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How New Companies Can Compete With Legacy Businesses

On Episode 6 of The Satellite & NewSpace Matters Podcast we were delighted to be joined by Emile de Rijk, the CEO and co-founder of SWISSto12. Emile has successfully made the transition from academia to startup co-founder by taking his PhD in physics and applying it to the real world. They use patented 3D printing technology to create a range of RF products and systems, including a new HummingSat range. In this bite-sized blog we dive into Emile’s experiences of disrupting the Satellite & NewSpace industry as a small business, and tap into his expertise as a leader in our sector. Read on to hear his insights.

Your growing business is in an exciting phase of development. How do you keep growing?

We started small with an initial product in technology focus, but we’ve always been able to adapt to the market and the voice of the customer. There are always ideas and challenges to inspire us. In that respect we’ve moved from building single waveguides to full satellites. That gives away the DNA of the company, which is to always be ambitious, look at the next big problem that we can solve and then go do it pragmatically without debating it for ages. That creates an exciting working environment that enables us to take initiative and go one step further in solving complex problems and developing exciting products.

There are a number of small businesses trying to compete within the satellite industry, which is saturated with legacy businesses who have been around for a long time and have been successful. There is an ecosystem of smaller businesses like yourself trying to break into that space. Why do you think the satellite industry is like that?

The satellite industry has a huge entry barrier. If you sell a satellite, it’s not like you can send someone up there to repair it. The consequences of failure are huge and extremely expensive. You have to develop products that are proven and reliable, and that someone can trust with an investment. That’s the major entry barrier. To overcome that you just need to accumulate a lot of knowledge, partner up with the right companies and suppliers and build a product that will fulfil the mission. The nature of that technical difficulty is such that it makes it very difficult for newcomers to actually come in. 

It’s possible if you’re patient and thorough and you work hard, which is what we’ve done so far. It’s a very exciting business to get into, because coming up with great products that are engineered correctly and fulfil the needs of the customer is highly rewarded by the industry. 

The other way to get into this market is to not compete with the incumbents. Why? Because the incumbents are there for a reason. They have launch experience and they’ve optimised their products for decades. They have a great offering. Our strategy has never been to compete in that market, but rather to find new markets that are not addressed, where we can create a different product that is complementary to what the big incumbent players propose. 

On top of that, our way to get from a radiofrequency product manufacturer to a satellite manufacturer has been to team up with players and suppliers and reuse satellite subsystems that are not worth reinventing. We are really innovating around payload and RF technology, which is our focus. Our innovation is in developing a smaller spacecraft that fulfils different types of missions. We work with heritage and legacy suppliers and partners to procure all the subsystems that benefit from heritage and just need to be integrated differently into a smaller spacecraft to make it a success. It’s a very collaborative strategy within the Satellite ecosystem to build this new success around smaller geo satellite missions.

All in all, the trick to successfully entering the industry is to use it to your advantage by creating a space for yourself and working alongside those bigger legacy companies instead of against them. 

To hear more about Emile’s fascinating work in the Satellite & NewSpace industry, tune into the full episode of The Satellite & NewSpace Matters Podcast here

We sit down regularly with some of the biggest names in our industry, we dedicate our podcast to the stories of leaders in the technologies industries that bring us closer together. Follow the link here to see some of our latest episodes and don’t forget to subscribe.     

Space in the Future

We recently sat down with Laurynas Mačiulis on The Satellite & NewSpace Matters Podcast, where we talked about the future of the NewSpace industry. Laurynas is best known for launching Lithuania’s first satellite, which sparked the NewSpace company NanoAvionics. Today, NanoAvionics is one of the largest small satellite mission integrators in the world. But Laurynas Mačiulis didn’t stop there. In 2019 he helped co-found Astrolight, an advanced laser communication system for space, where he remains the CEO. With those credentials it’s easy to see why his thoughts on the future of space are so interesting!

What is the future for space?

There are always people who are pessimistic about investing anything in space, who think they should just make life better on Earth. We don’t need to put in a contradiction, we can do two things together. We can progress in space without sacrificing life on Earth or taking away from progress on Earth. It’s really complimentary. 

The philosophical question of ‘What is our future in space?’, even without the worry that something bad would happen here, is always really interesting. Our destiny as a species is actually to go further and explore. We don’t need to stop on Earth, we need to go further. I think that’s our destiny. Space transportation is probably the technology that will have to pave the way for this ability. Exploring whether life exists on other planets is a fascinating question that needs to be answered. 

