Jason Andrews tells us how space industry is changing and opening up...

Jason Andrews tells us how space industry is changing and opening up for innovation

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Smaller, lower-cost satellites that are able to effectively operate as an autonomous swarm could greatly affect the way our industry and customers approach geospatial data, says Jason Andrews, CEO, Spaceflight Industries. 

There is a lot of talk going around about revolution in satellite industry and democratization of space. What exactly does this entail?

There is a revolution occurring in the smallsat industry that is lowering the barrier to entry for commercial entities from a complexity, timing and cost perspective. Because smallsats are developed with commercial technology, we are able to build less expensive, larger satellite constellations that allow for more opportunities. Also, we are seeing a new model driven by commercial companies that are committed to making space more accessible and affordable for organizations outside of government and defense.

It is said the ability of satellites to transform businesses and quality of life is significantly more relevant today than ever. Can you elaborate?

The commercialization and heightened access to Big Data globally has made satellite imaging, data, and communication less expensive and more prevalent. In the near future, almost anyone with the desire will be able to explore our world in ways never dreamed about some 20 years ago.

Through BlackSky’s geospatial service which includes an expansive catalog of commercial satellite imagery as well as the ability to task satellites for near real-time imagery, organizations can monitor such things as the changing environment, economic trends, and international activities. Combined with a diverse set of sensors and analytical capabilities, we envision this enhanced earth observation will lead to a better understanding of our world and ultimately positive change. Our corporate philosophy is to use “up there” to make “down here” better and we are passionate about helping organizations do that.

There has been a rise in the number of startups and new companies in the last few years who are driving dramatic innovations, such as nanosats, reusable boosters and new software technologies for real-time data access and analysis. How is this changing the space industry and opening up further innovation?

Advances such as nanosats and reusable boosters play a major role in reducing the cost of space missions, especially from a launch perspective. These innovations, along with advancements in sensor integration, machine learning, predictive algorithms, and natural language processing techniques, contribute to providing relevant and timely insights that help organizations understand their world, as events unfold. It goes without saying that being alerted of critical events related to your area of interest is extremely powerful when it comes to making decisions.

Advances such as nanosats and reusable boosters play a major role in reducing the cost of space missions, especially from a launch perspective. These innovations, along with advancements in sensor integration, machine learning, predictive algorithms, and natural language processing techniques, contribute to providing relevant and timely insights that help organizations understand their world, as events unfold. It goes without saying that being alerted of critical events related to your area of interest is extremely powerful when it comes to making decisions.

We also see the low-cost satellites leading to more number of satellites and faster and cheaper launches. This also means increasing the intelligence of satellites and innovation in communication bandwidth between them allowing them to operate as autonomous swarms. How can some of these innovations open up new frontiers?

Smaller, lower-cost satellites that are able to effectively operate as an autonomous swarm could greatly affect the way our industry and customers approach geospatial data. They allow us to increase the amount of relevant data we can gather and analyze in a shorter period of time (for a lower cost). This is a real game changer for commercial entities when it comes to making well-informed business decisions about global assets.

Do all these advances mean more and more space-based sensing and connectivity services with continual increases in image resolution and the area satellites can cover at a lower cost?

From the recent trends we have seen in the industry, we believe these advances, along with the advances in the economic models of commercial space launches, will continue to make geospatial intelligence more affordable and accessible for everyone.

There is also a talk about a “sharing economy in space”? What does it entail? What will be the results?

The concept of a sharing economy in space is essentially what our launch business is built upon, and is similar to other industry disruptors such as Airbnb and Lyft. Our launch services company, Spaceflight, offers the most access to global launch opportunities by working with nearly every launch vehicle provider on the planet.  Customers can hitch a ride to a popular destination or secure a launch on one of our dedicated rideshare missions. As the secondary payload, we’re able to secure an extremely cost-effective option for our customers.

How can we create a more humane and just world by democratizing access to space-based resources? And what are the major challenges — technical, legal, political and regulatory?

Increasing access to geospatial data will allow organizations to take immediate, informed action on the challenges people today faces, such as humanitarian efforts, environmental projects, rapid population growth, infrastructure, and security issues. Due to the speed and scale of the problems people face today, the solutions will demand access to new perspectives and information that can be provided by space-based resources.

With BlackSky, we are the first to attempt to build and scale an entire system from developing the user interface people use to search and buy imagery, to combining the images, ground sensors, social media, news and other data feeds, building and operating the satellites, and bringing the images back to Earth. While challenging to bring it all together, it’s also rewarding to see the progress we’ve made thus far. As for regulatory challenges, we support the push for a more progressive environment and more funding for regulating agencies such as the NOAA.