By Brian Orlotti
The Space Angels Network, a US based investor group with a small but growing portfolio of "NewSpace" focused companies, has built a list of favorite areas most likely to act as "hubs" for growing space focused start-ups.
As outlined in the June 21st, 2017 Space Angels post, "Meet the Neighbors: Hubs of Entrepreneurial Space," they include Northern California around the San Francisco Bay area, Southern California near the Mojave Air and Space Port, Seattle, Washington plus some older space centres which have managed to adapt and embrace the growing private sector business dominance of space.
- In Southern California, the Mojave Air and Space Port has been a hotbed of innovation. This facility boasts long runways, an expansive, remote airspace, and ideal flying conditions for test pilots. Today’s space startups—backed by an influx of capital from angel investors—are taking advantage of places like the Mojave Spaceport to test and improve upon their new technologies. Nearby Hawthorne, a suburb of Los Angeles, is home to SpaceX, pioneer of low-cost and reusable rockets and the NewSpace industry’s current champion.
- San Francisco’s NewSpace activity is primarily focused around satellites and big data. The data being obtained by a new generation of satellites and its analysis is proving to be a profitable business in itself as well as greatly influencing a variety of industries outside of aerospace. Satellites launched by startup companies are offering near-real-time data, giving industries and investors an edge in predicting profit margins of businesses by tracking assets, evaluating critical data like potential crop yields. A key satellite data startup is Planet, based in San Francisco’s SoMa district. Planet’s fleet of remote-sensing CubeSats is capable of imaging the Earth’s entire surface every 24 hours. Planet’s constellation is the largest privately-owned orbital satellite network, sending over 3 terabytes of data back to Earth daily.
- Seattle, Washington is home to another emerging commercial space hub. The city’s long aerospace and tech heritage (Seattle is home to Boeing, Microsoft and many software and web startups) have provided fertile ground for NewSpace ventures. In addition to abundant venture capital, the Seattle and Washington state governments are encouraging the NewSpace industry by offering tax benefits via communication with the Washington State Space Coalition. Newspace firms like Planetary Resources and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin have made their homes here. Jeff Bezos, understanding the motivational power of symbols, has donated the Apollo engines rediscovered by his 2015 expedition to the Seattle Museum of Flight.
Despite the rise of these new space hubs, historically important space regions have not been standing still. These cities are adapting, providing key facilities and resources to the commercial space sector.
- Houston, TX is one of the most well-known meccas for space activity thanks to NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Several ambitious commercial space firms have established themselves in Houston including NanoRacks and the Ad Astra Rocket Company. In 2016, the Texas Space Congressional Caucus was formed by the state government, geared towards advocating for human space flight as well as the “intelligent and resourceful” use of the Johnson Space Center.
- Another longstanding aerospace industry hub, Florida’s Cape Canaveral, is virtually synonymous with spaceflight. Since the early 1950s, the storied ‘Space Coast’ has hosted rockets for both NASA and the U.S. Air Force. Once the sole domain of government agencies, the state has provided increasing opportunities for private sector investment and offers small startups the necessary infrastructure and resources to launch payloads into orbit. New commercial tenants include SpaceX, Blue Origin and OneWeb. Seeking to strengthen the NewSpace industry’s foundations, the Florida Institute of Technology’s Buzz Aldrin Space Institute and the International Space University have teamed up to launch a new institute for space entrepreneurship and innovation, scheduled to open next year.
With a presence in multiple regions, firm support from both private investors and government and a confident eye on its future, the NewSpace sector’s tipping point has finally come, at least in the US.