When the space shuttle transportation technology reaches a level where it is affordable, space travel, space tourism, asteroid mining, building hotels in space, and maybe some remote colonies in other space stations and other planets is going to happen. When that happens, the other stepping stone will also be how to communicate, because we would need to be in touch. Information is something that connects us. Laser communication will play an important role there to actually enable that. 

Do you think people living in space is something that’ll happen in our lifetime?

I definitely think that we would have more of a presence in space. It’s my dream to see people landing on Mars. That would be a very important milestone in our evolution as a species. Even such simple things like giving ordinary people the chance to see from space would be a fantastic achievement, because I would compare it with the moments in our history where part of our civilization went to the other lands. There were some bad things that happened with that, but there were also a lot of good things where new ideas emerged. We could also see some very interesting developments from societies living in space and maybe coming up with better ways to organise society. The fragile connection that we have between space and earth is the transformational feeling that astronauts are always talking when they see Earth. Imagine if everybody could feel that, I think that could change our whole attitude to life. Fundamentally, I’m quite optimistic about space travel. It’s not just for a million years’ time, it’s definitely the goal for my lifetime.

To hear more about the work that Laurynas is doing to advance the NewSpace industry, tune into the full episode of The Satellite & NewSpace Podcast here

We sit down regularly with some of the biggest names in our industry, we dedicate our podcast to the stories of leaders in the technologies industries that bring us closer together. Follow the link here to see some of our latest episodes and don’t forget to subscribe.     

What are the issues facing “connecting the unconnected” in the African continent?

On Episode 1 of The Satellite & NewSpace Matters Podcast we were thrilled to welcome Scott Mumford, CEO of Liquid Telecom Satellite Services, and now CCO of Liquid Dataport. Scott has a very impressive 25 years of experience in the industry, starting as an Engineer through to C-Suite.  

We unpacked so many interesting topics in this episode, our favourite highlight is below! 

What do you think is the key to helping those without connectivity get connected? 

There are a number of factors, so I wish there was just one answer, because then it would be easy to deliver. The technology gap is, is one that we need to solve, for sure.  

If you look across the African continent, generally, there are hundreds of millions of people without access to the internet. Internet penetration rates across the continent are around sort of 34%, which is the lowest globally. Some of that comes from the sheer size of the continent.  

I think a lot of a lot of people see Africa on a map and go, “yeah, it’s relatively big”, but, the maps are quite deceptive – it’s vast. I’m sure we’ve all seen those maps, where you can see the US and India and China and Europe and everything all sort of fitting within the African continent from a landmass perspective.  

The second element of that is really where technology is gone. If you look at you, me, and everybody else, everything really has moved towards applications and handset-based usage. Banking, shopping, travel, you name it, are all pretty much done from a handheld device these days.  

And, that really hasn’t spread into the African continent, partly from a cost perspective. It’s a bit of a vicious circle, there’s no network because there are no handsets, and there are no handsets because there’s no network.  

So, where do you go first? But I also think, you know, a lot of those, a lot of countries around Africa are still very cash-based economies as well,  because of the lack of connectivity and devices, the move to a digital banking and finance sort of architecture hasn’t taken hold as yet, either.  Dealing with a number of currencies in physical cash is another complication, that that has to be overcome.  

It’s a multifaceted problem that isn’t just on the communications industry, or the satellite industry. It’s the banking sector, the manufacturers, it’s a big, big melting pot that everybody needs to put into.  

There’s a lot of progress going on there and satellite to sort of bringing it back, that’s playing a massive role in the sense that we’re seeing huge deployments of visa terminals and satellite terminals and satellite connectivity across the continent.  

To listen to the full episode, click here.  

We sit down regularly with some of the biggest names in our industry, we dedicate our podcast to the stories of leaders in the technologies industries that bring us closer together. Follow the link here to see some of our latest episodes and don’t forget to subscribe.     

The State of Space Sector – Satellite production may not be up to speed with industry growth & launch predictions

On Episode 4 of The Satellite & NewSpace Matters Podcast we spoke to István Lőrincz, the president and co-founder of Morpheus Space. Morpheus Space are innovators of the world’s most efficient and scalable satellite propulsion systems and a key driving force of next generation space tech across several areas within the industry. We spoke to István about his experiences in the industry, from how he got into it to what he thinks its future will look like.

What is your take on the current state of the space sector?

