The space industry is utilizing emerging technologies including 5G, advanced satellite systems, 3D printing, big data, and quantum technology to upgrade and scale activity and operations in space. Many services such as weather forecasting, remote sensing, global positioning system (GPS) navigation, satellite television, and long-distance communications systems critically rely on space infrastructure. Moreover, new SpaceTech trends such as smart propulsion, space robotics, and space traffic management are also gaining traction in the emerging space industry. Together with increasing private investment in the industry, startups develop the technologies to ease movement, operations, and communications between Earth and space.
Innovation Map: Top 10 SpaceTech Trends & Innovations
Covering more than 1.139.000 startups & emerging companies, we use our proprietary StartUs Insights Discovery Platform to identify innovative applications and solutions that will impact the space sector in 2021. Our Innovation Analysts conducted exhaustive data-driven research to identify the various innovation trends and technologies emerging in SpaceTech. For this research, we analyzed 2.162 startups and emerging companies and present the Top 10 SpaceTech Trends along with 20 highly relevant solutions for each of them.
The Innovation Map below visualizes the major SpaceTech trends that impact the sector and showcase two hand-picked startups for each trend.
Tree Map: The Impact of SpaceTech Trends
The Tree Map below illustrates the top 10 SpaceTech trends that will impact space companies in 2021. Startups & scaleups build small satellites like CubeSats and NanoSats to reduce the economic cost of launching vehicles into space. Companies also develop reusable launch vehicles to further reduce the cost of launching rockets into space. Fast and secure communications using satellites incorporate advancements in hardware like antennae, transmitters, and receivers. With an expected growth in space traffic, startups are creating feasible solutions for space travel and traffic management, as well as junk and debris removal. Finally, low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites, along with big data & analytics, play a crucial role in the success of future space exploration and missions.
Global Startup Heat Map: SpaceTech Startups & Emerging Companies
For this analysis, we used a data-driven startup scouting approach to identify the most relevant solutions globally. The Global Startup Heat Map below highlights the global distribution of startups & emerging companies that also include the 20 promising examples out of 2.162 relevant space technology solutions. Depending on your specific needs, your top picks might look entirely different.
Top 10 SpaceTech Trends in 2021
Small satellites are increasingly becoming common in recent years, making it the top trend among SpaceTech trends in 2021. Miniaturized satellites allow for cheaper designs and advancements in industrial technologies enable their mass production. Startups develop small satellites that enable space companies to conduct missions that large satellites typically struggle with. Moreover, small satellites are well-suited for use in proprietary wireless communications networks, as well as for scientific observation, data gathering, and monitoring the earth using the GPS.
Space Inventor utilizes Small Satellite Modules
Danish startup Space Inventor intends to break the pico-satellite tradition of stacking circuit boards in a satellite frame and instead re-institutes the use of modules. The startup compiles sub-systems with thermal stability, shielding, and mechanical ruggedness into modules to build small satellites like CubeSats. This then saves time for engineers who build and assemble satellites.
EnduroSat develops NanoSats for Secure Communications
Bulgarian startup EnduroSat provides NanoSats and space services to business, exploration companies, and science teams. The startup’s NanoSats achieve robust data handling of up-to 10 payloads. The satellites incorporate an embedded operational modes framework that considerably boosts efficiency. The small satellites enable secure communications for telemetry and telecommands using high-speed X-band and K-band frequencies.
2. Advanced Space Manufacturing
Space manufacturing adopts innovative technologies to improve space products and services. With the advent of advanced robotics, 3D printing, and light-based manufacturing, innovations and improvements for the space industry also progress. Large space structures, reusable launch vehicles, space shuttles, and satellite sensors have become a reality, owing to innovations in manufacturing processes. Automation is vital for the space industry and emerging space manufacturers focus on solutions to cater to the needs of space transportation.
Momentus manufactures Reusable Rockets for Public Transportation
US-based startup Momentus makes transportation to space affordable through their reusable rockets. After the final drop-off, the reusable vehicles de-orbit to another orbit. The reusable vehicle is equipped with robotic arms and is capable of performing proximity maneuvers, docking, and refueling, and is well-suited for an entire range of in-orbit services.
Equatorial Space Systems develops Commercial Sub-Orbital Rockets
Singaporean startup Equatorial Space Systems develops a commercial sub-orbital rocket capable of delivering small payloads above the Karman line, the boundary between space and atmosphere. Designed for cost-effective missions, the startup’s Dorado comes in two variants – a single-stage vehicle capable of reaching an apogee of 105 km and a two-stage version designed to exceed a target altitude of 250 km. The two rockets provide 3 and 6 minutes of weightlessness, respectively.
