Our 2019 review & 2020 predictions
As we wrap up this decade (and what a wild one it has been!) we look back at 2019 that was suitably mad on a global level and reassuring on an industry one. There are so many different, brilliant areas we could discuss, here are but a few topics that really piqued our interest at neuco.
From in-orbit repairs and 3D printing in space to the decommissioning of satellites and clearing up of debris, companies of varying sizes and backgrounds are increasingly seeking to make positive impacts to the already crowded, ever-increasingly congested orbital space. There’s D-Orbit with their comprehensive in-orbit products and services, who recently announced a further investment from Seraphim Capital and Noosphere Ventures, and Astroscale seeking to greatly improve orbit sustainability through clearing debris and many others all doing their part to improve the orbital experience. Take ESA and their commissioning of a debris removal project in partnership with Clearspace, or the launch of MEV-1 in October, these sorts of efforts are only set to increase.
The New Space Race: Mega Constellations
It was unfortunate to see the demise of LeoSat and we wish all respective individuals the best in their future projects, that aside, the constellation race is heating up! We have the likes of Planet Labs and Spire with many satellites in orbit already, however they will soon be dwarfed in size by some big players. OneWeb had successful tests, gained further funding and opened their mass satellite production facilities in tandem with Airbus with launches coming in the new year. SpaceX and their Starlink constellation saw several large-scale launches and, although a few failed in orbit and one nearly collided with an ESA satellite(!), their activities have no doubt increased public knowledge and interest in this area. Finally, Amazon’s Project Kuiper has recently seen the migration to a new R&D facility which only further suggests there will be much, much more to come from them in the next few years.
So many applications! Whether it’s forecasting the weather, tracking biodiversity and wildlife trends, monitoring and responding to natural disasters, addressing emerging diseases, predicting, adapting to and mitigating climate change or many other important applications, Earth Observation has had an impressive year. Synthetic Aperture Radar companies such as ICEYE and Capella Space had strong years and with its innovative tech and broad applications, earth observation will continue to play a key role in many areas of global life.
This sector is booming in Britain with the likes of Skyrora in Scotland and Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne in Cornwall. On a global level, we saw impressive reusable rocket activity - think New Shepherd’s 6th successive launch – and some great work from the likes of ThrustMe, Exotrail and co. 2019 also saw the 10th launch from Rocket Labs, after they successfully delivered 7 satellites to orbit in early December, and put them firmly on the path to rocket reuse, ala SpaceX and Blue Origin. These activities only further serve to strengthen the space industry and to further reduce the barriers to entry for what has, historically, been a fairly closed industry.
It’s been a year of consolidation in the industry and we can look at big examples such as the Inmarsat sale and ST Engineering acquiring Newtec and subsequently establishing ST Engineering iDirect as reasons to believe that this will likely be another key theme of 2020. There have also been some interesting developments within the operator space that suggests further consolidation can’t be too far away. The finalisation of the takeover of Inmarsat, after their shareholders recently dropped their opposition, further cost-cutting measures at Eutelsat after they announced the need to cut 100 staff from its ranks as well as salaries being frozen, with no new hires, and the constantly volatile share prices of a number of major operators.
What to expect in 2020?
Expect an increase in the activity of all things mentioned above, we should, for example, get a clearer picture on the constellation space race to see who could be coming out on top there, and I see public increased interest in areas such as space debris playing a role in shaping future projects. We’ll find out what will happen to C-Band, SmallSats will be on the rise, there are 4 planned Mars missions scheduled and will 2020 be the year of Human spaceflight? Watch this space.