Archives for category: Space Business

I recently participated in my first Startup Weekend event: the unfortunately-named: Techstars Startup Weekend Seattle: Space Edition.

As someone interested in the commercial space industry, I was so excited for this event, which required us to think like entrepreneurs in the #NewSpace industry.

My personal goal for the event: How can I create a business that increases awareness of space technology and generates revenue for the space industry? And because satellite technology is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the space industry, I focused my attention on a satellite-based business.

If you’re interested in trying out the lean startup philosophy, a Startup Weekend is a great experience, regardless of what industry you want to work in. Here’s some advice from me on how to make it great.

What’s Startup Weekend like?

Our eight-person team invented, tested, and iterated a product for the space industry in less than 72 hours. It was an exciting and educational experience!

And I realized that there are a number of tasks you can do ahead of time as a group leader to prepare for the event. If you’ve never done Startup Weekend before, let me assure you it’s harder than you think to do everything in one weekend.

  • Identify the product assumptions
  • Conduct online research and meet with mentors
  • Create a prototype
  • Promote and sell the product
  • Make product decisions
  • Keep your team and organizers informed — our organizer required teams to report for standups every 90 minutes
  • Keep everyone on the same page — and productive
  • Satisfy the judging requirements and create a winning presentation

That’s a lot, right? Startup Weekend organizers gave us two tips ahead of time: A) Research your project idea. B) Gather a list of prospective customers so you can pitch your idea.

Both of these tips would be extremely useful and will save you at least 8 hours of work — IF you had a project idea. But I went to Startup Weekend thinking I wouldn’t pitch. I thought I would tag on to someone else’s project. (I was wrong, but that’s a separate story.)

The fact is, there’s a lot you can do to prepare for Startup Weekend even if you’re thinking “I don’t have a startup idea.” Get some of the project management and promotional stuff out of the way so the team can do the real work.

Create these 10 things to prepare for Startup Weekend even if you have no idea what to do.

  1. A working name for the project (like a code name — you can change it)
  2. Trello board for task tracking
  3. List of contact emails — your friends, co-workers, or family members who agree ahead of time that they’ll take your customer development surveys to give you feedback. Load your contact emails into an email service like Mailchimp. After you join a team, ask your teammates for even more (opted-in) contact emails where you can blast your surveys.
  4. Google Forms survey set up with some basic customer development questions (fill in the details when you’ve picked a project)
  5. Link to a Google Doc for immediate idea sharing, with sections for “Product Assumptions” and “Questions” and “Ideas”
  6. Link to a Google Slides document with a pre-built template including the ~15 points you’ll be judged on
  7. Profiles/pages on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn with your project’s working name (again, you can change it easily)
  8. Generic square logo for your accounts (later, when you have a project name, make a $20 logo with BrandCrowd)
  9. Ads accounts for Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Google Ads that are:
    • Pre-verified (if you wait until the start of Startup Weekend, Google won’t finish verifying your account in time for you to run ads). Keep in mind you usually can run ads on your personal social accounts.
    • Pre-loaded with free advertising credits, if the platform offers starter credits
  10. Account on a page builder like Launchrock or one of many alternatives so you can start creating your project website right away

Bonus: create a way to share all the passwords with your team!

You’ll save hours of time if you can do all or most of the above. Which means, unfortunately, you now have hours of work to do before Startup Weekend begins. Get going!

AWS Ground Station, which launched early in 2019, aims to help large organizations start working with satellite data quickly without making enormous capital expenditure investments.

Some number of the roughly 2,000 currently active satellites make their time available for third parties to rent for Earth observation. AWS Ground Station provides the hardware and backhaul so you can collect, transport, and even start processing the data without buying a dish or a server. Amazon’s goal, in my opinion, is to continue to build the value of Amazon Web Services among large organizations by abstracting away some of the IT headaches of obtaining and processing data from satellites.

Amazon thinks AWS Ground Station is a perfect fit for enterprise businesses, academic institutions (who use satellite information for research), as well as government entities. Target use cases for AWS Ground Station include:

  1. Agriculture: Monitoring crop health and water levels
  2. Supply chain: Monitoring shipping and watching out for deviations that may be due to piracy
  3. Public safety: Analyzing wildfires to identify the safest points of entry for firefighters
  4. Retail: counting cars in parking lots to forecast demand (though I note that retailers already have many options for estimating traffic at their own stores)

However, Amazon’s launch customer for the AWS Ground Station public availability announcement fit none of the use cases above. Instead, it was a New Space company, Spire Global, that announced plans to use AWS Ground Station — to supplement their own satellite data-gathering operations. The choice makes sense. Spire is positioned to understand the value of AWS Ground Station long before any single enterprise might sign on.

