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Despite pandemic-related setbacks, the NewSpace industry has new players enter the field
by Staff Writers
Los Angeles CA (SPX) Oct 05, 2020

In the United States, NewSpace companies, including SpaceX, Rocket Lab, and Firefly Aerospace, and giants like Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, and Lockheed Martin, have avoided the massive layoffs of other technology-focused industries and emerged relatively unscathed from recent economic downturns.

Earth shuts down and the space frontier opens
2020 started on an exciting foot with 22 successful launches and $1.2 billion in investments. By springtime, however, progress began to falter as the world went into lockdown from Covid-19. The 2020 second quarterly report by Noosphere Ventures found that investments in NewSpace companies and startups fell to $312 million.

Despite the financial setback, 20 launches occurred by the end of the second quarter, including SpaceX's history-making achievement, which brought astronauts to the International Space Station for the first time since the Space Shuttle program closure in 2011. The launch represented the extraordinary partnership between a private space company, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the US government, which will pave the way for the NewSpace Industry.

The upcoming 2020 third quarterly report by Noosphere Ventures will complete the whole picture of the investments in NewSpace, but it is clear now that investments will exceed not only Q2, but the Q1 as well with huge deals by SpaceX and OneWeb, with almost $3 billion USD total investments.

The biggest impact of the COVID-19 was in the behavior of investors. More mature companies and projects are the main trends right now as well as a close shot on first revenues. Not like was before, when investors were ready to wait for 2-3 and more years until the first dollar in revenue.

International space agencies target Mars and the Moon
A favorable window for launching missions to Mars opened up this summer, with a planetary alignment that only occurs every 26 months for a few short weeks. NASA, the China National Space Administration, and the United Arab Emirates Space Agency (UAESA) all took advantage of the alignment to deploy for Mars-focused missions. NASA's Mars Perseverance Rover is expected to land on the Red Planet by February of next year.

China's Tianwen-1 mission sent a robotic spacecraft consisting of an orbiter, a lander, and a rover. UAESA's first attempt to go interplanetary began by launching its "Hope" mission aboard a Japanese rocket. Despite all the challenges from Covid-19, 2020 has already been a banner year for missions to Mars.

At the same time, NASA announced its Artemis program, which aims to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024. This ambitious lunar exploration program is planned to kick off in 2021 with the delivery of 16 science and technology payloads to the lunar surface. In July, NASA secured $628.2 million in funding for the Human Landing System, developing commercial spacecraft to transport astronauts to and from the lunar surface.

Commercial space agencies keep up in 2020
The space industry hasn't shown any signs of slowing down for the commercial space sector. The second half of 2020 promises more opportunities for expansion, with many NewSpace satellite missions and startups jumping in on the action.

The Texas-based Firefly Aerospace announced plans to launch its two-stage Firefly Alpha rocket this October. Firefly Alpha combines the highest payload performance with the lowest cost per kilogram to orbit in its vehicle class. It can deliver one metric ton to low-Earth orbit and 630 kg to the 500 km Sun-synchronous orbit. The rocket's initial launch, scheduled for early 2020, was postponed to both Covid-19 and technical issues.

"It was perhaps a month to a month and a half delay related to COVID. Overall, I think we've been very fortunate that we weren't set back for a longer duration. At Firefly Aerospace, we're very vertically integrated, which (to put it in simple terms) means: the material comes in, and rocket parts come out," said Tom Markusic, CEO of Firefly Aerospace.

Rocket Lab, one of the more seasoned NewSpace companies, faced a minor setback in July when its 13th launch failed on its way to orbit. "Today's anomaly is a reminder that space launch can be unforgiving, but we will identify the issue, rectify it, and be safely back on the pad as soon as possible," said Peter Beck, CEO, and founder of Rocket Lab.

Despite this, the 14th launch of Electron on 31 August was successful. The company plans to stay on track with its launch schedule with three additional launches scheduled for this year from New Zealand's Mahia Launch Complex.

While many companies have been able to overcome recent challenges from Covid-19, some were pushed over the edge. Ranking among the most significant failures is the bankruptcy of OneWeb and Vector Launch. Though both companies faced troubles before the pandemic, the lockdown delivered the final blow. Overall, OneWeb found new investors - British government and Bharti Enterprises Limited, with each of the two parties expected to invest $500 million USD with a total investment of$1 billion USD.

"The only way to survive in NewSpace is to build a vertically integrated business as we do in Noosphere," said Dr. Max Polyakov, founder of Noosphere Ventures, an international assets management firm. "If you're trying to focus on only one aspect of NewSpace, you'll eventually face the crisis. You have to build a full-stack company. For example, if you have only ambitious technology but have no vehicles, you'll be in trouble".

However, the lockdown made its own adjustments. Many launches were delayed, which caused a delay in putting satellites into orbit for several months and validation of the technologies on the orbit for many companies. The bottleneck for the satellite launches estimated in 4-6 months with up to 12 months in some cases. The exact impact can be estimated at the end of the third quarter.

With cases of Covid-19 continuing to rise, and no vaccine on the horizon, industries across multiple sectors are experiencing massive delays and even termination. Despite this, market outlook reports predict positive economic trends through 2026. The commercial space industry sector is well poised to continue to thrive in the post-pandemic world, given its many strengths. As the industry moves forward, the future for NewSpace companies like Firefly Aerospace appears golden. It's only a matter of time before humanity retraces its steps on the Moon and takes its first ones on Mars.

Related Links
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