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Consolidation and Climate: Space Industry Trends to Watch in 2023

By Awais Ahmed | January 20, 2023
      3D render of planet Earth viewed from space. Photo: NASA

      3D render of planet Earth viewed from space. Photo: NASA

      The past year saw huge advancements in the space industry. We witnessed landmark achievements such as the discovery of the earliest galaxies seen to date, and the release of the first images from the James Webb Telescope, marking the dawn of a new era in astronomy. Space has once again entered the mainstream, inspiring the world with the depth of what is beyond the pale blue dot we call home.

      However, as the industry faces a looming recession and companies experience increased pressure from all sides, it’s a critical time to be strategic about what is next. Leaders needs to make tough decisions, get realistic about their goals, and focus on the steps they need to take to lead their teams to success and profitability.

      In 2023, we’ll see companies double down on innovation, consolidation, and sustainability efforts. While the deep space missions will continue to garner eyeballs, the focus will shift towards technologies that can help create a more sustainable and transparent world. We will see climate change, forestry and carbon use cases being prioritized more than ever. And we must remain laser-focused on technological progress. Here are a few trends to keep an eye on as the space industry accelerates in 2023:

      Asteroids make a comeback (not Dimorphous though!)

      The promise of asteroid mining to support our resource-stricken planet has been an elusive dream for space enthusiasts for a long time. But we will inch closer to the goal this coming year.

      When NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft successfully crashed into an asteroid as a test of Earth’s planetary defense system, it felt like humanity finally avenged the dinosaurs. But the success of this project is only a precursor of the missions to come. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission will return a sample of asteroid Bennu to Earth, NEA Scout will take off next year, and there are missions planned to metal-rich Psyche and Hera to Dimorphous. In addition to NASA, JAXA and the UAE are looking at their own asteroid missions.

      Beyond the financial promise of these resource-rich asteroids, we may see government-led space agencies ramp up their experimentations as we better prepare humanity’s planetary defenses and a resource-rich future in space.

      Climate scientists turn to space to address extreme weather and climate change

      With extreme weather incidents occurring at an accelerated rate year over year, worldwide disaster response efforts are experiencing shortages that have left us ill-prepared. For example, an oil spill off the coast of California in 2021 was initially undetected, until locals began to smell a strong gas odor in the air. But what if the climate scientists and emergency response officers could’ve turned to hyperspectral satellite imaging to capture the spill? The issue could’ve been possibly addressed within a matter of hours, rather than a couple of weeks.

      The unfortunate truth here is that this technology hasn’t traditionally been accessible or affordable for emergency response efforts. But recent advancements in satellite imaging have democratized access, making it easier for anyone to understand and afford the data with near-real-time analytics. With commercial companies providing high-resolution hyperspectral imagery at regular intervals, unprecedented weather changes or disasters like these can be mitigated in a more timely and efficient manner.

      In 2023, we’ll expect to see emergency response teams begin to integrate advanced satellite imaging in their efforts to accelerate response time. This will help reveal key data as we tackle disasters including wildfires, oil spills, gas leaks, and any extreme weather events and help better predict future phenomena.

      Sky-high space startups come in for joint landings

      Today, launching a spacecraft is 10x cheaper than it was a decade ago. In 2010 space launches averaged around $3,200 per kg and now can go as low as $200 per kg. Due to the onslaught of larger rockets, we’re seeing the cost of launches per kg decrease significantly, allowing more startups around the globe to bring their first orbital launches to fruition.

      With Starship, Vulcan, and Ariane 6 poised to fly in 2023, the new year will bring bigger, better, and more cost-efficient rockets. However, more market players mean more competition, and we’ll see new startups and rocket companies vie for similar customer bases. Paired with an economic downturn, some companies will need to make tough calls, and even combine forces.

      Since there are more players on the field, the cost of supplies and the overall economic downturn will force many smaller companies to readjust. Companies will prioritize building in-house or procuring locally to reduce the dependencies on an inconsistent global supply chain. The wave of space startups buoyed by venture capital during the pandemic will face new challenges, and well-capitalized space companies will begin to acquire those with fewer resources to weather the storm.

      As leaders in the space industry, it is our responsibility to continue pushing the boundaries of what is possible. While it is understandable to be cautious in the face of an economic downturn, we mustn’t lose sight of the advancements that are yet to be made and the progress to be achieved. We can view this challenging time as an opportunity to refocus and deeper understand our goals while building slowly but surely. By focusing on innovation and technological advancements we can help secure a prosperous and sustainable future for the space industry, and the world as a whole.

      Awais Ahmed is the founder and CEO of Pixxel, a space technology startup building a constellation of hyperspectral Earth imaging satellites. Pixxel is based in Palo Alto, California, and Bangalore, India.