You’ve probably heard the term before, but what is NewSpace? The term describes the dawn of a new era of innovation in space, fueled by a number of shifting trends.
Today private companies are conducting more and more spaceflights, which used to be entirely conducted by government space agencies. The shift is most visible in the US where crewed missions are now carried out by SpaceX, with Boeing and Sierra Nevada far along in crewed orbital spacecraft development as well. Companies like Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have become pioneers in suborbital space tourism. Private companies continue to vie for the contract to build Artemis’ lunar lander, and several private companies have already launched prototype space stations with an eye toward commercialization for a variety of purposes.
You’ve probably heard of Moore’s Law, that the number of transistors in a microchip doubles roughly every two years. This is largely what has allowed computers to become smaller over time. This also means that the sensors and processors in satellites have gotten smaller and lighter, while energy storage technology has also improved rapidly. Today, a satellite just ten centimeters on a side – slightly larger than a Rubik’s Cube – can perform basic missions.
These smaller satellites are much cheaper to produce, often costing just a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Often it’s just easier to send up several small satellites that can communicate between themselves than a single larger satellite. Small satellite swarms can be more survivable, since losing one satellite means all the other ones are still fully operational. More importantly, for missions involving communications or Earth imaging, it means greater coverage of the globe. It also means there’s a greater chance that at least one satellite is within range of a ground station.
Rockets are becoming more reusable, which is not just spectacular to watch. Whether by propulsive landing or mid-air parachute recovery, reusability means much less material waste per launch in a rapidly growing industry. Saving that material (especially the turbopumps) also means cheaper costs per kilogram to orbit. In many cases, rockets are also getting smaller along with their payloads. Companies like Astra, Rocket Labs, and Firefly simply do not need rockets as large as even a Falcon 9 to serve their customer bases.
Most importantly, access to space is cheaper than ever before and a new economy is booming in low-Earth Orbit! Current projections generally agree that the small satellite launch industry alone is expected to reach $28 billion by the end of this decade. That’s to say nothing of the other growing demands like downlink, and data storage and processing, and the spaceports themselves.
Today these small rocket launch companies, and their clients who want to launch small satellite payloads, have to use old facilities which can support much larger vehicles. In some cases a rocket with a payload of less than 100kg to low-Earth Orbit must launch from a site that could support the Space Shuttle or a Saturn V. With no other way to space, the support of that larger infrastructure gets baked into the launch costs for this next generation of small satellites.
So lastly, New Space is about the shift from massive launch complexes to smaller ones. Ideally these sites are next to the ocean, so that rockets can safely launch over the water. For certain high-demand polar orbits it’s good to launch from a high latitude, over the ocean, to the south or north. Currently there is no spaceport in the US that meets all these requirements and is dedicated to small launch. Here in Maine, we have the perfect opportunity to leverage all of our geographic advantages, build on existing infrastructure at Brunswick Landing and Loring Commerce Centre, and build a rocket launch site off the Washington County coast. Maine is ready to exemplify its state motto and lead in this new industry.
How will we lead in the the New Space Revolution? Watch this space and we’ll spill the beans.