Report of my visit to NewSpace Europe 2019.
NewSpace is a bit of a storytelling term, signifying that new things are happening and opportunities are opening up in space. In technical terms these opportunities come from lowered launch cost and reduction of cost to develop satellites. America is in many ways in the lead when it comes to business and actual launch of new developments, still it is a global business with activity on almost every continent, Europe included. Luxemburg is host to the NewSpace Europe conference bringing together policy people from government agencies and investors. The big topic for the two days was legal frameworks. I decided to visit to see what opportunities there are in Europe to apply computational and data design expertise. This report is written for personal record keeping as I continue learning so there is a likely probability that terminology is wrong.
Space business exists for the data. The current main market areas being Earth Observation (EO) running on imaging data, RF listening satellites tracking ships & aircraft on earth, communications to send along hundreds and thousands of live TV channels, broadly accessible space internet is next up, with the second batch of Starlink satellites having launched just this week. This seems to be the main area of actual space activity next to the scientific missions. Concepts like asteroid mining and lunar economies are still hypothetical in the current state.
So what specific opportunities are there to work on designing interfaces for complex datasets? What datasets are emerging and where is the demand from business and stakeholders for understanding these? Where are the start-up opportunities to have an impact without having to immediately own the full stack?
Without going into too much detail, after having some talks with experts one specific domain came up as relevant for current developments: Space situational awareness (SSA).
This can be broken up in a couple of areas: (source: ESA SSA Program overview)
Space Weather (SWE): Monitoring & predicting the state of the sun and the Earths magnetosphere, ionosphere and thermosphere.
Near-earth objects (NEO): Detecting of natural objects potentially impacting or interfering Earth / space activities.
Space Surveillance and Tracking (SST): Tracking of active and inactive satellites, launch stages and debris.
Building on top of these application layers can be built such as collision detection systems and space traffic management. (i.e. the type of applications that can benefit from design expertise to break down complex datasets into easy-to-understand data interfaces).
Which stakeholders require these kind of services? Space agencies and satellite operators. NewSpace companies looking to find new opportunities & new orbits to launch satellites. Companies who are looking to do in-orbit satellite/asteroid mining if/when this becomes viable.
Companies are stepping in already, tracking objects from space (https://exoanalytic.com/) as well as from earth (https://www.leolabs.space/). Both validating this area as an opportunity for business and posing the challenge to deliver services at a higher quality than these companies currently provide. My current thinking (also from personal technology philosophy) is to focus on democratisation. Making these kinds of services more easily understandable through good digital design and publicly available to more companies and newcomers to the NewSpace community.
Next steps for me:
- Get access to more datasets (NEO, SST).
- Research the science and technology stack on object tracking, collision detection.
- Start designing & developing MVP prototypes for visualisation interfaces.
- Reach out to stakeholders to evaluate needs, requirements and collaboration opportunities.
More coming soon!