SpaceX continues to be one of the most talked about companies in our industry. It is now a huge player in the launch services space, and the industry now eagerly awaits news on SpaceX’s proposed constellation. Last year, in recognition of the company’s outstanding efforts, Via Satellite presented Gwynne Shotwell, the president and COO of SpaceX, with its coveted Satellite Executive of the Year award to much acclaim. A year later, we talk to Shotwell exclusively about what she thinks will be the key talking points of this year’s event, as well as some of the major trends in the industry going forward.
VIA SATELLITE: SATELLITE 2019 will be a melting point of Low Earth Orbit (LEO), new satellites, new markets, and new launch vehicles. Do you believe we are at an inflection point for the industry in terms of where it goes next? Are we upon a period of huge change for the industry?
Shotwell: Our industry has seen dramatic changes over the last 10 years but candidly, this is true for so many industries — constant change is the way of the future. Reusability in launch services was once considered an impossibility, and is now quickly becoming expected of new launch vehicles. Competition has increased, which has driven costs down. As a result, customers have more options, both in satellite technologies and launches. It will be very interesting to see who can survive (besides SpaceX).
VIA SATELLITE: What do you think will be the main topics/trends discussed at this year’s SATELLITE?
Shotwell: Increased competition in the telecom market, and small satellites as a key market demographic, with new opportunities being developed to serve this audience.
VIA SATELLITE: The lack of Geostationary Orbit (GEO) satellite orders has been a major trend in the industry over the last couple of years. Are we now at a stage where the lack of satellite orders here is now in permanent, terminal decline?
Shotwell: We’ve seen a bit of a lull in the satellite industry as folks are assessing the available technologies and how they’ll accelerate going forward, which suggests we are in a period of significant change. As the market adjusts, we are seeing a decline in geostationary orders, but other aspects of the market are steadily increasing. The small satellite market has experienced impressive growth over the last few years, and everything points to continued strong demand going forward. And there have been some exciting new developments in the commercial market, particularly around human spaceflight, Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), lunar missions, Radio Frequency (RF) monitoring and analytics, and combinations of technology to combat global problems, such as illegal fishing. In addition, reduced launch, satellite, and related technology costs are making constellations more feasible. There are a lot of new opportunities to be excited about.
VIA SATELLITE: Do you think a number of these LEO operators will be successful or are we returning to the boom and bust of the late 1990s?
Shotwell: There have been some transformational changes in the cost structure of both space launch and satellite technology and manufacturing. These changes create a very compelling new business case for the use of satellites.
VIA SATELLITE: Do you believe the industry is entering a very uncertain period right now?
Shotwell: We believe the industry is entering an incredibly exciting period where competition is high, which is driving innovation. With innovation there’s always uncertainty, but also great opportunity. In just the last few years, Falcon 9 became the most frequently launched rocket worldwide and has taken over 50 percent of the commercial launch market. It's exciting that the market has responded to our unique ability to provide reliable, affordable launch services.
We just launched our first commercial flight of Falcon Heavy, and last year we began testing and development for our Starship vehicle, which can carry payload greater than 100 mt. Our customers are taking advantage of these opportunities. Cost effective launches are allowing them to think about their businesses in different ways. While we may see a slowdown in the short term of traditional opportunities, as new technologies mature, new opportunities will take the place of the old.
VIA SATELLITE: Finally, what do you hope to get out of SATELLITE 2019? What are you most looking forward to about this year’s event?
Shotwell: Satellite is one of our best opportunities to connect in person with our customer base from across the globe. It’s also a great place to get a pulse check on where the industry is headed. At SATELLITE, we get deeper insight into how our customers’ needs are changing, which helps us ensure our business can continue to be nimble and support those changing needs. VS