The New Space economy is poised for a big growth year in all areas, from satellite manufacturing to rocket launches, and satellite self-servicing. It’s also poised for a lot of competition, with much of the buzz centered on recent SPAC (special purpose acquisition company) deals and IPOs, as well as advancements in technology.
“I can't imagine a more exciting time in the space industry,” said John Rood, chairman and CEO of Momentus, which is working to provide space infrastructure services including space transport and in-orbit servicing. “The space economy is rapidly growing and more players with unique perspectives and interesting ideas are rallying to shape the space economy.”
In 2022, Momentus has lots of plans in the works, but is especially psyched about one milestone in particular: The launch of its inaugural Vigoride vehicle, which will provide in-space transportation services mainly in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO).
“We’ve done extensive ground testing of our technology and our priority milestone is to put our technology through its paces in space as early as June 2022, pending receipt of the appropriate government licenses and our efforts to get our vehicle ready for launch,” said Rood. “Our team has been working incredibly hard to prepare for this opportunity. We are also planning a follow-on mission in the second half of 2022, subject to the same caveats.”
The company is also looking forward to testing its Microwave Electrothermal (MET) propulsion technology that uses water as a propellant in space.
“The MET technology has been the subject of many studies in university labs since the 1980s, but we are pioneers in commercializing it,” said Rood.
Rood’s enthusiasm is contagious and reflected by a growing number of New Space entrepreneurs and industry veterans, who see the skies as their template for making a big mark — and a profound impact.
“We are seeing a revolutionary approach to delivering satellites and other spacecraft across a wide range of companies,” said Mello, president of Firefly Aerospace’s government subsidiary, Firefly Space Transport Services (STS), which successfully completed its first orbital test last September. “The space ecosystem coupled with the space economy is something [ Firefly Aerospace] is planning to capitalize on with our launch, in-space, and lander businesses. We are focused on delivering to our commercial and government customers with the most innovative workforce driven by a passion to change how we transport to and in space.”
Betting Big with SPAC Plans
One area of particular interest in 2022 is the high number of recent SPACs and IPOs within the space industry.
While the SPACs have existed since the 1990s, they’ve become more popular recently, and a number of New Space players have used the route to go public including Momentus, Rocket Lab, Astra Space, BlackSky, Spire Global, AST SpaceMobile, and Planet.
“We successfully took Momentus public via a SPAC merger in August and we were quite pleased with the low rate of redemptions relative to some other recent de-SPACs,” said Rood. “This transaction provided us with significant capital to evolve our business. We’ve been a public company for approximately six months and our focus now is on the future.”
However, Firefly’s Mello cautions that while his company is not opposed to a SPAC as a means to raise capital, a company should show repeatable reliability in its ability to achieve their customers missions and generate revenue before going public.
“Our decision to launch out of Vandenberg Space Force Base, versus other less regulated spaceport complexes, was born out of our desire to test our readiness capabilities,” he said.
Meanwhile, Terran Orbital, a satellite manufacturer that is undergoing $1.5 billion SPAC deal with Tailwind Two Acquisition Corp., has its sights set beyond 2022 as it builds out what CEO and founder Marc Bell referred to as the world’s largest satellite manufacturing facility in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Merritt Island. The company already operates a 128,000-square-foot facility in Irvine, California.
The new 660,000-square-foot Florida factory will be capable of producing thousands of different types of space vehicles per year, including 1,000 complete satellites and more than 1 million satellite components per year, according to a company news release.
“No matter who you are, we can build it,” said Bell. “We have a one-stop solution … we’ll do the whole nine yards for a customer.”
Looking Further Ahead
Plans for 2023 may look even brighter if 2022 goes as planned.
For example: Terran Orbital’s Bell expressed excitement for the company’s buildout of its own constellation of small Earth observation Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellites to offer persistent, real-time Earth imagery for multiple applications.
“As a kid I wanted to be an astronaut,” said Bell. “And a little less than 10 years ago I discovered the cubesat, went to Space X, saw rockets and thought to myself, ‘Why would someone build something the size of a school bus when computing is so small?’”
Firefly Aerospace, meanwhile, is focused on delivering customer payloads to their preferred orbits, at their chosen times and their chosen seat mates.
“We are not the space bus of the future, we are space Uber to take you where you want to go,” says Mello. “The other important trend is the proliferation of launch vehicles companies aimed to disrupt the market. Our end-to-end space transportation goes beyond the standard launch company.”