Space: The Final Business Frontier

T-minus 10, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one– The space race isn’t just global superpowers duking it out for bragging rights and technological supremacy anymore Private companies, lots of them, are rushing to commercialize not just the final frontier, but the act of getting there I am a sports guy, this is like March Madness to me It’s one and done, I got one shot to get to the end or else I’m either gonna fail, run out of money, or be gobbled up by someone else And whoever figures out how to make launch safe, affordable, and convenient is going to take the next giant leap We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard 60 years into the space race, the way we leave Earth has changed remarkably Zero, all engine running Liftoff, we have a liftoff, 32 minutes past the hour Space seemed like a vast, black desert, but now we’re ready to make the desert bloom I’m talking about opening space up to business, to private enterprise Opening space up to commerce and experimentation and development Why? To improve the quality of life on Earth 25 years after Ronald Reagan signed the Commercial Space Launch act, the desert has begun blooming I think if you’re a young person in 1969 and you saw people walking on the moon, and 50 years later, we still haven’t gone back, I think that’s a little disappointing I think they took that, their hopes and dreams of their youth, and are applying it to today’s marketplace And I think they’re having a fantastic success In the world of rocket launch, there are two very distinct races going on The first are the large rocket companies like SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and Blue Origin Jeff Bezos has reportedly invested billions already in Blue Origin and will invest billions more Liftoff SpaceX has also raised billions of dollars and acquired very large contracts from NASA as well, in order to fund both development and operations of its vehicles Liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket But they aren’t the only players in the game There’s a heated race picking up between small and medium launch companies There’s a subset of the community not named SpaceX, not named Blue Origin, trying to figure out, okay, how we get there fast? Companies like Rocket Lab, Relativity, Firefly, and Virgin Orbit Right now, there are more than 100 small launch companies competing not just to get to space, but to see who can get there most reliably, cheapest, and then repeat it over and over and over again And ideally, end up with their business in the black Because in time, new industries rely on these launch companies getting payloads into orbit And any missteps can spell disaster Not just for a rocket, but an entire company There is a $200+ billion commercial space industry right now today There are a couple of huge markets that have been very profitable The most profitable is the satellite industry In 2018, the global space economy was estimated to be around $360 billion $277 billion of that is the satellite industry, which has actually grown over $100 billion over the past decade And for those satellites to get to space, they need to be launched on a rocket Global launches in 2018 increased by 46% over the number of launches a decade ago In many respects, it’s never been easier to put a satellite into space, in terms of the cost and the availability of rockets to ride into orbit And a new era of smaller, cheaper satellite technology is creating this boom Once a year, out in a desert north Utah, the Small Satellite or SmallSat Conference, comes to Logan It has all the trademark features of an industry trade show, bright lanyards, tons of swag, but the deals happening here are carving out what the future of the space economy will look like I’ve been coming to this conference for 20 years and seen it grow from 300 people to over 3,000 So, it is exciting to see that transition

as we move into the next phase Traditional satellites are often powerful behemoths, the size of school buses, costing hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars to build Today, the proliferation of smallsats, CubeSats, even nanosats, can cost as little as $10,000, and can be built with similar hardware that goes into your cell phone They range from the size of a Rubik’s Cube up to about the size of a dorm room refrigerator And so that’s a big difference And so, some of these launch ventures want to launch a few dorm-size refrigerators, and others want to launch dozens of CubeSats And so, they’re trying to divide the market that way Those satellites are providing imaging of the Earth, they’re potentially providing telecommunications services, and they’re attracting quite a lot of investment in 10s, hundreds of millions of dollars, even billions of dollars The Earth’s insatiable need for communications and internet is really what’s driving this huge number of satellites that are going into orbit in the next five to seven years There’s gonna be thousands, if not 10s of thousands of new satellites in orbit in the next five to seven years The question is, are they able to actually provide business services that will be successful? The idea is that entirely new business models as well as revenue streams will be propped up by the data these smallsats collect The imaging and data collected from these smallsats will be used by everyone, from hedge funds to telecom giants to the US government Just think of how much the photos you can get with your Android or iPhone have improved from the first generation to the current generation Similar things happening in smallsats Market research says smallsat manufacturing will nearly double by 2020, with nearly 8,000 new smallsats in space by 2026 The issue is always, small satellites have a lot of capability, but there’s not a good, affordable way to get them into orbit And that’s where the small launch companies see a promising business The fact that a small launch vehicle is much cheaper in total than a large launch vehicle on the order of five or $10 million, as opposed to $50 to $100 million, and there are more customers Say you have a smallsat that you want to launch into orbit Think of the big companies like SpaceX as a bus, and the small and medium launch companies like Rocket Lab as a taxi With large launches, you’re at the back of the bus, after the needs of what’s called the primary, which is the main payload on the rocket, like a big government satellite Your smallsat is just piggybacking off that primary since they bought the majority of the rocket With small launchers like Rocket Lab, you and your smallsat can dictate more of your terms on when and how you’ll fly And you’ll pay for the whole ride So booking a taxi for a smallsat gives you more flexibility about when and exactly where you want to go into orbit But it’s more expensive Sometimes a ride share on a big rocket and the chance to save on your launch expense is more suitable depending on the satellite, its mission, and the budget Far more important is the orbital inclination or the angle of the satellite’s orbit relative to the equator It’s much easier to move a satellite into a higher or lower orbit than to change its inclination And that’s why all launch customers have to decide how their mission priorities and budget can align when choosing how to get to space It’s getting to the point that hitching a ride on the really big rockets, it works for some people, it doesn’t work for all business cases And so you’ve got smallsat ventures that say, we want our own rides Those customers will determine which of these small rocket companies succeeds and which of the companies will fail This is not the internet, where you build up a huge userbase and then you figure out how to monetize them later Launch doesn’t work that way You’ve gotta built up a backlog of customers Out of the more than 120 small and medium-size launch companies out there, just one is successfully launching rockets for customers right now And that is Rocket lab People can actually walk on up to us and we’ll fly them That’s a great competitive advantage to have over, you know, folks that are still developing a vehicle Peter Beck’s Rocket Lab has raised over $280 million from outsider investors, with a valuation of more than one billion dollars, and is currently flying a rocket every 30 days It looked what the hardest thing to do was to go from zero to first successful orbital flight But really, going from first successful orbital flight through to producing one every month has been an equal amount of stress and energy and complexity and toughness We obviously, we’ve completed our test flights, and moved into full commercial operations with the first flight of its business time

