When you picture the next frontier in space, is it a colony on Mars? Luxury vacations on the moon? Commercial space travel, like the SpaceX “Moon loop,” gets significant attention, and for a good reason. There’s no denying the excitement of someday casually booking a ticket to orbit the moon, just like how we now book plane tickets for trips to Atlanta or Albuquerque.
Space exploration isn’t the only way NewSpace companies are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, however. These startups are disrupting traditional legacy companies, like Boeing and Lockheed. In doing so, they’re creating exciting career opportunities for aerospace professionals who want to make an immediate impact. I’m currently hiring mid-career electrical, mechanical and aerospace engineers ready for this fast-paced, innovative work.
Ready to get involved? Here’s your essential primer on the NewSpace race.
Expanding Broadband Access
OneWeb is a NewSpace company dedicated to providing Internet access to everyone across the globe–a life-changing advancement given that only about half of the world’s population currently has Internet access. In tandem with Airbus, the OneWeb is building the first 900 Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites of its OneWeb Satellites constellation at the end of this year. OneWeb expects to begin service in 2019.
Additionally,Viasat is joining the race to expand broadband access, announcing it will launch three ViaSat-3 satellites using SpaceX rockets sometime between 2020 and 2023. Each satellite is designed to cover a third of the planet with Ka-band spot beams for broadband connectivity. SpaceX is also pushing boundaries with its Starlink satellites, which are designed to deliver high-speed internet almost anywhere on Earth. To compete with Viasat, SpaceX is reportedly developing a solar array deployment mechanism that would provide an ambitious bandwidth of 20Gbs.
Reimagining Satellite Technology
As NewSpace companies take a new look at the possibilities of aerospace, they’re learning some valuable lessons, including re-thinking the best type of satellite to use. Traditionally, commercial satellites are geosynchronous or geostationary (GEO). GEO satellites remain at a fixed position a considerable distance away from the Earth. While they can cover extensive areas of land and water, GEO satellites share the entire frequency system across a coverage area, don’t cover polar caps, and offer limitations for the mobile antennas back on Earth. NewSpace companies, however, are looking at an alternative option: low earth orbit (LEO) satellites. These satellites can orbit the Earth in less than an hour and a half, delivering more data and information.
NewSpace companies are also adapting mass automation techniques from the automotive industry for satellite production. Unlike their custom counterparts, mass-produced satellites are designed to last for shorter time periods of two to five years. But since they’re mass-produced, they’re not nearly as expensive. If the satellite malfunctions, the company is only out several millions of dollars, instead of billions.
Rethinking Rocket Development
NewSpace startups are developing reusable rockets, like the SpaceX Falcon rockets and the New Shepard from Blue Origin, that are designed to launch into space, collect data and return to Earth. The ability to re-use rockets is significant and could provide for more ambitious space missions moving forward. By applying lessons learned from rocket development, Space 2.0 companies are also developing low-power devices that can be mass produced for commercial applications right here on Earth.
Authored by: Mark Sanborn