By Tim Parsons
Smartphone-driven miniturisation, Big Data techniques, 3D printing, digital culture, startup entrepreneurship. These phenomena, invented on Earth, are having a profound impact on Space.
Specifically, the arena known as NewSpace or Space 2.0: where startup companies are rapid-prototyping tiny, almost disposable, nanosatellites capable of performing Earth observation and space science missions that only a few years ago required massive, five to 10 tonne behemoths costing hundreds of millions of dollars and taking decades to build.
More than 2,750 of these 10cm ‘Cubesats’ are likely to be launched into low-Earth orbit (LEO) over the next five years. Most will last only between three to six months before burning up – but that is enough time to do previously unthinkable science and commercial demonstrations.
Rapid economic development in the 2nd-world economies like ASEAN, combined with advancements in technology – and a dash of dot-com culture, are fuelling accelerated growth for the commercial space sector, which we rely on for everything from the time, maps, and weather on our smartphones to managing climate change, deforestation, pollution, and even internet access.
Australia leads the world in many of the ‘downstream’ space-related fields like satellite data processing (although we don’t fly our own satellites yet), 3D-printing, autonomous robotics, Big Data algorithms, and some aspects of spatial mapping. With a huge continent of space management use cases, and an enviable geopolitical position near the world’s fastest growing economies, Australia has a unique opportunity to reboot its commercial space sector and take a lead position globally – with all the downstream scientific, social and educational benefits that can bring.
delta-V is Australia’s – and indeed Asia’s – first space commerce startup accelerator. It is a group of startups, universities and the NSW Government, agreeing that Space 2.0 requires an entrepreneurial approach. We are helping teams of founders take technical innovations and create products which can find customers worldwide. The goal is to provide an ecosystem for customers, suppliers and investors to come together within an exciting industry vertical – and develop a standard reference platform for spacecraft, launch and flight operations, to drive down the risks and costs of space qualification and validation. It’s a nation-building exercise that will require everybody to pitch in – peers mentoring peers and co-peting for international customer dollars.
Combining the talents of two universities – UNSW’s Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research and Sydney University’s SpaceNet group – with two space startups – Saber Astronautics and Launchbox – delta-V’s first outing was at CeBiT in May 2014, where the concept of a space accelerator was market tested and strongly encouraged.
Now we are preparing for an intense program of delivery: a pitch competition for commercial space startup teams, a national program of internationally-endorsed hackathons, a physical HQ in Sydney, and Australia’s first space missions, to help validate and space-qualify startup team products and business models.
Its an intense time, networking with partners globally, advocating for and gathering feedback on the delta-V concept and model, and engaging with stakeholders. But the potential payoff – a larger share for Australia in a burgeoning market for sensors, services, and systems set to grow to almost $A1 trillion by 2030 – is too huge to not take a shot.
We’re getting ready to announce our first launch date and its an exciting time. And we know we can succeed – after all we have some amazing Australian predecessors to inspire us: Atlassian, Google Maps, freelancer.com, redbubble.com – to name just a few. Let’s get cracking!
—Tim Parsons is the founding executive of Sydney’s delta-V Space Startup Accelerator project.