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Space Investing
Section 2 - The Frontier of Space Business
Moving a Mountain of Platinum
Moving a Mountain of Platinum
Here we see a small asteroid containing platinum group elements (PGEs) harvested in preparation for ore extraction on the Moon. A ring of thrusters guides the asteroid for release at a specific point in the free return orbit from the Main Asteroid Belt. Courtesy Phil Smith.

We continue with our overview of space business and investing with a look at space businesses outside of the conventional telecommunications and launch industries. (See Launch and Propulsion Systems - New and Proposed section and RLVCountdown for lists of companies developing lower cost launch systems.)

Remote sensing is a promising area with many possible commercial applications but is still struggling to grow into a substantial industry.

Global positioning is a space business whose activity is on the ground and simply uses signals from government satellites. However, this system would not be viable without satellites and definitely qualifies as a space business.

Microgravity factories in orbit have yet to appear. However, a few companies are managing to make a living in the microgravity research field.

Whole new concepts for space business have also begun to spring up. These include asteroid exploration and mining and remote lunar roving.

Space burial is one new space business that has actually been making money. Celestis (now Space Services Inc.) has recently launched its third payload of cremated remains into earth orbit. Apparently, there is a big demand from customers around the world for this unusual service.

Space tourism is the ultimate space business. Until recently, even most space advocates considered tourist excursions to space to be many decades into the future at the earliest.

But there has been a big change of attitude and many now seriously believe that sub-orbital rides for paying customers could begin 2008 or 2009.

News from the Frontier of New Space Business


Remote Sensing & Reconnaissance

Remote sensing has often been cited as the next big space industry. After many years of promise and struggle, it can now be said that RS has become a real industry with significant revenues and strong growth.

Several commercial high-resolution satellites were launched in the past few years. Companies have merged and/or changed their names as well.

Such satellites provide high resolution images for commercial and governmental applications. Satellites with radar imagers, that can see at night and through clouds, are also coming to market.

BlackBridge (formerly RapidEye in Germany) is a Canadian company that launched five remote sensing satillites. These satellites can provide daily images of the same areas with a resolution of (21.3 feet) 6.5 meters, and a picture strip width of roughly 48 miles (78 km). The primary markets include insurance companies and forestry and agricultural users.

The RS industry has the following broad segments:

  • In Space -
    • Optical photo quality images - High-resolution images, e.g. can separate objects of 1 meteror less in size, were originally for spysat reconaissance. Now, however, they are offered by commercial firms for many non-military applications such as urban planning, flood and other disaster assessments, environmental monitoring, etc.
      - Space Imaging, ImageSat International, GeoEye

      - Fully commercialized - i.e. the satellites are financed, built, launched and operated as purely commercial enterprises. The market consists of about %50 governmental, 50% private customers.

    • Multi- and hyper- spectral images - most non-military remote sensing satellites do not look for small features but instead look a broad swaths of the earth and divide the light into different wavelengths (i.e. like a prism). The intensities of each band provide a fingerprint that reveals many details such as the mineral identity of a mountain or the health of a wheat field. These satellites are used for all kinds of applications in environmental, geological, oceanographic and many other areas.
      - Spot Image

      - Partially commercialized - i.e the satellites are subsidized or fully paid for by government funds but they are operated and marketed by private companies and the image post-processing and enhancements are also done by private companies.

    • Radar - lower resolution than optical satellites but can see at night, through clouds, and into deep overgrowth.
      - RadarSat International
      - Partially commercialized - i.e the satellites are subsidized or funded by governments but they are operated and marketed by private companies and the image post-processing and enhancements are also done by private companies.

  • On the Ground
    • Post-processing of raw image and data from RS satellites has long been a commercialized industry. The value-added post processing ranges from basic image enhancements to adding map coordinates to the images to image interpretation,e.g.. identifying promising oil and mineral deposits.

      Many such companies work on both satellite and aerial imaging and combine complimentary aspects of both.
      - Fully commercialized

    • GIS (Geographic Information Systems) combines remote sensing with all types of ground information, e.g. census, demographic, etc., to create multi-dimensional databases.
      - Fully commercialized
      - Earthsat

More info:

Global Positioning System (GPS)

Currently the U.S. and Russia have constellations of satellites that transmit continuous signals that receivers (typically called navigator devices) can use to determine their locations. (A European system named Galileo is under construction.) A receiver can triangulate its position if there are at least 4 satellites in range.

The GPS satellites can provide 15 meter horizontal location accuracy to civilian GPS receivers. The deliberate degradation of the civilian signal to 100m accuracy was recently stopped.

Handheld consumer GPS devices are now available for under $100. Boats and aircraft have long used GPS postioning and now there are systems also available for cars.

The signals are provided free (the satellites originally were aimed for military use), although the European Galileo system will charge for signals that provide the highest precision.

The growth of the commercial GPS industry has begun to accelerate as new applications and capabilities appear. The total GPS industry now had revenues of about $12 billion per year as of 2002. (Economist Magazine - March 14, 2002).

  • GPS section offers lots more information on GPS applications and commercial developments.
  • Tracking Systems - GPS and comsat based systems for tracking trucks, railway cars, containers, etc.


See the archive for previous articles...

Continue to

  • Top: Introduction + News + GEO Space Businesses - information & links concerning businesses that rely on satellites in geostationary orbits.
  • LEO + Support Space Businesses - information & links concerning businesses that rely on satellites in low and medium altitude orbits. Also, links to various businesses, such as those that build ground stations, that support the systems based in space.
  • Space Business Resources - various resources related to space businesses such as links to space investment sites, research reports, etc.


The Art of C. Sergent Lindsey







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