While we haven’t see a blockbuster deal like Softbank’s $1.2 billion investment in satellite communications start-up OneWeb last December, it’s possible we will see something like it before year’s end.
In terms of performance, the commercial space industry is arguably enjoying its best year ever. SpaceX, the industry darling, is on pace to launch more rockets this year than it ever has before by quite a wide margin (the company also plans to fly its much more powerful Falcon Heavy rocket for the first time later this year). Bezos’ Blue Origin continues to test critical technologies and construct new rocket-building facilities. Small satellite constellations continue to grow, bringing the industry closer to the Holy Grail of on-demand real-time satellite coverage of the entire planet.
For the investor who can stomach a little risk, it’s an industry that can suddenly look very attractive, says Marco Caceres, a senior analyst and director of space studies at aerospace consultancy Teal Group. “If you look at the traditional market, nothing exciting is really happening,” he says. “The Boeings and Lockheeds of the world, in terms of launch services or manufacturing satellites — there’s no big boom in the market. But if you look at what’s proposed, it looks like the market in five to 10 years is going to look a lot different.”
The trick is, of course, transitioning from proposed satellite constellations to real, revenue-producing data sets and insights — and doing so before investor enthusiasm runs out. There’s nowhere near enough launch capacity in the world to put all these proposed satellites into orbit in the near term, Caceres says, creating risk for satellite companies and opportunity for new launch providers. But at some point in the next year or two, the entire space start-up ecosystem will have to start delivering in a major way.
“We’re not yet seeing the outcome of investment in a lot of funded companies,” Bryce’s Christensen says. “We’re seeing their ability to raise money, we’re seeing their ability to design and deploy their systems, but we’re not seeing their ability to return profits.”
Starting as soon as next year, that will have to change.
— By Clay Dillow, special to CNBC.com