently accounts for around a quarter of the market but looks to grow as internet infrastructure and an increasing number of satellite services come into play over the next couple of decades. Satellites also make up a distinct market in their own right, with major non-commercial players – including the military and scientific researchers.
Increasingly, there have been moves to encourage private sector involvement with space programs to boost the space economy and accelerate advancements in space exploration. In the UAE, one of the aims of the recently passed Space Law aims to stimulate investment and encourage private sector participation in space sector activities.
Solutions to Problems
The UAE’s Space Law clearly indicates the region’s ambitions for the space industry and the role that innovative commercial enterprises have to play. The space industry offers start-up founders looking for a problem to solve a galaxy of opportunities. At the upper end of technological need in the space sector are reusable rockets, which many industry experts see as the key to unlocking affordable space travel whilst reducing the cost of existing space activity.
Further down the scale, there’s an obvious need to develop sustainable farming practices and ag-tech, enabling humans to grow food in space. In the UAE, there is already a drive to develop innovative food production and management solutions, exemplified by the upcoming global competition, the Food Tech Challenge, which aims to use advanced technologies, tools, and techniques to achieve sustainable food production in the region.
No longer as out-of-reach as it used to be, satellite technology has become increasingly affordable, even for start-ups. And as the cost of launching a satellite continues to drop, it becomes a viable technology for a wide range of applications such as GPS, digital mapping, and connectivity for the Internet of Things (IoT).
In the UAE, there is recognition of the need for the applications of remote sensing through satellites, such as environmental monitoring, natural resource mapping, land-use planning, and security. This highlights the scope of satellite technology here on Earth, highlighted by more advanced satellite programs such as KhalifaSat from The Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC). With its technologically advanced remote sensing observation satellites, KhalifaSat provides high-quality imagery and enables the UAE to offer satellite imagery services globally.
Space Waste Disposal
With an estimated 23,000 or more space objects the size of a softball orbiting the planet, it seems that humans have much clearing up to do.
Although many of those objects, such as satellites, are currently in use, many others are defunct satellites or debris from previous space missions. If they’re not cleared up, they present a real and present danger to future space expeditions.
Recognizing this potential threat, the UAE’s Space Law regulates the disposal of a space object from orbit. Space junk removal represents a real innovative opportunity for a tech-savvy entrepreneur. And it’s not such a wild idea – after all, the handheld vacuum was originally invented to collect samples from the moon!
Medtech and Wearables
If future generations are going to be spending more time in space, there’s a very real need to develop MedTech and wearables to monitor health.
Existing smartwatches and other connected devices already provide opportunities for monitoring our health – just consider all the functionality crammed into a smartphone and smartwatch that used to require separate and expensive technology, such as heart rate, physical activity, and even sleep monitoring.
In space, that kind of technology takes on even greater significance when considering the need to maintain oxygen supplies, accurately diagnose potential illnesses, and reduce the risk of space radiation exposure.
Over time, as the financial barrier to space travel lowers and becomes more viable to the general populace, it’s conceivable that a market for travel reviews, recommendations, and ratings will open up. At the same time, in the same way, that traditional media covers global travel, space travel is likely to create a new reporting area.
To Boldly Go
With the space industry, the sky really is the limit. Across multiple sectors, there is huge entrepreneurial potential for innovative business ideas that help shape the future of space, whether in terms of commercial space travel or satellite technologies that enhance our day-to-day living on Earth.