I represent a controversial perspective on the industry, because I think that the industry is definitely on the right track. Certain aspects of the growth of the industry haven’t been great, and that will cause inevitable delays for the entire industry when it comes to reaching our projection. Right now, that projection is solely based on the capacity of the launchers, and nobody actually took a detailed look at what the capacity of the industry is to build satellites. If you look critically into it, the industry isn’t able to build as many satellites as we’ve projected. It’s just because of the nature of the industry. It’s emerging, which means that it’s highly segmented and there are a lot of small companies just like us, however, what’s missing in all of those other companies is the buy-in to the growth of the industry. You have to lean into it, you cannot be reactive in this environment, you have to take the responsibility and be proactive and lean into those projections. If you see that, in three years, there’s gonna be 10 times as many satellite launches, you have to work with those numbers for whatever you produce. You need to make sure that your trajectory brings you to the place where you can make 10 times more components, for whatever you’re building. That’s what’s lacking; everybody’s too cautious. We need to talk about this, someone needs to do analysis and uncover hidden capacities, primarily in the western world, because that’s represented in a consolidated market.

What are your expectations for the next five to ten years in the industry? 

We have an internal project where we are conducting market analysis to assess what the capability of producing satellite components of the industry is, and what it will be in the next two to three years. If we see a discrepancy there, we will look at solutions of how, for example, the government could incentivize companies to focus more on adapting mass production capabilities and scalable ways to conduct their business. In most small companies there are no processes or tools in place that would allow the handling of 100 clients or 1000 clients, that’s such an enormous number that most small companies would not be able to handle.

I have a feeling that that is being revived. There’s excitement around space exploration that was at its peak during the Apollo programme, and since then it’s slowly diminished. Now we are seeing this new wave of interest, this new wave of random, unconnected industries utilising this excitement and trying to attach their brands to something that’s spacey or something like that. Young people are excited about space again, even if they don’t understand the technical intricacies. It has become something to look forward to, it has become a beacon of hope. That’s growing, and it’s giving me goosebumps. That is something that I strongly believe we need to push in order to inspire the next generation, because that’s where the majority of the revolutionary changes will come from. Young people are the future of the industry. 

What gave us the success that we are seeing today?

It’s the unique technology. At the end of the day, we want to steer the customers away from that question, because the satellite operator does not care what technology is in the satellite, but rather what that technology enables the operator to do. Through our new hardware as a service model, the question has changed. The question that should be asked is ‘What is the price that you can provide to your customers for a unit of change in orbit for their momentum or velocity?’ That’s the question that we are trying to lead the industry towards. 

What distinguishes us from the bulk of the propulsion systems is our use of metal as propellant. That metal is stored in a solid state in the heart of the thruster, so it’s already integrated. Everything is tightly integrated and compact. With traditional propulsion systems, you had to procure the thruster, the propellant tank, all the piping and all the valves and sensors and flow sensors, and so on and so forth. Usually that ordeal was so complex that you had to design the satellite around the propulsion system. Our system is not like that.  You basically purchase it from us and you get a neatly packaged array that you just screw into your satellite, plug in one connector and you’re done! That’s the biggest upside of having a plug and play and complex system. Integration of components into a satellite is an ordeal and you want to make that as easy as possible there. There are companies out there where the core of their business is making integration. Let’s look at Antares; one of their primary objectives is to have a number of components in their offerings that are already optimised for integration, like easily integrating double components. 

Furthermore, the underlying physics that enables us to generate thrust is a new process. That process is highly efficient. The ionisation efficiency is a big component in every electric propulsion system. To date, this approach has the highest ionisation efficiency. If you have low efficiency, you lose a lot of energy just to create a fluid medium that you can use to generate thrust, so you want to have that as much efficiency as possible. 

There are other secondary technological innovations like our neutralizer. The propulsion system itself emits positive ions, and in order to maintain the charge balance of the spacecraft, you also have to emit the same amount of negative charges or electrons, which happens through a neutralizer. In most cases, you either have to use propellant to do that, or you have to heat up things at high temperatures, which leads to inefficiencies because it does not generate thrust. When you emit electrons or negative charges, usually those are not used to generate thrust, so they are lost. What we do is eliminate the propellant, we just use electrostatics and things called carbon nanotubes to extract and emit electrons, which improves our efficiency further. All those technologies together have put us in the position we’re in now to be making further advancements in our field. 

If you’d like to know more about the future of the satellite industry, tune into The Satellite & NewSpace Podcast from neuco, with new episodes monthly. 

We sit down regularly with some of the biggest names in our industry, we dedicate our podcast to the stories of leaders in the technologies industries that bring us closer together. Follow the link here to see some of our latest episodes and don’t forget to subscribe.     

