26 Nov 2018 American machine InSight sat on the surface of Mars and transmitted the first image. The event is interesting, but not enormous, given that this is not the first expedition to Mars.

What was noteworthy in this landing — constantly transmit data about the landing module of InSight helped two small accompanying device the size of a suitcase. They provided communication apparatus with the ground in those moments when the line of sight was not. These microsatellites was created in the format of a CubeSat. Their official name is “MarCO-A” and “MarCO-B” but the whole team start to call them names pekarovicova robots from the cartoon “Wall-E” and “Eva”.

The era of the personal missiles?

In 60-e years, computers were the size of a house. Besides professionals, no one noticed as they was first the size of a room, then the wardrobe, until finally in 1971, Intel made a microprocessor, gave rise to an era of affordable personal computers the size of a book. Over the past 40 years originated in the PC market, smartphones and other devices sold billions of copies because of the availability of full-featured solutions built from standard components.

These may not seem so significant. It’s just a standard of the satellite, regulates its dimensions, attachment methods, and other technical parameters. However, These made it possible to truly democratize access to space for the multitude of enthusiasts, startups, and others involved in the space.

The fact that anyone who wants to work in the field of space, not to circumvent the solution of the main problem — how to get there. Very long the industry has built up around the launch of the huge machines, which are designed for special mounting of the payload in the rocket. Accordingly, the launch price was inaccessible to the broader market.

We’re witnessing a revolution of space exploration. When private companies are eager for the space along with the state, by reducing the cost of launches. In the US many student groups and enthusiasts working on space projects, in contrast to Russia where such projects.

In fact, we pirate a repetition of the situation with the microprocessor technology of the time of the creation of Apple in 1976. After only 4 years after Apple was created, the Soviet Union established the first Amateur radio PK “Radio 80”, then “Radio-86RK”, which could be catalysts for research and development in the field of Informatics and computer technology of the USSR.

The moment was lost for many reasons. One of them is the lack of ecosystem, similar to Silicon Valley, when the best and most cheerful gather in one place and in the chaos regular random interactions form a team, able to promote technological progress. The other is the lack of funding, venture capitalists, government agencies require strict accountability, implementation of plans, compliance with deadlines, even if the project is not there and requires a revision of goals and objectives. A similar situation is now emerging in the field of space.

Where to get inventors

Enthusiasts and venture capitalists came into the space due to the success of SpaceX and Blue Origin, but the launch was largely given up when Peter Diamandis in 1995, he founded the XPrize Foundation. The Fund announced that it will give $10 million to someone who can up to 100 km above the earth (official height, recognized as the end of the earth’s atmosphere and beginning of space) and back. The result was a competition 29 companies, the cumulative investment in research and development exceeded $100 million, flying the winner into space and forming industry.

Interestingly, Diamandis created the XPrize, inspired by the example of other competition — Orteig Prize. In 1919 the owner of the new York hotel has announced that it will pay $25 000 to the one who will make non-stop flight from new York to Paris.

Competition plus prize has done its job in both cases. The people who took part in the competition were already highly motivated, but the presence of the prize combined them around specific tasks, focused efforts and resources, forced to move faster, to attract investors and engineers.

What if competition to eliminate? We know the answer to this question. In the book Tim Fernholz “New space race” describes what happened in the space industry and the US before the advent of SpaceX. Boeing and Lockheed Martin fought for contracts for launches, but since they were on government funding, the result was the increasing budgets, the rising cost of launches, loss of market launches (commercial launches of U.S. companies such as DirecTV, was completed not by American missiles). It would have ended in a complete victory of the state, but the efforts of Elon musk prevented. The end this story is not, but everything points to the fact that the United States will continue to support private companies in the field of space exploration.

Different countries make efforts to involve young people to space. In 2009, NASA announced an initiative PhoneSat — designing and building nano-satellites based on smartphones. However, most activity today is in the field of cube-Sats. NASA launched the initiative of the ELaNa (Educational Launch of Nanosatellites). The program launched in 2015. Today selected 151 projects, 46 have already been launched into space. Europe is also not far behind. ESA has also launched an educational program that allows students to design and launch their satellites.

