Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Economist Assesses the Space Industry

          by Allison Rae Hannigan

It felt like the conference was spread over two days, as so much content was packed into the one day at the “Space Summit: A New Space Age,” event presented by The Economist Events, which came to The Museum of Flight in Seattle on November 9th, 2017.

Waiting for A New Space Age at the Museum of Flight in Seattle on the morning of November 9th. Photo c/o Allison Rae Hannigan.

A mix of inspirational, and entertaining, presentations with thoughtful discussions of pertinent issues to the current state of the space industry was offered for the well over 200 participants to enjoy.

Big Name” headliners included Lori Garver (the former deputy administrator to NASA), Steve Jurvetson (an American businessman, venture capitalist and former partner at venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson), planetary scientist Carolyn Porco and Russian entrepreneur, venture capitalist, physicist and DST Global founder Yuri Milner.

A variety of formats was used to keep participants engaged, which was a refreshing change of pace from more typical conferences.

Here are some highlights from the sessions, fireside chats, and “big bang disrupters” presentations and discussions.

Putting the Space Back into the Space Industry

Inspirational and informative talks were sprinkled in that served to remind everyone about the true wonder of the actual place beyond Earth’s atmosphere called space, as opposed to the economic sphere of activity usually referred to as the ‘space industry.’ 
Famed planetary scientist, Carolyn Porco, who was imaging lead for the recently-completed Cassini Mission, gave a talk on that mission and some of its discoveries. She gifted the audience with beautiful pictures of Saturn and spoke about the moons Enceladus and Titan, and possible future missions there. 
She recalled her connection to Carl Sagan, and his “Pale Blue Dot” moment from the Voyager mission, when we could see Earth from space from the far reaches of the solar system for the first time. 
As outlined in the July 22nd, 2013 post, "NASA Releases Images of Earth Taken By Distant Spacecraft," the Cassini mission had a similar effect with its, “interplanetary salute” moment, when Earthlings were told to smile for the camera in July 2013. 
Earth as viewed through Saturn's rings. Photo c/o Graham Looney on Twitter.
A ‘fireside chat” followed her talk, with one of the two moderators, Oliver Morton, the briefings editor at The Economist. Another “chat” was held later in the day between George Whitesides, the CEO of Virgin Galactic and Tom Standage, the deputy editor of The Economist
An inspirational talk and discussion was delivered by Susmita Mohanty, co-founder and chief executive of Earth2Orbit. She is a serial entrepreneur, who spoke of future space activities by private entrepreneurs. She shared her experiences to date, and also highlighted recent advancements in India’s space program. 
Challenging the audience to think of space activities in an inclusive way, she does not accept the commonly-used term "space colony" for historical reasons, and a new term needs to be imagined. 
Turning her vision to the future, Susmita said she will begin work on climate change research, and will eventually launch an earth observation constellation of satellites. 

Susmita Mohanty, co-founder and chief executive of Earth2Orbit in Seattle on November 9th, 2017. Photo c/o WaSpaceGrant.

No Business Like the Space Business

In a more familiar format, the morning started with a panel discussion about tools and vision for the next “great leap.” NASA’s Voyager mission was used as a benchmark for standards of technology over time, looking back at how it was so very “primitive” 40 years ago, and comparing it with today’s technology, as well as to what the future holds.

Tom Bradicich, the head of IoT and intelligent edge systems at the event’s sponsor, HPE, made the case for using new technology in distant space to decrease latency in communications and control, for example on future Mars missions.

Project Extreme Edge is building technologies that are faster than fixed technologies, but they also are re-configurable on the fly,” he said, introducing the audience to his company’s newest space effort, putting a supercomputer, the HPE Apollo System (also known as the Spaceborne Computer) on the International Space Station (ISS).

The concept is to use ordinary open standard technology, wrapped around with intellectual property and invention for added value. The innovation is with what he called the “software hardening.” Using predictive analysis and looking at problems such as memory leaks, resources being used in an exhaustive way, or even failing, the system is able to program around these issues and will have redundancy built into the software.

