New York, December 9, 2021: Respada, an invitation-only niche platform providing private market opportunities to the ultra-affluent, hosted the exclusive ‘Respada Space Tech Summit 2021’ on 9 December. The summit discussed pressing topics at the interplay of borderless connectivity including, the accelerating demand for smart propulsion, miniaturization, imagery and deep learning. Renowned thought leaders such as Charles Miller Co-founder and CEO of Lynk, Dr. Thomas Clayson CTO of Magdrive, Joel Cumming CTO of SkyWatch, Jörn Spurmann, CCO of Rocket Factory Augsburg and Dr. Raz Itzhaki, Co-founder and CEO of NSLComm Ltd were part of the panel on ‘Emerging Applications,’ which was moderated by Jess Johnson, Program Manager of MIT Small Satellite Center. While the panel on ‘Investing in Aerospace’ included distinguished industry experts such as Matt O’Connell, Operating Partner at Data Collective Venture Capital (DCVC), Will Porteous, General Partner and COO at RRE Ventures, Justus Kilian, Partner at Space Capital and Michael Mealling, General Partner at StarBridge.
In the keynote speech, Johnson gave an introduction to the space landscape and the different kinds of players in the industry. Elucidating that over a quarter of the satellites in orbit now are brand new satellites placed within the last year, she noted how “this is a time of rapid expansion and shifts in the space industry.” Johnson also observed that over the last 20 years, space shifted from being a “more government-focused activity to being a broad-focused industry with many different players."
Speaking about emerging trends in space, Miller thinks the biggest game-changer will be ultra-low-cost access to space. “Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and others are building reusable launch vehicles which are soon going to change launches per month to launches per day,” he remarked. Miller also asserted that “a new era has begun in the space industry and there has never been a better time to become a part of the industry." On the same note, Cumming highlighted how cost reduction can drive a massive adoption of satellite imagery. "On the application side of things, it is critical to have low-cost data to power non-geospatial experts and non-defense use cases. For instance, adoption of satellite imagery by oil and gas companies to monitor its pipelines can reduce its costs by over 75%,” Cumming explained. Adding to the conversation, Dr. Clayson spoke about the rise of in-orbit servicing as the next biggest trend. “We are going to have spacecraft that can service, refuel, repair, and inspect one another. A whole ecosystem is going to be built in space that benefits other spacecraft," he said.
While discussing the gaps to be addressed in the space industry, Dr. Itzhaki pointed out the need for inter-satellite connectivity as a key driver of safety. “It is overwhelming that every satellite manufacturer has its own terminals and they cannot communicate with one another. Inter-satellite connectivity is an essential infrastructure of safety and it also creates new ways of harvesting information from space,” he said. Similarly, Dr. Clayson called for a centralized traffic control system which allows spacecraft operators to instantly get in touch to avoid delays which increase fuel consumption and thereby increasing the cost of the maneuver.
We are going to have spacecraft that can service, refuel, repair, and inspect one another. A whole ecosystem is going to be built in space that benefits other spacecraft.
Further, panelists shared their observations on where the space industry is heading towards. Spurmann believes that the colonization of the solar system is imminent in the next 20 to 30 years. “We see a lot of trends in that direction with visionaries about the moon and mars colonization. The planet will soon become too small for us and the only way is to expand and create habitable environments on these desert planets,” he said. However, Miller cautioned investors to keep their immediate attention on the markets on earth since “using space to make a difference on earth is where the money is right now.”
The second panel on ‘Investing in aerospace’ convened stellar venture capitalists to discuss how space tech has transformed culture, investments and innovation. O’Connell remarked that it is a great time to get into space since aerospace investing has now reached a maturity level. “Investors can feel secure that they are getting into a field that promises excitement and great rewards,” he commented. Porteous agreed, “It is a beautiful moment for investors because you can look at what has happened in terrestrial computing and you can apply a lot of those models to what space companies are going to develop, in terms of growth, earnings, and performance for shareholders.”
The panel then reflected on their approach to early-stage investments and O’Connell shared, “For early-stage investing we try to choose who the winners are and then spend a lot of time with them to build value.” Mealling revealed, "Our investment thesis is hardly ever about technology. Rather, it is about the business model, the market, competitive advantage, how sticky are you and what problem are you solving that customers care about." Porteous added that before investing he develops a framework around how he thinks a sector will change and how innovation can drive business models. “We also look at where innovation is so powerful that it can create a basis for a new independent company. As soon as we started to understand the pace of innovation in the satellite industry, we realized that we had stumbled upon a staggering set of fundamentals,” Porteous mentioned. As a seed-stage investor, Kilian focuses on assessing the founding team and their capability to achieve transformational breakthrough capabilities. “We also try to understand the foundational technology, the people building it, the market and if the company will be able to carve out a sustainable piece of that market over time,” Kilian explained.
The summit came to an end with an audience interaction where Andrew Young, Partner Member at Respada, asked if geopolitical barriers exist in aerospace investments. Kilian answered, “Historically, the space industry has been vertically integrated and it has been harder to sell outside ally countries. However, with new entrants like SpaceX, regulatory restrictions are changing to create a competitive marketplace. I am optimistic about the ability of the space industry to be a homogenous open technology infrastructure.” In closing, O’Connell summarized how space technology is a natural fit for families given that it is a patient capital investment. “Since families tend to be patient, they can focus their alternatives on a risk that is smaller than it appears and a reward that is going to be larger than expected. Patience is key and I think space technology is a great place for families to be putting their alternative assets,” he concluded.