Some time space projects using These and other analogues did not look very serious. For example, the company Nanosatisfi, founded in 2012, collected between ardusat satellite on the basis of Amateur radio Arduino processor, and the funds collected on kraudfandingovoy site Kickstarter. Students could write their own programs and load them through a special service Nanosatisfi directly to the satellite for data collection. However, in July 2014 the company announced that it has raised $25 million in series A round and changed its name to Spire. The next step the company created a companion Lemur-2 for measuring pressure, temperature and humidity of the atmosphere, also used them for monitoring marine vessels. In September 2016 Spire was contracted by NOAA to provide weather data from their satellites. According Owler now annual revenue of Spire is $2 million
In 2010 a small group of physicists and engineers, NASA founded the company Planet Labs. According to old tradition it all began in a garage in Cupertino. The startup sells a daily updated database of photos of Earth, taken with the 150 cube-Sats. In February 2017, Planet Labs, bought Google company Terra Bella and concluded with Google multiyear contract for the supply of imagery of Earth. As at the end of 2018, investments in the company totaled $180 million and annual revenue of $64 million (according to Owler).

Actually Planet offers a cheap alternative to much more expensive government and commercial solutions such as DigitalGlobe was founded in 1992. Digital Globe is a much more high-quality images and has revenues of more than $800 million But the modern technology of processing and analyzing the images gradually blur the difference in capabilities of corporations and startups, and the update rate group allows the Planet to reduce the quantitative gap and increase functional advantage: the startup has launched more than 300 devices, and a few dozen in the last run.

China and Russia are also involved in this process. For example, the Chinese company Spacety, as well as Russian Sputnix offer the market ready satellite platform, which allows startups and other businesses to concentrate on their idea, without spending time designing and testing communication equipment, orientation and energy of the satellite. Unlike Sputnix Chinese are doing a much bigger vehicle, allowing to place more payload.

While China and Russia are far behind the United States in the segment of cube-Sats. According to statistics from CrunchBase in the U.S. there are more than 100 satellite start-UPS in Russia and China, the account goes on tens. So we can say that Russia today is in the same position as that of China.

However, market trends are opposite: China opens its program for private business investment and encouraging private investment. Veterans such as Lenovo Group and Xiaomi to invest in China’s space and satellite startups, particularly in Spacety.

In Russia the situation is teetering between a slow forward and slipping backward: on the one hand Sputnix launches student satellites, albeit in very small quantities. On the other — from Russia leaving the brain, for example, the space startup Dauria founder Mikhail Kokorich went to the USA and launched there another space startup that has raised $8 million in a seed round, and in Russia Dauria it is dealing with claims of “Roscosmos” with non-obvious consequences for themselves and for the entire program of partnership between the state and private business in space. Thus Bauman, MAI and other Universities are designing satellites for scientific purposes that will advance science, but not a commercial component, and private initiatives. As a result, trained personnel can start to go abroad, not finding a place in the current ecosystem.

Meanwhile, today in CruchBase there are more than 280 companies from the field of satellites and more than 1000 of the AeroSpace industry. Even if not to take into account such monsters as OneWeb (the operator of satellite Internet) and its competitor, the StarLink (project Elon musk), it can be expected that in the next few years the space industry will give a lot of unicorns (billion dollar companies). Total investment in private satellites in 2017 according to TechCrunch was about $3 billion, but dramatically increased the number of transactions.

We can assume that the world is no clear leader in the field of private satellite sector: $3 billion in modern terms the venture capital market — little penny, this market can still go new company and country. Component availability and low cost of launches also gives all participants the chance to be in the lead. Of course, China can be considered the main rival of the United States, but Russia still can catch that departing train. Impetus to the development could give the target program a market-driven incentive for space start-UPS through competitions, grants and creation of special conditions for attraction of private investments into Russian space.

See also

Mars attack: why NASA launched to the planet the probe InSight

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