Why will Electronically Steered Antennas Unlock a Huge Amount of Potential?

On Episode 3 of The Satellite & NewSpace Matters Podcast we were delighted to be joined by Andy Lucas, the CEO of LEUK Teleport & Data Centre, previously known as Signalhorn. He’s an avid cyclist who hopes to discover the next big use case for satellite communications and apparently get himself a robot lawnmower as well. Andy has had an impressive career in the satellite and space industry, which has led him to some really exciting things at LEUK Teleport & Data Centre. They currently provide services to GEO platforms with LEO and MEO solutions about to be launched very soon. 

We talked about the new tech in the Satellite and NewSpace industry, touching on everything from lawnmowers to the cloud. Below are some of Andrew’s most interesting insights on electronically steered antennas and their wider applications. 

What opportunities do you think exist for a business like yours within the NewSpace market, and how do you think the solutions and offerings that you’re able to provide will be influenced by NewSpace rather than traditional communications?

The pace of change in technology is remarkable, right? It’s game changing for the satellite communications industry in particular. One thing I would stress is that I firmly believe the future is a hybrid model. It won’t be Leo or Meo or Geo, or 5g or fibre, the solutions will be an aggregation of all these different technical solutions, such that customers are delivered solutions that genuinely offer the best of everything, and as a result are very biassed towards QE but don’t forget about reliability. There are issues of reliability, particularly as locations move around the world, so there’s a mix of options that change depending on area. 

Hybrid models are definitely the way forward. Now, we mustn’t forget that Leo has been around for quite a few years in the satellite industry, as has Meo, and Leo has been very successful with Iridium, for example. The difference now is actually just the capability that’s available from Leo constellations, and Meo constellations – it’s just unrecognisable from 5 or 10 years ago. Customers are much more cloud oriented. They have got a completely different mindset in terms of quality experience and how applications behave in all settings. This recent push behind homeworking, for example, has really driven home the fact that we are basically all working from a little bubbles, relying on a conductivity to actually make something like this possible. Behind that is obviously lots of fibre and variables, with a very high speed and low latency. Classic Geo really just wouldn’t have been successful, we would have all been desperately trying to find a coffee shop to huddle up in. Leo and Meo brings that low latency, high output experience to anybody everywhere around the whole planet, which is a revolution really in terms of opportunity and capability to individuals and businesses alike. 

So how do I see this being something that LEUK TDC can capitalise on? Number one, our customers are demanding it. We have numerous critical use cases that we provide for our customers. Low latency would definitely enhance our customers ability to leverage the solution that we provide, but as I say, the hybrid model is going to be the thing that blends that enhanced user experience with the reliability and simplicity of the solutions we provide today going forward. We don’t want to provide solutions to customers that give them latency at the expense of the quality of service and convenience that they enjoy today. So what does it bring to our customers? I think it brings greater reach, higher performance, far superior QE and application behaviour and it unlocks solutions such as the technology we’re using at the moment for this podcast. That’s a big improvement, particularly in locations that are classic telco coverage areas.

What developments in the industry are you most looking forward to seeing in the future?

It’s actually the whole electronic sustainable internal world. I think it has unlocked so much potential because it fixes the ease of use problem. As an industry, we need skilled engineers with a lot of experience to actually successfully deploy solutions, especially in cyber mobility contexts, where the technical solution is a bit more sophisticated. Even a simple cell tower in Africa requires an engineer to install the hardware and commission it successfully in a way that remains reliable though. Even though it’s a simple fixed antenna screwed to a tower, it still needs a bit of work to make that work correctly. 

What the ESA world brings is the potential for plug and play. It requires reduced skill sets to install equipment. As a result it greatly reduces the barrier to entry for satellite communications products, because then it’s not really a satellite communications terminal with all the complex connotations that that implies – it’s just an appliance that happens to connect wirelessly to something and then magically presents a high performance connection that has all these low latency, high throughput or high reliability solutions to the end users on the site. To me, that’s the key thing that the industry requires to unlock the potential of the existing Geo or high-performance solutions. There isn’t the number of engineers in the world to allow us to keep on doing it the old way.

I think the potential applications of steerable antenna systems are huge. How far in your future do you see them being found in everyday life?

