Anyone who has read my previous posts about New Space won’t be shocked when I mention once again the optimistic energy of that industry as new players emerge to examine industry doctrine and turn it on its head. Between Google’s grab of Skybox this year, and the latest selection of New Space companies for NASA’s Commercial Crew contract, the future seems to take on a somewhat rosy-ish tinge for the likes of SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and XCOR. What are the other opportunities New Space will be tackling to serve a nearly constantly connected customer base?
New Opportunities for New Space
A recent article in Wired.com points to New Space start-ups as the next piece in solving the data challenge. Satellites can require a lot of data. For example, Skybox is not just taking pictures with its satellites—it’s also taking videos of the activities happening on the Earth’s face. They seem to think there’s a demand for that sort of thing in real-time. Another example is that whole internet in space, skirting national boundaries idea. Satellites may be used to stream Netflix, Amazon videos, iTunes movies, and all those YouTube cat videos, too. Remember the video buffering problem we all had to deal with when the internet was slow? Both Skybox and Netflix need some big data pipes to keep that from happening. These data cables exist, for the most part, in the ground. We use them every day. But remember how long it took for that to happen.
Big Data Pipes
Satellites are a bit more challenging for data transfers. They don’t have lines to power stations and back-up generators. Unlike the ground data nodes fixed to the Earth, satellites, even geostationary ones, move. And sometimes they go a little haywire, spinning about in space as operators on the ground frantically do what they can to get control of the spacecraft again. Ground stations and antennas, the ones that send data to and receive data from satellites, need to be connected to terrestrial big data pipes that may or may not exist yet. And, oh yes, they also cost a bit to build, launch into orbit, and operate. There are challenges. But challenges can be overcome.
If the New Space generation of companies, most of which seem to exhibit independent and entrepreneurial streaks, are willing to lay down the cash and put in the time, then they will likely overcome the New Space data challenge. They’re willing to take risks the older established defense/government contracting companies seem all too ready to shun. Google alone might be able to revolutionize ground architectures required for new space data with new remote satellite antennas using their existing ground architecture and connecting them to those antenna nodes to talk with Skybox imagery satellites. And satellites can host more than just imagery/video payloads.
All these New Space companies are also attracting young and old talent and they’re growing. If you have anything to do with ground or space communications architecture, you just might have an opportunity to revolutionize internet communications. Besides, those cat videos need all the help they can get—I think they just might be popular one day.