Top benefits of contracting a ground station service instead of building your own ground station:

  • No capital expenditure
  • No long-term commitments
  • Scale as needed
  • Easily use other Amazon services, like Rekognition and SageMaker, with satellite data

Customers pay by the minute and receive a discounted rate when they reserve in bulk ahead of time. (Scheduled usage of AWS Ground Station enables Amazon to predict demand and merits a hefty discount.)

paeegaf30dg-steven-coffeyToday’s space industry is dominated by:

  • Rockets
  • Research
  • Satellites

But are you familiar with newer segments of the industry? Here are five awesome business models that will get more people thinking off-world — and these ideas have nothing to do with Mars colonies.

1. Tourism

What makes space tourism so interesting is not that it’s tourism but that it’s gonna be big business. Rocketry and satellite communications companies are huge. Tourism will be huge too. Space tourism is also the first consumer space enterprise, which means a few things.

First, a wide variety of people will try it. They’ll all be wealthy, initially, but they’ll have different occupations and backgrounds. Versus other space enterprises, which largely serve highly specialized customers.

Second, a large number of people will try it. It’s affordable enough for a millionaire. Virgin Galactic has 700 people ready to pay $250k for a suborbital flight on SpaceShipTwo. And their XB-1 supersonic aircraft will debut $5k pond hops for elite business travelers at the end of 2017. With few competitors, Virgin Galactic may see the 10 million millionaires on Earth as a big enough market to start with.

2. Global business intelligence

Earth-facing satellites aren’t just for three-letter agencies anymore. The earth observation market is expanding from defense surveillance applications into commercial applications in two cool ways: Read the rest of this entry »

Kurzgesagt is making the greatest science and history explainer videos around. Here, they explain what a space elevator is. Great concept that, if we could execute it, would save billions of dollars for space entrepreneurs.

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Unity VR Principal Designer Timoni West speaking at Dent:Space

Scientists, educators, startup founders, and authors came together for Dent:Space, a fantastically free conference at the Innovation Hangar.


Susmita Mohanty, whose company builds deployable space habitats, called for a softening of US International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), as it’s interfering with rapid global innovation.

Then we heard about a way to build Martian habitats from Keegan Kirkpatrick, who advised Mars-bound engineers to consider in-situ additive construction. If we can figure out how to make Mars soil nontoxic to humans, we’d save a ton of money on the trip.

Timoni West (photo above), who runs Unity’s VR team, shared the most dazzling space-themed VR titles available.

And Scott Manley convinced an audience that they should finally try playing Kerbal Space Program. He remarked that the game had made it easier for students of rocket propulsion to understand the math, because they had developed a feel for rocketry while playing Kerbal.

Favorite quotes

“The space industry doesn’t yet fully realize they need people of different skill sets and backgrounds.” Ariel Waldman, co-host of Dent:Space

“Most space companies work in a very engineering-centered approach. But I think the ISS is over-engineered and under-designed. If you were a consumer or a scientist, you wouldn’t want to put up with that habitat.” Susmita Mohanty, Earth2Orbit

“$20 million usually doesn’t get you a space vehicle. Usually it gets you a 50-page powerpoint presentation.” Will Pomerantz, Virgin Galactic

Selected slides


NASA Advanced Exploration Systems Director Jason Crusan speaking at Dent:Space


Christianna Taylor talks space debris at Dent:Space

And read a detailed writeup of the event at Popular Science.



EDIT: The document featured in this post is no longer being updated. For an up-to-date survey of commercial space companies, try Crunchbase.

Here’s a start to a survey of commercial space companies. The purpose of this document is to give industry newbs a directory of interesting, active companies they might be interested in learning more about.

View on Google Drive: Space Business

If you have any feedback or additions, or if you know of a better document out there, please leave a comment.

Shortly after my “Made in Space” post, I discovered that a company called Made in Space exists. I followed them on Twitter last year as they installed a 3D printer on the International Space Station. Newsweek says:

Their first offering, launched to the ISS in the fall of 2014, is fairly simple: a 3-D printer that prints plastic parts. In itself, this will bring on a manufacturing revolution of sorts. “The first 3-D printers on the ISS will be able to build objects that could never be manufactured on Earth,” says Kemmer. “Imagine, for example, building a structure that couldn’t withstand its own weight.”

Made in Space’s next iteration will be able to print with multiple materials, including both plastics and metals, which means that sometime in the next five years, 60 percent of the parts in use on the ISS will be printable. And just behind this version is the real game changer: a 3-D printer capable of printing electronics.

…[Says Dunn,] “It’s hard to say for sure, but around 2025 we should be able to print electronics aboard the ISS. This means we’ll be able to email hardware into space for free, rather than paying to have it launched there.”

So there you go. Glad to see people working on this problem.