And then straight on the heels of that, we flew our NASA mission, and now we’re, you know, we’re building and launching one vehicle every sort of 30 days, every month And while other rocket companies are looking to build their customer base, Rocket Lab can’t meet the rising demand for launches Our biggest issue is we can’t broaden out profits That is our challenge We’ve built four and a half acres of new factories and, you know, we’re pushing in every direction we can to build more capacity We fear that there aren’t, you know, we are the only dedicated solution available on the marketplace right now You know, at an affordable price And so, what we see, a tremendous amount of demand So the demand is there, that’s not the issue The issue is figuring out how to provide reliability, scale, and cadence, while keeping prices as low as possible And each company has its own approach Every company has a unique way to building their rocket You know, whether they’re using liquid, solids, fuels, or a combination of the two Whether they’re 3D printing their stages, everyone has their unique approach to getting to a rocket However, the bottom line is good business in space is exactly like good business on Earth A focus on customers, incremental successes, and a vision that’s supported by a real business model is what works in space, just as it works on Earth One of the companies who believes they have a successful business model is Firefly, a medium-size launch company based out of Austin, Texas So I’m gonna run through this part of the procedure, ‘kay? Please set baming, press logic to the next pressure increment, and and we’ll go in 10 PSI increments, starting from ambient, with a window of one And so, in the next six months, Firefly’s gonna launch this rocket We’ve been working on it for years now, and we’re gonna have that cathartic moment where we launch the rocket, everything’s gonna go great But the outlook for Firefly wasn’t always so rosy This is a very difficult business There are a lot easier ways to make money in the world than building a rocket company And you have a lot of setbacks, you have technical setbacks, you have financial setbacks But the most challenging one for me has been the financial setbacks Firefly, like many other rocket companies, is familiar with financial setbacks Vector, one of the more well-known launch startups, ran into financial woes in the summer of 2019, and saw their CEO depart amid uncertainty about the company’s future Back in 2017, Firefly, then known as Firefly Space Systems, was saddled with financial instability and filed for bankruptcy That’s when Silicon Valley investment fund Noosphere Ventures swooped in, bought their assets, and rebranded the company to Firefly Aerospace I’ve learned a lot about the types of investors that you want to have involved in this That learning has made us, I think, very strong to push through this time As an investor and a sort of, like, you know, one of the financial sort of people behind the company, I try to encourage the company to think beyond simply building a product, but building a business Thank God we went bankrupt, frankly We have a better product now I have a better partner, who lets me do what I’m good at doing and he funds the project, and I’m not off, you know, humping the dot com guys’ legs, please give me another $100,000 Now, after two years of R&D, they’re about to launch their first rocket Our plan is to have five launches next year All five of them will be from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California But the next thing is to start adding technology as an established company, and reusability, and continuing to drive the costs down And we wanna do things in a different way Companies like Firefly are hard-pressed to differentiate themselves to stand out to investors and attract customers We’re differentiated by our payload class Even among small launchers, we are a big small launcher, so, our first rocket, Alpha, is capable of carrying a thousand kilograms, whereas our competitors are more in the 500 kilograms and less area That big a payload means they can service bigger clients such as NASA and other federal agencies like the US Air Force We are on track to be able to provide NASA lunar lander capabilities, landing on the moon in the 2021 timeframe when these would typically be launched in early 2021 Firefly has restructured and rebuilt its organization from the ground up, but the question remains if they can remain competitive when it comes to price We currently have a backlog of about $1.3 billion, and a pipeline of over three and a half billion dollars for our launch services alone If we fly according to our projected flight rates, we expect to be cashflow positive by the end of 2020 We’re very conscious of cost,

