Identifiable near-term space markets, part 1

Providence, RI, December 2009. By Joshua Gigantino, Creative Commons License.

Commercial space development through the early 21st Century has involved mostly large business working with government or multinational corporation to provide defense, communications or Earth-sensing (weather) satellites along with the launchers and ground infrastructure. While extensive, the existing space market is hampered from growth by large upfront costs and risk aversion. Private space development had seen limited successes through the 80’s and 90’s but nothing on the verge of what had been promised in the the Apollo era. In 2004 the Mojave, CA based aeronautics inventor Burt Rutan and his company Scaled Composites successfully won the XPrize by sending SpaceShipOne into a ballistic arc that crossed the 62 mile high threshold of space.

With the success of SpaceShipOne the traditional “giggle factor” of space diminished significantly. A new era of space development appeared imminent. New startups headed by engineers and wealthy Angel investors have come into being and made great strides. Regulatory uncertainty was removed with the creation of the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transport or AST. With the rise of companies such as SpaceX, Bigelow Aerospace, Masten Space Systems, Orbital Outfitters and others including ULA’s interest in commercial launch and a plethora of small-sat manufacturers, a new way of doing business in space has begun to dawn. Recent deals between Solaren and Pacific Gas & Electric show that there is a new way of doing business in space.

The next step is twofold for real success. First is convincing the public that space has real impacts on their lives beyond GPS and weather satellites. We need enthusiastic and educated people willing to do hard, exciting work, some of it in dangerous places. Second is we need many new companies and institutes to form to push the boundaries outwards with new space applications, products and destinations. The goal should be 1,000,000 new aerospace jobs (I didn’t make the video but definitely support the message). Growing an industry intent on providing energy, entertainment, feedstocks and colonization solutions will spur new wealth creation here on Earth. It can create a 4th Industrial Revolution.

The environmental technologies needed to colonize space will directly help Earth’s ecology. Space based Solar Power Satellites (SPS) will have the next great impact on how we live on Earth and the Earth itself. Once we can build 1 SPS we can build 1000 and begin to seriously consider not needing fossil fuels for power. Commercial SPS will create novel opportunities for powering new spacecraft and systems.

Suborbital space tourism and research flights will be commonly available in the coming few years from Virgin Galactic or XCOR. Orbital tourism, while expensive, has been available for nearly a decade. These are fairly known but potentially elastic markets especially with a reliable craft. Space Adventures has provided an exciting 6-month training, 10 day flight time orbital Space Flight Participant program profitably for a decade. Scaled and Virgin Galactic are flight-testing their SpaceShipTwo designs now.

With commercially available building blocks of space components, an enterprise will be able to put together complete space systems from communication satellite clusters to new space station in exotic locations. Bigelow Aerospace will have commercially available station modules available in the coming years. Organize, purchase a BA-330 and SunDancer, fly them on ULA or SpaceX rockets and start your own space station – hotel, casino, research or exploration basecamp. A space station will still be a capital project but they will be available in quantity, soon, placed in the orbital slot or interplanetary transfer orbit of your choice. On a smaller scale, today you can buy a CubeSat, an open-source 1-kg satellite, and fly it for $40,000. Planetary landers and crewed tugs are available with little more than a phone call and the money. These components are becoming readily available to mid-size and smaller organizations.

Elements in this nascent ecosystem can be readily combined to exploit new economic niches. With the components described above and others combined with enough money in the next decade will enable interests to place outpost anywhere in the Inner Solar System. Enablers such as small flight-ready nuclear plants or VASIMR style engines can have an amplifying effect but just Bigelow modules plus commercial launch can put significant numbers of people in space, doing all sorts of things, within a decade. Space will cease to be a place of missions or data transmission and become destinations, ports of call, outposts, basecamps to go further.

Part 2 will cover some specific next-generation niches and space applications.

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Panel Discussion: Mobile Internet, From There To Here, Nov 4, 2009, RInexus/RIEDC

Mobile Internet: From There to Here
Location: RIEDC
Panel: Jack Templin, Jonathan Stark, Anette Tonte, Joel Evans plus Brian Jepson
Jack: Whats happening, the tech, why and why you should care.
Brian Jepson: Overview. First smartphones were very simple. New ones such as G1 or iPhone are very advanced – games, Augmented Reality, etc. What has changed?
2002 – now (2009): Great user experience, 3G networks, always-on phones
Though April ’08, no Apple programming book sales at O’Reilly. Release of iPhone, Apple book sales spike. From 50 to 2500 books per week 1 year later.
Challenges: walled gardens, technology and user lock-in, spotty 3G coverage, half-assed app stores.
Google/Android and Apple “get it”.
Apps: opening iPhone, Android choice up. Unlocked phone (both cell and ability to install your software on your device), growth driven by good app stores. Brian has seen growth in other mobile programming books but iPhone is dominant in book sales.
Panel Intro:
Jack Templin, RINexus and Providence Geeks, Moderator.
Jonathan Stark, writer, strategist, book available online now. Comes to mobile from web to telecom. Platform fragmentation is awful. Write with standard tech and wait for the phones to catch up.
Anette Tonti, CEO Mofuze, Bluestreak ad server, time is now for mobile web for midsize business so that non-technical people can manage mobile sites.
Joel Evans, owned geek.com, CEO Cronk Software. Has been making mobile software for over a decade. Microsoft is not out of the mobile game yet. Cronk makes games and apps for iPhone, deep apps not broad apps. Compared to MoFuze, Cronk’s software uses the compass and other custom hardware, requires custom code.