At its simplest, space communications rely on two things: a transmitter and a receiver. A transmitter encodes a message onto electromagnetic waves. These waves then flow through space toward the receiver. However, recent technologies in space communication go beyond transmitters and receivers, to offer advanced communication in space through high-capacity antennae, ground stations, and low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites.
Thorium Space Technology develops Ultra-Flat Interference-Free Antenna
Polish startup Thorium Space Technology develops an ultra-flat, scalable active-matrix antenna. The antenna uses a band that is relatively free from interference from the Earth or space. As a result, it improves throughput and system capacity when compared to the existing systems. Besides, the antenna uses high radio-frequencies and incorporates the functionalities of electronic control and beam modeling.
Arctic Space Technologies decentralize Processing Power for Ground Stations
Swedish startup Arctic Space Technologies brings computational power next to the software-driven ground station. Instead of relaying satellite data directly to the cloud and running into data bottlenecks, the startup decentralizes processing power next to the station. This enables true real-time processing, without latency, while reducing bandwidth and storage requirements on the network.
4. Space Traffic Management
Of all the man-made LEO satellites, a vast majority of them are now space junk. This includes rocket thrusters, derelict satellites, and most of all, tiny fragments of debris from collisions and explosions. All of this debris threatens the future of space travel. To tackle this situation, startups develop feasible solutions for debris retrieval and space traffic management.
ClearSpace removes Satellite Relics
ClearSpace, a spin-off from the Swiss EPFL Space Center, develops technologies to remove unresponsive or derelict satellites from space. The startup’s small satellite solution finds, captures, and removes man-made space debris repeatedly. The startup plans to remove the first pieces of debris from space by 2025.
OrbitGuardians develops Low-Cost Active Debris Removal Technology
US-based startup OrbitGuardians is a commercial provider of active debris removal services. The startup aims to protect space workers, tourists, and operating satellites by actively removing dangerous space debris smaller than 20 cm. By utilizing computer vision, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT), the startup enables low-cost debris removal by acquiring all the available debris parameters like location, size, and the number of debris chunks.
In-space propulsion is an important subsystem for satellite constellations. Given the costs and environmental impact that come with space missions, companies seek ways to ensure the sustainability of these missions. Hence, global startups & scaleups develop several solutions ranging from electric propulsion, green propulsion, and water-based propulsion to iodine-based propulsion systems to propel the next generation of clean rockets in space.
ThrustMe develops an Electric Propulsion System
French startup ThrustMe offers an electric space propulsion system that uses iodine as a propellant. The startup’s solution is a low-cost propulsion alternative for bigger satellites. ThrustMe’s technology finds applications in newer satellites, as well as in products designed to solve emerging challenges associated with the rise of satellite constellations.
Dawn Aerospace develops a Non-Toxic Propulsion System
Based in New Zealand and the Netherlands, Dawn Aerospace builds same-day reusable launch vehicles and high-performance, non-toxic propulsion systems for satellites of all sizes. The startup’s SmallSat Propulsion Thruster simplifies systems and replaces poisonous hydrazine with nitrous oxide and propene. For CubeSats, it increases capabilities by supplying significantly higher performance than electric-based propulsion systems with the same propellants.
6. Space Activity Management
Activity management is an emerging SpaceTech trend that concerns the management of movement and activity in space. Space activities include tourism, industrial missions, satellite servicing, food production, waste disposal, and space station improvement. Such trends create more room for the scientific community, for example, by enabling the study of how living things behave in space.
Orion Span develops a Space Station for Tourism
US-based startup Orion Span develops a next-generation space station platform, Aurora Station. Unlike custom-made one-of-a-kind modules that have been used on the International Space Station (ISS), the startup’s modular architecture is configurable in many different ways. Further, with the ISS facing retirement over the next several years, the space station will support space tourism by providing a spacious interior, large observation windows, personal sleeping quarters, and food.
Obruta Space develops a Device for Servicing Satellites
Canadian startup Obruta Space Solutions develops a device to enable new satellites to be serviced in-orbit. The startup’s Puck extends the operational lives of satellites with refueling services and upgrades. The device also allows satellites to extend their lifespans while aiding in their eventual removal and enable humans to sustainably occupy orbital environments.
Space exploration addresses the fundamental questions about our Universe and the history of our solar system. By addressing the challenges related to space exploration, humans find opportunities in advancing mining, material science, and life science research. Space missions also widen the scientific and technological advancements while inspiring the future generation of students, teachers, and researchers worldwide.
Lunar Station develops Technology to Visualize the Lunar Environment
US-based startup Lunar Station Corporation develops a technology platform to convert lunar sensory datasets into 3D visualizations of environmental conditions on the Moon. The MoonHacker Analytical Engine and Delivery Platform provides Moon Navigational Services that enable rapid and mission-specific intelligence to plan missions. Together, MoonHacker and Moon Navigational Services provide clients with cutting-edge lunar environmental intelligence.