that’s one of the fundamental tenets of Noospace, so Firefly will try to be competitive with anyone And we take all competition seriously That competition comes not only from other small and medium launch companies, but large ones as well Like SpaceX, who announced a smallsat solution priced as low as one million dollars for payloads up to 150 kilograms Which equates to approximately $15,000 per kilogram to put something in orbit Coincidentally, that is exactly the same as the Firefly economics for our Alpha vehicle Firefly believes they can deliver something that Elon Musk’s space giant cannot Unlike SpaceX, where those satellites will be one of many, quite possibly one of 60, our partners will have the same unit economics, but will have a much more custom, dedicated offering, it could be one of four or one of five satellites in our faring Ride share’s not the best opportunity for a lot of small satellite customers In some ways, it’s like hitchhiking You don’t get to go exactly where you want to go and you don’t get to go on your own time schedule, and that’s important to a lot of customers In five years’ time, Firefly plans to not just be launching a rocket, but a family of rockets We are interested in building a multi-billion dollar business And in order to do that, we know that we need to be cost competitive with whatever the market throws at us, not just simply what the competition’s doing today And one of those competitors is in Long Beach, California Virgin Orbit is an offshoot of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space company And while they’re a medium-size launch company, just like Firefly and Rocket Lab, their approach to getting a rocket into orbit is a bit different Virgin Orbit is a dedicated small satellite launch vehicle that is seeking to revolutionize the small satellite market We’re utilizing our flying launchpad, it’s a Boeing 747 400 aircraft that we modified, and it has an attached rocket under the left wing of the plane It’s a two-stage rocket, liquid oxygen kerosene rocket It has been flown before and has many successes Some of those other successes are by their sister company, Virgin Galactic, who has used this launchpad drop technology for space tourism instead of small satellites, which they believe is a difference maker in the industry Everything we built around the air launch system is meant to mitigate against, you know, long-term delays For example, an air launch system can fly in most weather conditions Because we’re air launch, our cadence is very quick, so it only takes four to six hours to really fuel the rocket, you know, attach it to the plane, and take off on a mission And having that flexibility, having that quick cadence turnaround time is critical to making sure that payloads can get to orbit when they wanna get there That flexibility is what most small launch companies hope will set them apart That responsive rapid launch to exactly where you want to go, that appeals to government users Government missions, scientific missions, government military missions, government intelligence missions are all exploring the potential for lower total cost small launch vehicles that can do exactly what they need, when they need it And without even having a successful full-duration test launch, Virgin Orbit already has a backlog of customers Of course, we see the market expanding There’s a lot of potential out there So we certainly could see ourselves providing even more launch support than, between 20 and 24 a year, and of course that is a more mid to long-term goal Ignition Liftoff The future for companies like Rocket Lab, Firefly, and Virgin Orbit looks promising But what about the hundreds of smaller launch companies out there? Will everybody survive? Probably not There’s not enough demand for 100 and some odd rockets that are currently in development We absolutely believe that the window to invest in launch has already closed There are some investors who made some early good plays here That are going to work out very well, but at this point, the industry is well past that kind of venture capital investment stage, in our opinion So, we see it shaking out to maybe 10 companies surviving The launch industry is unforgiving It’s not very tolerant of failures On behalf of Arianespace, I wish to express my deepest apologies to our customers for the loss of their payload And telling them how sorry I am If you’re having a bad run of luck, you don’t get a whole lot of patience out of the market before people start using other rockets The technology of space activities is fascinating, the technological challenges are extraordinary, the competence that it requires to conduct operations in space is intimidating

The launch industry has an energized, passionate collection of engineers, venture investors, and designers singularly focused on moving private enterprise off the planet It’s not just a new industry, but a new way of seeing the world and working above it Once you have that cheap access to space, now you have entirely new business models that close that didn’t before You have an entirely new cases for space as an environment You have an entire ecosystem of support services that are developing to support those satellites that are being launched in the next five to seven years And so, that has kind of unlimited amount of economic development, economic growth possibility there You know, I like of liken where are right now to the very first beginnings of the internet, where were just starting to send emails That’s really where we are in space, we’re just starting to send emails And if you think, if you go back, when, you know, you just started sending emails and if I said to you all of the stuff that was gonna occur because of the internet, you wouldn’t believe me, right? You would think that’s just crazy But that’s where I think we’re at right now, is we’ve sent our first email, and now space is opened up to innovators to really try new things That’s why perfecting the world of launch is just the beginning Rockets aren’t just providing a platform for spaceflight, but a platform for innovation as we figure out the business of how we get to space The next problem is where do we stay? On the next episode of Giant Leap, the International Space Station its nearing its retirement And NASA wants to open the door for commercial companies to develop the technology and the business to create our next space habitats