Looking back over the last 30 years, Millennials working across the satellite industry noted the vast amount of change that both the technology and markets have seen just in their lifetimes. This includes huge advancements in capacity with High-Throughput Satellites (HTS), new actors and concepts such as those touted by O3b, satellite payloads growing form 1 Gbps to 1 Tbps, and small satellites making more than a little splash in the commercial and even government industries.
“The industry has been rapidly changing in recent years with the creation of a lot of start-ups by Millennials, and the ever greater implication of universities through cubesats, among other things,” Kahina Aoudia, 25, director of legal and regulatory at the Space Partnership International (SPI), told Via Satellite. “These new actors are changing shape of the whole industry and are now taken into consideration by the historic space actors.”
She points to new conferences dealing solely with small satellites that now receive as much traffic and attention as legacy space conferences. But the compounded change in the last generation extends far beyond just smallsats.
“Imagine people 30 years ago. Would they even think about half of the things we have today?” asks Alan Ribeiro, 31, of Embratel Star One.
Imagine people 30 years ago. Would they even think about half of the things we have today?
– Alan Ribeiro, Embratel Star One
Thus, in an industry with such a huge capacity for change, we can’t help but wonder: What will the next 30 years look like?
“The satellite industry of 2047 is no doubt going to be different than that of 2017,” said Minoo Rathnasabapathy, executive director for the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC), and member of our Via Satellite Millennial Advisory Board, which aims to gather opinions on the changing industry from young professionals under 35. “The significant technical advancements our industry has experienced, coupled with changes in the market and customer needs, and in addition to an expected decrease in launch cost will define the next 30 years.”
Using new dynamic coverage design, companies such as SpaceX, Vector Space Systems and a litany of others are reducing the cost of launchers and user terminals, increasing access to space. Millennials believe easier and cheaper access to space will be a hallmark of the next 30 years in the satellite industry and work to change the market dramatically.
And as the world becomes more interconnected, the ability to bridge geographical gaps will only become more important, according to Jordan Irving, 31, system engineer at Iridium. Satellite will play an increasingly important role in bridging the digital divide.
“One of the biggest changes will be greater accessibility to space. I mean this in two aspects: first, a larger part of the world will have access to satellite-based services such as [Direct to Home] DTH or internet; second, more people will be able to go to space. As a result, I think the industry will be more and more governed by the private sector, although governments will always have a stake in going to space,” says Aoudia.
New Technologies and Frequencies
“I really believe that we will go wireless and satellite will play an important part in this new telecom era. Today, we see new ideas that could make a space network be true, for example O3b and its slogan “fiber in the sky” and its whole new concept,” says Ribeiro. “New bands, such as Ka, Q and V, with higher frequencies and more HTS capacity, will be just the beginning for new telecommunications capacity 30 years from now.”
But while satellites will grow in importance, technological advancements with throughput mean there could be less of them in orbit.
“Overall, the industry will give more place to human spaceflight and less satellites will be launched due to the ever-increasing capacity of the newly built satellites, such as HTS,” says Aoudia.
Letting the Next Generation In
New ideas don’t grow on trees, and it’s often the new generation that brings new ideas into a market and then to fruition. But Millennials in the industry now cite difficulties in finding their way into the satellite sector.
“Just go to a satellite conference and you will see three to four times more white heads than otherwise,” says Ribeiro, referring to the lack of young people in the satellite industry. He feels the space industry is currently “closed to the public,” and that young professionals have limited options when it comes to pursuing a career in satellite, which can also work to shut out new ideas and an entire generation of young engineers.
Start-ups provide something of an antidote to the “white heads” problem, providing a new pathway that can bring in a litany of young people through companies such as Planet. But SPI’s Aoudia feels this still isn’t enough to compensate for the ageism in legacy space companies.
“Although Silicon Valley is boiling with young people and ideas, I think that more established companies tend to rely on more experienced professionals,” Aoudia says. “This is logical to some extent: you do not become an aerospace engineer overnight. On the other hand, young people bring completely innovative ideas and tend to be less conservative in terms of risk taking.”
Ribeiro believes that young people are better prepared for the new social environment, and have a lot to contribute to make the satellite industry more competitive and up-to-date with the demand of the new generation. Some larger companies are noticing that the younger generation is bringing with it this energy and thirst for new ideas, however, and not just start-ups are giving young professionals a chance.
“You see what SpaceX has been able to accomplish using a workforce that skews to the younger end of the spectrum,” says Irving. “There are pros and cons to their approach, of course, but it shows you that younger people can do a lot if given the opportunity.”
This means not just giving the younger generation a chance to enter the market, but also attracting newcomers by making space “pop.”
“To attract more young people, I think the industry’s main challenge is to make space cool again — and it is begin helped by Hollywood right now!” says Aoudia, referring to movies such as Interstellar and Gravity. Now that the public’s curiosity about space has been raised again, she believes it is up to the industry to trust young people to hire more of them. “The cool factor should definitely be used by established space actors in their hiring process.”
Rathnasabapathy believes that it is easy to sell the younger generation on the space industry, however, but the industry isn’t yet doing enough to maintain the younger workforce.
“The fast-paced advancements in all sectors of the industry, and more recently a spark in competition between companies, undoubtedly captures the interest of many. There is a constant demand for young professionals to enter the industry, but what the space industry struggles with is retaining these high-quality professionals,” Rathnasabapathy says.
There is a constant demand for young professionals to enter the industry, but what the space industry struggles with is retaining these high-quality professionals.
– Minoo Rathnasabapathy, Space Generation Advisory Council
To change this, the sector needs to adapt to meet the needs of young professionals, and that means providing opportunities for growth while Millennials are building their career paths.
“From globalization to regulatory frameworks, today’s satellite industry is facing challenges that were non-existent a few decades ago. Quality training and initiatives to prepare the next generation to meet these challenges is essential,” Rathnasabapathy says. “By doing so, the industry will no doubt see the benefit of providing career-support opportunities in the form of leadership development, continuing professional development, career planning and mentoring for the next generation of the industry’s professionals.” VS