As outlined in the November 9th, 2017 HPE Newsroom post, "Our Next Frontier: Taking HPE Technology to the ‘Extreme Edge’" the software hardening is configured to “manage real time throttling of the computer systems based on current conditions and can mitigate environmentally induced errors.”
Jim Bell, the president of the board of directors of the Planetary Society, and Robyn Gates, the deputy director of the ISS at NASA were also on the same panel, titled, “A Space Odyssey: The Tools and The Vision Powering Man’s[sic] Next Great Leap.” Tom Standage, the deputy editor of The Economist moderated. 
Another “space business” panel, “Down to Earth: The Global Economic Impact of Space,” featured Lori Garver, the former deputy administrator of NASA and current general manager of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA). In addition, Dirk Hoke, CEO of Airbus Defence and Space, as well as Brian Weeden of the Secure World Foundation and Dario Zamarian, the group president of Space Systems Loral (SSL) participated under the guidance of moderator Tom Standage.
The purpose of this session was to examine the space economy and whether some of Earth’s greatest challenges can be solved by space-based technologies; while also looking at future business opportunities for entrepreneurs. 
One main track of the discussion about the role of public funds in space technology development was led by Garver, who explained at length the analogies between civil aviation and space. In the economy that relies upon drone technology, the government role at this point is limited to staying as far out of the way as possible, and not ‘over-regulating it.’  
Speaking of space, she said, “I just really think that fundamentally we need to shift how we invest our public dollars in these areas.” She basically advocated government spending less on big missions and more on enabling technologies so that the private sector can play a more commercial role. 
Dirk Hoke, Lori Garver and Brian Weeden. Photo c/o Allison Rae Hannigan.
Carissa Bryce Christensen, the founder and CEO of Bryce Space and Technology, Peter Platzer the CEO of Spire Global, Chad Anderson, the CEO of the Space Angels Network and Pete Roney, the chief innovations officer at Thales USA were guided by Oliver Morton in a lively conversation during the business session about remote sensing called, “The Data Race.” The panel of experts and entrepreneurs all came to similar conclusions about the huge economic opportunities for extracting answers from all the imagery currently being collected.
It’s big, getting bigger, and innovation is making the future come along faster than anyone can realize. The environmental benefits are also plain to see, as Earth’s resources are being monitored and managed more every day.
Anderson cited the year 2009 as the “Dawn of the Entrepreneurial Space Age,” which is basically when SpaceX started operating commercially. His Space Angels fund has issued a new space investment report (the Space Angels Investment Quarterly Q3 2017) that makes this claim, and shows the rise of equity investment in the sector.
With billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos putting their own funds into developing space transportation systems, the certainty in future markets gains legitimacy, and follow-on investment is happening in new systems, especially the Big Data remote sensing constellations. 
As outlined in the October 31st, 2017 Ars Technica post, "New report: Entrepreneurial space age began in 2009," SpaceX launched its first commercial payload in July 2009, a date which marked the "a key inflection point between the "governmental" space age and the "entrepreneurial" space age." Graphic c/o Space Angels Investment Quarterly Q3 2017.

Teach them well and let them lead the way” – Whitney Houston

In a session designed to showcase the industry’s future leaders, but more likely succeeding in helping much of the audience feel old, three MIT Media Lab experts presented, “Our way to the stars: astropreneurships and space hacking.” 
Barret Schlegelmilch and Steven Link, co-presidents of the MIT Astropreneurship and Space Industry Club and Ariel Ekblaw, Founder and lead, MIT Media Lab’s Space Exploration Initiative, each presented about their initiatives for self-assembling in-orbit architecture, bioengineering genomes for space and blockchain-mediated satellite telecommunications as they look to democratize access to space exploration technology with the help of source materials from the MIT Media Labs.

Scaring the (Expletive) Out of Us!

Space junk: clean-up time” painted a grim picture not only of human impact on the orbital environment, but also the geo-political risks we face here on Earth as potentially threatening space assets. The United States’ Air Force Space Command is tracking around 22,000 pieces of man-made space debris, mostly bigger than 10 cm across, and there are estimated to be hundreds of thousands more smaller fragments. 
Twitter was also active in Seattle on November 9th. Image c/o @TheAerospaceCorp
Nobu Okada, Founder and chief executive, Astroscale, Jamie Morin, Executive director, Center for Space Policy and Strategy, and vice president, The Aerospace Corporation, and Saadia Pekkanen, Associate director, Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington each gave their perspective on the situation.

Always Leave Them Laughing / Wanting More

Although the final session, a “spotlight interview,” with Yuri Milner, the founder of  DST Global, finished the day, the lasting impression will be the quite lively and downright funny “Three Way Debate” between Naveen Jain, the founder and chairman of Moon Express, Chris Lewicki, the president and CEO of Planetary Resources, and John Logsdon, the founder of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute
Elon Musk has joked that he wants to die on Mars, “Just not on impact,” and the debate premise asks what will he see from his deathbed 100 years from now? Habitation on the Moon, Mars/Asteroids, or neither? 
Speaking on behalf of the Moon, Jain made the feistiest jokes and boldest statements, often peppering his claims with profanity which created an even larger impact on the audience. “Who the Hell wants to live on an asteroid?”  
Lewicki presented his case with the calm, cool and snark precision of a planetary scientist and engineer, arguing that we will find many more riches in asteroids than those spread very thinly on the Moon. 
As for Logsdon, well, despite his personal desire to see all of these scenarios succeed, he is convinced that humanity will not succeed at any of them. 
He argued that we’ve had since Apollo to make the case to the public to fund future space exploration, and have failed to secure the support needed.
Fortunately, most of the rest of the people attending the conference were much more enthusiastic.

Perhaps we were simply more focused around the entrepreneurs and private sector rather than concerned over public funding for government programs, while Logston's focus was on the governments and the public policy decisions which define their role.

But as outlined in the November 9th, 2017 Geekwire post, "‘New Space Age’ gathering sets the stage for commercial spaceflight’s big year," this year is supposed to be a big one for the private sector. That's where the energy and the ambition is currently concentrated.

Welcome to the future.
Allison Rae Hannigan.

Allison Rae Hannigan is an impassioned space industry professional focused on development opportunities, marketing, and business related to microgravity and earth observation sectors. 

She is also a free-lance consultant who has created marketing communications campaigns, as well as provided market research, and regulatory expertise to the international space community.

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