Helios develops In-Situ Resource Utilization Technology for Lunar & Martian Missions
Israeli startup Helios provides in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) technology to realize the vision of setting permanent lunar and martian bases. The startup’s Molten Regolith Electrolysis Reactor separates the abundant oxides found on Martian and Lunar surfaces. The startup’s reactor then converts into oxygen and various metals such as iron, aluminum, and titanium. The startup also works on storage technology to enable the optimal utilization of produced oxygen.
8. Space Mining
The mining of celestial bodies is shifting from science-fiction (Sci-Fi) to reality. The mining of asteroids by private individuals and companies through advancements in space cameras and satellites aid in the precise location of asteroids. Once located, these celestial bodies can be used to extract minerals such as platinum, gold, iron, or even water. Indeed, the economic incentive for space mining is evident and analysts predict that space mining & extraction activities could potentially translate to a billion-dollar industry.
Asteroid Mining Corporation develops Satellites for Asteroid Mining
British startup Asteroid Mining Corporation develops a satellite to prospect near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) as mining candidates. The company develops a series of different spacecraft for prospecting, exploration, and extraction, with each craft performing a particular mission. The startup’s proprietary dataset generated from its Asteroid Prospecting Satellite One (APS1) mission guides explorers to specific mining candidates.
HEO Robotics utilizes Space-based Cameras for Asteroid Mining
Australian startup High Earth Orbit Robotics combines intelligent control with space-based cameras to acquire high-quality imagery of satellites, space-debris, and resource-rich asteroids. This imagery is then useful for locating and observing asteroids for mining. The startup builds small satellites that operate in the High-Earth Orbit (HEO) to observe celestial bodies.
9. Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) Satellites
A Low-Earth orbit (LEO) is relatively close to Earth’s surface and is normally at an altitude of less than 1000 km but could be as low as 160 km above Earth. Also, LEO satellites do not always follow a particular path around Earth. This means that there are more routes for satellites in the LEO. This makes it a feasible target for space companies. To this end, scientists develop relevant solutions and techniques to deal with LEO-related challenges, including communication systems and data management.
SpaceAble provides a Decentralized LEO Satellite Inspection solution
French startup SpaceAble provides an on-demand in-situ asset inspection solution for LEO satellites. It works on a decentralized approach to outer-space awareness and provides the space community with critical data and operational safety of the LEO. The startup is currently in the process of creating a safe environment, free of redundancy and other malfunctions.
WARPSPACE develops an Optical Telecommunication Service for LEO Satellites
Japanese startup WARPSPACE promises LEO satellite operators with optical telecommunication services from 2023 with their optical data relay network in the Medium-Earth Orbit (MEO). This network will develop communication with the LEO satellites using an optical link. Users only have to equip a small optical transceiver that the startup provides. Further, by using their services, LEO missions aim to utilize the optical network to achieve a 1-Gbps connection.
10. Space Data
LEO satellites and multi-satellite constellations are increasingly in use for communication, spying, earth monitoring, and other imaging applications. With large volumes of data from these satellites, there is a need to process, treat, analyze, and manage the information. Startups tap into SpaceTech trends of data processing using AI, blockchain, and big data to offer secure data solutions for the space industry.
Kleos provides Bespoke Space Data
Luxembourg-based startup Kleos delivers its data products via application programming interfaces (APIs) to suit customer’s requirements. Guardian RF presents unprocessed data from the startup’s satellites, suited for companies with their own geo-location analysis or signal intelligence capabilities. The Guardian LOCATE data delivers geo-located RF activity data. Lastly, Guardian UDT is a user-defined data set that allows the selection of specific areas of interest, such as ground station and level of security.
LeoLabs offers Satellite Tracking & Space Intelligence
US-based startup LeoLabs provides data services for precision tracking and monitoring of satellites using their orbital products and phased-array radars. The startup also provides data for quick location and identification of new payloads to LEO through ephemerides. Their data services provide space intelligence and awareness by tracking satellites and space debris in real-time using a network of radars.
What does this mean for Space Companies?
These SpaceTech trends rapidly accelerate research in space communication, advanced manufacturing, robotics, big data, material science, and 3D printing. Space technologies not only benefit the space environment but also helps Earth improve processes to become sustainable. Space technology helps combat climate change by predicting the weather more accurately, confronts humanitarian crises with space observations, and mine asteroids or prevent potential asteroid impact.
The innovation areas outlined in this research on 10 SpaceTech Trends only scratch the surface of what we found during our analysis. Identifying new opportunities and emerging technologies to implement into your business early on goes a long way in gaining a competitive advantage and becoming an industry leader.