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It was a big year for the space industry. 2023 is going to be even bigger • InNewCL

It was a big year for the space industry. 2023 is going to be even bigger • InNewCL

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Another blockbuster year for the space industry is drawing to a close. In fact, 2022 may have been the most successful year for space travel in recent memory — at least since 1969. The historic pace of SpaceX, the launch of the Space Launch System and the return of the Orion capsule, major engineering demonstrations, ispace’s fully private lunar mission… it was a significant year.

There is much to look forward to – so much that next year could even surpass this year as the biggest yet for the space industry. However, many questions remain, particularly around the near-term economic outlook, ongoing geopolitical instability, and (ahem) some announced timelines that may or may not materialize. Here are our predictions for the space industry in 2023.

1. More pressure at the start

It seems clear that the pressure on the introductory market will increase as more next-gen vehicles come online. We’re looking not just at heavy-lift launchers — like SpaceX’s Starship and United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan — but at a whole range of smaller and medium-weight launchers that aim for low cost and high rate of fire. These include Relativity’s Terran 1, Astra’s Rocket 4, ABL Space Systems’ RS1, Rocket Factory Augsburg’s One Launcher and Orbex’s Prime Microlauncher. As we mentioned above, the space industry’s schedules are notoriously tricky (and that caveat applies to this entire post), but it’s likely that at least a handful of new rockets will make their first flights next year.

Evidence that new vehicles lower prices and increase inventory means more launches and dates are available for private and state-owned companies alike – and incumbent players have to work hard to maintain the lead they’ve built.

2. Major developments from Britain, China and India

The international space scene will continue to grow. While there’s plenty to look forward to in Europe, we have our eyes on the UK, China and India. From the UK, we await the country’s first-ever space launch with Virgin Orbit’s Start Me Up mission from Spaceport Cornwall. We also expect a lot of activity from the Indian Space Research Organization as well as the launch startup Skyroot there. China had a big 2022 – including completing its own space station in orbit and dispatching multiple crews of taikonauts – and we predict there will be no slowdown next year as the country tries to keep up with America’s industrial growth.

Exactly how private space decentralization will affect the industry beyond a handful of major launch providers and locations is hard to say, but it will definitely help diversify the projects and stakeholders going into orbit.

3. Continuous growth for Satcom and Earth Observation

Two satellite images, one hyperspectral, show more information.

Photo Credit: Pixels

Much like the launch, next year we will see even more satellite constellations, large and small, that will put pressure on the satcom and earth observation (EO) industries. Just two examples: Amazon’s long-awaited Kuiper project is expected to be launched for the first time next year, and Pixxel will launch six high-resolution hyperspectral imaging satellites in the second half of the year.

Most estimates assume that both satcom and EO will see more growth over the decade, so we don’t expect newer entrants to crowd out existing players. But we believe we will see even greater adoption of, for example, Starlink or satellite-to-cell services here on Earth, as well as even greater relevance for Earth observation technologies in sectors such as agriculture and mining, and for understanding climate change.

4. Capital management helps determine winners and losers

The macroeconomic environment is bad. High inflation, high interest rates and high risk aversion mean cash is more expensive than ever. We see this trend fading slightly, but not completely, so we anticipate that capital management will be a critical factor in startup survival. Investors will also be looking more than ever for technical differentiators and real market potential.

“One thing that’s changed a bit in the market is that it’s more important than ever that the company you support has a very clear technical differentiator and an advantage when doing your technical due diligence,” Emily Henriksson of Root Ventures said onstage during TC Sessions: Space earlier this month.

In the space industry in particular, we have seen a real investment slowdown in 2022. Many space companies that went public as a result of the SPAC merger continue to underperform. 2023 will be about debt management, institutional bloat (and possibly more layoffs, unfortunately), and capital management.

5. Private astronauts will reach record numbers

Blue Origin Launch Shatner and crew

Credit: Mario Tama/Staff/Getty Images

Private… astronauts? Ten years ago this sentence would have been nonsensical. But no more: In 2022 alone, nearly 20 people flew to suborbital space aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket, and four people flew to the International Space Station on Axiom Space’s Ax-1 mission. Next year we expect even higher numbers. Polaris Dawn, billionaire Jared Isaacson’s private space program, will not only make its maiden mission; Axiom will conduct its second private launch to the ISS early next year.

In 2021 there was hardly a ticket to space; In 2022 it just became unusual; By 2023 we’ll probably be tired of hearing about it! Expect more next year about the next big space tourism milestone, privately accessible space stations, but don’t expect serious movement there until companies figure out how to make the business work.

6. More activity on the moon and in cislunar space

This year concludes with ispace’s Mission 1, the world’s first fully privately funded and built lunar landing mission. But this is just the beginning. Keep an eye out for even more landers heading to the Moon over the next year—we’re eyeing Firefly Aerospace’s Blue Ghost lander and Astrobotic’s Peregrine—and even more infrastructure is moving to cislunar space.

As more lunar tech companies make strides toward their goals, those that don’t become even more noticeable. Mergers and acquisitions in this space wouldn’t come as a surprise.

7. Even greater emphasis on American manufacturing as supply chain crisis continues

Our final prediction is broader but has major implications for the space industry. We see investors and founders placing an even greater focus on domestic supply chains and manufacturing in 2023, and this is only likely to intensify if relations between the U.S. and foreign governments — particularly China — continue to deteriorate.

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