The possibilities to improve life on earth using space technology are abundant. Satellites can be used to enable real-time data transfer everywhere and thus improve communications in isolated or rural areas and with it access to knowledge, data and healthcare services.
To pave the way for further research and exploration into space, we need to find ways to make space access not only reliable and safe but also economical. As ironic as it might sound, even space will become more crowded with time. Satellites will eventually need lasting and efficient propulsion systems to avoid collisions, as well as for constellation flights, which are necessary especially if our future communication networks rely on them.
We already went to the moon, but if we want to go higher and further, we need better propulsion systems. One approach to space exploration and space travel would be to use space resources like water which can be converted to liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, a powerful chemical rocket propellant. When John F. Kennedy announced the very ambitious goal of sending an American to the moon by the end of the decade, the rockets available at that time had to be improved by a factor 10 in power, reach and durability in order to make it safely to the moon and back. What seemed like an impossible task back then, has proven to be possible. With today’s technology, we’re able to make even bigger leaps, and we believe that we’re still at the very beginning of exponential progress. The possibilities presented by space exploration are limitless, as is space itself. Already today, space spin-off technologies are improving our lives on earth. And if we dream into the future, space based solar power could provide a new source of clean energy, while asteroid mining could open new sources of raw materials.
Sharing Rockets & Reusability
One very prominent limiting factor in the space sector is cost efficiency. Luckily, micro- and nano satellites, which thanks to ongoing improvements of sensors, cameras and radars can take on more and more tasks, help to gain a higher cost efficiency. The high costs for satellite launches can be reduced with new concepts focused on reusability and/or launching more material into space at once like SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy or NASA’s Space Launch System. One of our portfolio companies, the Bulgarian Space startup EnduroSat offers a shared satellite service, in which nano satellites can be shared by multiple customers in need of a certain data set. This makes receiving data from own sensors in space effortless and extremely cheap, thereby paving the way for a whole new space era.
Better access to space data will bring countless new opportunities, and ultimately make our lives safer and easier. Satellite sensor data can be used e.g. in the insurance industry to track damage from natural disasters, help prevent wildfires and illegal mining or detect leakages from pipelines. Emission monitoring and CO2 certificates, already today a +215bn market and bound to develop into a multi-trillion market, is relying on such data. Developing and emerging countries can improve traffic monitoring and massively improve access to the internet through satellite based offerings.
Space Debris Mitigation
Space debris, for example old satellites or remnants of past collisions, is a major problem. There are 34.000 objects larger than 10 cm, and almost 129 million objects smaller than 10 cm in orbis. Note that at high speed, a tiny object is enough to cause severe damage in a collision, putting satellites and rockets at risk. Promising starting points for space debris mitigation are end-of-life disposal and passivation. The ESA is working on programs for active debris removal, which are also necessary.
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