They’re already available! One application is lawn mowers. You can spend an hour a week cutting the grass, give or take, maybe more depending on how fussy you’re being. You’ve got to get the lawn mower out of the garage, you’ve got to clean the blades, check if it’s got petrol, if it’s charged… You go around the garden, you sweep up the clippings… I enjoy it, but it’s work, whereas a Rover lawn mower just whizzes around your garden cutting the grass for you. It finds its docking station and it just deals with things by itself. There are some challenges with them though. Bizarrely they’re not necessarily easy to use. In theory, you can just draw up your grass and off they go, but actually, what you’re supposed to do is pick a wire around the perimeter of your lawn and around plants you don’t want destroyed which takes time and effort. You need an external mains socket. You know, they’re waterproof but you don’t want them being rained on. They’re gonna get stolen because they’re quite high value items. So they’re not necessarily the kind of purchase you would just make randomly, but the opportunity for me is I can get two three hours a week back, and I don’t have to buy petrol for my lawnmower anymore. That’s the kind of application that I want to start seeing more of. 

To hear more about Andy Lucas’s work at LEUK Teleport and Data Centre and the advancements in the Satellite and NewSpace industry, tune into the full episode of The Satellite & NewSpace Matters Podcast from neuco. 

We sit down regularly with some of the biggest names in our industry, we dedicate our podcast to the stories of leaders in the technologies industries that bring us closer together. Follow the link here to see some of our latest episodes and don’t forget to subscribe.     

The Consolidation of the Satellite & NewSpace Industry

On The Satellite & NewSpace Matters Podcast we were delighted to be joined by Stuart Gill, a product manager for Leanspace; a service provider that allows space organisations to develop bespoke software systems that are fully integrated, ready to scale and fast. Leanspace’s solution is a first of its kind, enabling space organisations to be more competitive by increasing their agility and lowering their costs. Stewart is one of the new wave of space professionals who are helping to deliver fantastic innovations in the NewSpace industry. Having started his career as a research and development engineer, he very soon became a satellite platform specialist with Thales before moving to Leanspace, where he leads the creation and delivery of new and innovative products. 

We’re talking about NewSpace, and the clue is in the name – it is relatively new – but it’s been massively growing over the last couple of years. A lot of people seem to think that we’re perhaps due some consolidation, or merging of the NewSpace industry with incumbent space and other industries. What do you think the state of the market is looking like right now? 

That’s a good question. I think everyone out there would pay to have a crystal ball which could predict that. I would agree that there’s probably going to be some mergers and some consolidation. There are a lot of actors who have arrived on the market in recent years so it will be interesting to see if there’s space for everyone. Smallsat was a very interesting example. I’ve read already about a lot of mature micro launcher companies who are turning to a verticalized business model and supplying not just the launcher but also the satellite. It will be very interesting to see where the market goes, I think there’s still going to be tremendous growth. I think everyone agrees with the projection that it’s going to be a growing industry for some years to come, but I think in the next couple of years in particular it will be interesting to see how specifically traditional space companies pivot and adapt. I think that they’re already starting to feel some pressure. And I think the NewSpace companies will start to see, especially with the economic conditions we have today, maybe a bit more trouble raising funds. It’s always dynamic in space.

When we look at consolidation in the industry, is there one particular area of the market that you think is potentially oversubscribed, that we’ll see consolidation happening in soon?

I would say the launcher market, if I was being entirely honest. I think that there’s been a lot of investment in the launcher market, but I would like to see more projects which the launch market can depend on coming through the pipeline. Even if all these launcher companies make it, they still need companies to invest in creating constellations, or any kind of satellite project. There seems to be an unequal investment in launchers versus the projects which are coming through in which those companies will rely on as well. For those companies to be commercial, they can’t rely on one or two projects per year, they have to have a sustainable, vibrant ecosystem. I think that they need to have more investment in satellite projects, or any other kind of space project. 

Are there any technologies or innovations currently in development that you think are going to have the most impact on expanding the industry in the near future?

I think the infrastructure and the digitalization space is going to have a huge impact, because it basically drives growth. All the other systems, which we have in the space industry are always siloed, they’re very slow to adapt. The changing ecosystem will be a big driver for growth, whether it’s digital factories, smarter software for operating your missions, cloud technologies… All this will have a big impact on how the industry grows. 

To hear the rest of Stuart Gill’s insights and experience in the NewSpace industry, listen to the full episode of The Satelite and NewSpace Matters Podcast here. 

We sit down regularly with some of the biggest names in our industry, we dedicate our podcast to the stories of leaders in the technologies industries that bring us closer together. Follow the link here to see some of our latest episodes and don’t forget to subscribe.