JT – The technology, adoption rate and pricing all coming together, key moment in mobile Internet.
AT – 1000s of MoBlogs @ MoFuze, growing subscriber base of US and international businesses. $7.95/month for a mobile, hyper-local site.
JE – Apple transformed industry, Microsoft had the first app store years ago but Apple is setting the standard. Easy and fun to use, answers “What do I want to do when mobile?”

JT – “It’s time to go online.” – narrow & deep or broad & light experience?
JS – It depends on your goal.

JT – Is it possible to support rich web content broadly?
JS – international – go for SMS. Examples include Twitter, Aardvark, GOOG411.
AT – Most apps are downloaded, used twice then never touched again. Some countries have over 100% cell phone penetration (100% plus multiple phones for some). We will not end up with 1 or 2 phone platforms.

JT – Will they all become smart phones?
JE – Less turn over in some markets, Microsoft OneApp, Point-of-Sale via SMS means no need for more advanced phones, J2ME as lowest common denominator in phones means a decent base experience for everyone.

JT – What are the issues behind localization and internationalization?
AnnetteT – Self-service internationalization has led to many Indonesian blogs on Mofuze.
JonathanS – Not a solved problem, Google Wave shared operating environment provides live translation, the “Holy Grail” of telecomm.

JT – The other mobile experience in next 5 years, Augmented Reality – Layars, information and games like “mosquitos”, need better input. These show the very fast changes in mobile.  Augmented reality is awesome, becomes more useful when not looking at a device.
JE -TED, MIT talk projected computing like Sixth Sense – will it go mainstream? Yes.
JonathanS – Bluetooth headsets make you look crazy but so what?

JT – What’s in store in the next 2 years?
JE – With cloud computing, the device does not matter, only access matters. Google Apps as a an exemplary platform.
JS – GMail is “good enough” across all devices.

JT – Devices are hard enough, working with cell networks is even harder – What does RI have for connectiivity?
JE – WiMax rollout coming, iPhone 3G problems – AT&T doing a $4billion build out, Verizon LTE having problems w/ rollout, AT&T’s EDGE through 3G have had rollout issues.

JT – AT&T service in last 60 days (sept-oct) is unbelievably bad. 100% dropped calls for himself, others not much better.
JE – No connections available for iPhones in Manhattan, puts phone on old EDGE network for great connectivity. 4G is 10x speed of 3G, AT&T politics – larger area vs smaller areas – 30% dropped calls in Manhattan.
AT – feature phones as counter point to troubles with iPhone and other smartphones.

JT – RI is the #2 in landline bandwidth.
JE – Cox may go into local mobile market.

JT – will traditional web models profits port over to mobile?
AT – models have to be tweaked to work, definitely not ad banners.

JT – What is the cash potential?
AT – AdTech conference happening in early November, 2009 saw Jeep place the first $1million ad buy for mobile devices. Mobile advertising is part of multichannel plays, very early but growing.

JT – Location based ads sound great on paper. Do they work?
JE – It is the holy grail, done in 90s in Europe and Asia, the biggest stumble is privacy, now people don’t care as much about it. Approach is important, tremendous upsale potential.

JT – Prefer the anonymity of iPhone app’s servers for location services over showing location to friends on Google Latitude.
AT – Phones are 4 billion devices versus 1 billion computers.

JT – Affiliate leads? Does it work?
AT – Guarantee agencies will try it. mentions MoFuze integrating with existing ad networks.

Q&A

Q – Wifi as alternative to regular cell networks? Other remediation strategies especially for current iPhone users?
JS – Verizon MyFi, creates a hotspot for several devices, monthly fee.
Brian – My MyFi has a $15/day option for lighter use.

Q – When does mobile become the dominant platform?
JS – with the Nook book reader, etc, the web will be standard on lots of devices.
JT – Does mobile/desktop distinction go away?
JE – importance of user experience.
AT – Mobile vs desktop as experience is totally different.

Q – charge per bandwidth on mobile?
JE – Sprint has great prices but loses $$$ monthly.

Q – How do we make all this come together?
JT – RINexus and Providence Geeks.

Statement – People in Africa use cell minutes as currency.

Q – What about hosted apps? Favorite apps?
Brian mentions Augmented Reality and Wikitude.
JS – Google Maps is unbelievable.
AT – Photo Exchange, micropayments using interactive media. Real Estate and other small-mid businesses using technology for advantage.
JE – Red Laser barcode scanner.
Brian – SMS4Africa, diagnosis and treatment.

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