Weekly Takeaways-Yuri's Night Edition
Happy Yuri's Night! Yuri’s Night commemorates when Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space on April 12, 1961. Since that moment when we slipped the surly bonds of Earth, the space era can be broken into three distinct epochs: The Space Race The early decades were dominated by the space race between the US and USSR, when space missions were developed exclusively by government agencies. The Large Commercial Operators
By the 1980s, commercial space companies were starting to form around creating commercially-viable business outside just government contracts. This era saw the rise of large satellite operators like Intelsat, which was originally formed as an International Government Organization, and PanAmSat, the scrappy operator determined to break Intelsat’s monopoly. Unfortunately, a conservative mindset, expensive launches, and the failure of the first LEO constellations in the late 90s helped chill the momentum towards truly commercial space companies. The New Space Era But that changed in the 21st century when adventurous venture-backed space startups, like SpaceX, Skybox, Planet Labs, and ABS, showed that space could be innovative - and lucrative. This drew in new investment and created an explosion of new space companies, growing from practically nothing in 2010 to $272B invested in nearly 1800 companies today. But more importantly, it enabled a virtuous cycle that brought cheap access to space, with launch prices falling from tens of thousands of dollars to a few hundred dollars per kilogram. What does the Future Hold? The commercial sector continues to see companies exiting, maturing, forming around novel business plans, and developing space-terrestrial hybrid networks. And as commercial space takes over activities traditionally done by government agencies, these agencies can focus on science and ground-breaking missions like the James Webb Space Telescope and Artemis program. This, in turn, has enabled a new space race, this time to bring us common folk to orbiting space stations, the moon, and even Mars. Yuri Gagarin would be impressed. Last Week's Theme: A Chain is only as Strong as its Weakest Link
Even though “China has a 'stunning lead' over the US" in most quantum technologies, the US is still considered to be more advanced in quantum computers. But the US Department of Commerce is worried that they could catch up.
The US Department of Energy has identified the development of quantum technologies as a priority “for electrical grid efficiency and sustainability efforts.” The US Navy also has their own quantum research for “a vision of a Navy equipped with even more secure communications networks, more advanced sensors, and the faster threat detection and response that comes with them.”
Concerns about the vulnerability of GPS and other satellites continue, with some believing the solution may come from commercial space:
The Director of National Intelligence 2023 Threat Assessment report has concerns that China has a GPS backup and“enough anti-satellite weapons in space within the next two or three years to disable all GPS satellites at once…Many analysts believe that GPS will be the first thing to fall in a conflict with China.”
The Department of Defense CIO: “Our potential adversaries also know how much we rely on GPS.The adversary is going to try to come at it on day one of any potential conflict.”
The director of the Space Development Agency believes that we need resiliency using different orbits, anti-jamming technologies, and large quantities of cheap satellites: “We'll put up hundreds and hundreds of satellites…[that] are more affordable than the missiles that you need to shoot them down.”
The More You Know...
GPS has been the gold standard for global position and timing for nearly three decades. It is estimated that there are over 6.5 billion GPS receivers in the world – nearly one for every person on Earth. But that commonality is also a weakness, as it makes it difficult to change. If you had the freedom to create a competing system, you may end up with China's BeiDou, which has optical links, two-way time transfer, Global Short Message Communication and Search-and-Rescue Services. Even though it was only fully operational a few years ago, BeiDou has more satellites and ground stations than GPS to give it additional coverage, accuracy and resiliency. And they have announced plans to provide “global decimeter-level positioning and navigation” (compared to a few meters), and “underwater, indoor and deep space coverage.” That isn’t to say there aren’t plans to improve on GPS. But most of these improvements are focused on military users.