There is a ton of useful data that can obtained by analyzing the earth’s surface, e.g. 854 shipping containers in San Francisco seaport or 89 parking spaces open at your local car park. By opening up realtime, high-resolution satellite imagery, one could make an API to open hidden data about the earth’s surface and let developers build applications off the back of it. This is just the start of that idea: opening up more sensor data from space will provide new earth-bound applications:
Nanosatisfi - affordable access to space through a user-programmable imaging and data platform for $250/week. Fundraising right now on Angel List. The prospect of running an experiment in space for $250 is highly exciting. Imagine an AWS for satellites. Check out Skycube as well and ArduSat.
Skybox - developing microsatellites to deliver high-resolution imagery of any spot on earth in realtime. Closed recent funding with Khosla and BVP.
Terminal Velocity Aerospace LLC - basketball-size re-entry capsules for data and payload return for the nanosatellite industry.
Pine Aerospace - seeking to provide high-res imaging and analysis for the oil and gas industries, to help them monitor and clean up spills. The company plans to use microsatellites and unmanned aerial vehicles. These guys are chasing a valuable vertical that Skybox may want as well.
Part of the core problem with successful space commercialization is going to be getting up there. We need to bring the price of getting into orbit down by orders of magnitude. Just in the same way that we crushed the pricing of computation, digital storage, DNA sequencing and DNA synthesis, we will collapse the $/kg ratio of getting matter from the earth’s surface into orbit:
SpaceX - grand visions for making space travel cheaper and widening the exploration of space. These guys are going to drop the price of getting into space and take us to Mars.
Electric Take-Off - low-cost aviation and space launch with tethers. While writing this post, I got a quote from the founder John Carpinelli - “Electric air freight could be cheaper than trucking, and less costly than rail when you consider infrastructure costs. A nation-wide grid of electric launch systems could provide fast clean transport for people and goods without burning fossil fuels. Air taxi flights would only cost a few dollars per passenger. Winches are used today for launching gliders. Electric Takeoff extends the glider tow concept with higher altitudes and speeds. Supersonic and suborbital flights are possibilities as well.”
Liftport - lunar space elevator. They have plans to make it easier to land onto the moon. This might help OffGlobe’s plans to build a datacenter on the moon.
Unreasonable Rocket - developing a commercial nanosatellite launcher.
One of the best ways of getting funding into the industry is to engage thrill-seeking space tourists. Prices to get to orbit are falling rapidly and it wont be long before it costs $10k to get into space.
zero2infinity - high-altitude ballooning space tourism. Bookings are open for start of commercial operations in 2014-2015. Ticket price per person: $150,000 for a 2 night stay and a 6 hour flight, with 2 hours at maximum altitude.
Space Adventures - sending private citizens into space since 2010.
Virgin Galactic - Richard Branson’s outfit planning sub-orbital and orbital spaceflights to astrotourists.
Energy storage and generation in space is a fairly open commercial space. Not only do we have to generate energy in space, we also have to store this energy and transfer it between entities. Designers and engineers seeking scalability problems need look no further.
LaserMotive - wireless power-delivery systems using laser beams to transmit electricity without wires.
Digital Solid State Propulsion LLC - solid-state propellants that can be switched on and off using only electrical power.
This area is already thriving with the satellite communication companies. Moving datacenters beyond government controls and taxation jurisdiction. Having a lower latency data transfer between spacecraft. The possibilities are very open. Who will build the first space ISP? Who will own the off-earth datacenters? Who will be the Verizon of Mars?
OffGlobe - building the first commercial data center on the moon. OffGlobe will deploy a solid-state network storage array. Linked with stations on earth, customers will be able to purchase off-planet storage space and have access to the communication network we operate from the surface of the moon.
With demand for electronic goods driving metals prices through the roof, we may have to start looking for resources outside of earth. Likewise, 3D-printed self-building spacecraft will need resources to be mined locally.
Planetary Resources - asteroid mining. May be able to work in partnership with Universal BioMining.
WayPoint 2 Space - commerical astronaut training. WayPoint 2 Space is the only fully comprehensive spaceflight participant space training program in the United States.
Investment in space startups is starting to go mainstream. As I said before, Nanosatifi is raising a round on AngelList right now. The appetite for investors to go beyond funding predictable companies is rising.
The Space Angels Networks - an angel network specifically designed for space startups.
Khosla and Bessemer Venture Partners are some of the more space-friendly VCs.
Space is one of the most exciting areas to build a company in right now. The barriers to entry are falling like meteors and the recruitment potential for getting the best engineers working in a space company has never been better. It is possible to build a profitable, high-growth company that can’t be disrupted by trivial platform changes and has the chance to truly change the world. If you are thinking of starting a company don’t forget the biggest platform to build on is not on this earth.