Space startups are beginning to see the work they’ve done for years gain traction as NASA returns to the moon—opening up entirely new industries and opportunities for private companies.
- NASA successfully launched its first moon rocket since 1972 on November 16. The unmanned Artemis 1 mission orbited the moon and its Orion capsule will be splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on Sunday, December 11.
- The Artemis Program is scheduled to launch four manned lunar missions between 2024 and 2028, but it won’t be an entirely government-backed program.
- Part of NASA’s mission was to integrate the project more deeply with private aerospace corporations and startups. In addition to SpaceX’s supporting role in Artemis IV, multiple companies are competing for contracts for important roles in the program.
- Aquarian Space is a communications company that is preparing to launch satellites that will provide 24/7 reliable communications, internet connectivity, 4K video streaming, and high data rates for lunar rovers, satellites, and astronauts on the moon.
Why it’s Important
The recent launch of Artemis I has brought the reality of space travel into the public eye once again. The possibility of a permanent moon base, space tourism, and Mars colonization over the next decade is creating opportunities for startups that want to be on the cutting edge of a new industry.
Kelly Larson became the CEO of Aquarian Space in 2018, shortly after the Artemis Program began its early stages of development. The company was started with the vision of being the “internet service provider for the solar system”—taking advantage of the massive expansion in space technology and innovation to make her company a vital part of this future industry.
Up until recently though, it was very difficult to convince investors and colleagues that manned space exploration was going to be a viable industry. Larson and her colleagues are experiencing success and welcoming the enthusiasm of the general public.
“A lot of people are unfamiliar with the extraordinary market expansion that is hitting the moon right now. It’s been coming for a while though and we saw it. It took a while to get investors on board but it’s finally happening and the public is starting to get it. The moon is going to get very busy very fast in the next decade. As things get up there and more real, it’s only going to increase,” says Larson.
Backing up a Bit
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine made commercial engagement a major priority for the Artemis Program. As we previously reported, the private market for space has expanded in the past five years and the competition and contracts being handed out by NASA played a major role in opening that industry. It represented the ignition of a huge new commercial market.
In doing so, it has also benefited companies by helping them work around logistical challenges and bureaucracy.
“What NASA has done by encouraging commercial providers is taking a big part of red tape and bureaucracy out of it. There’s bureaucracy and red tape and there have been plenty of times it’s taken several months to convince NASA that something is the right approach. The beauty of what they’re doing with their commercial approach is to put the onus on the company to do what they do best, innovate, and not be slowed down,” says Aquarian CTO John Rotondo.
Aquarian Space is still in the process of securing financing for its missions, but it has already laid out a plan of launching two satellites by 2025 and potentially launching a Mars satellite as early as 2027. As of 2021, there were 13 orbiters surrounding the moon, but there will be more than 250 by the end of the decade, in addition to lunar landings and lunar rovers. Her company will play a major role in communications for the future of space travel.
Larson expects commercial space will overtake government programs like Artemis by the end of the decade, but until the industry has come to fruition though there is still a need for collaboration and communication as hundreds of companies and agencies work together to put billions of dollars worth of equipment into orbit, learning new technologies, and learning from each other’s mistakes and successes.
“There is no way to do anything in space without incredible collaboration. We have to do it together. We as a company benefit from strategic partnerships and pull together with the spectacular work they’re doing,” says Larson.