The space industry has undergone profound changes over the last few years, in particular driven by the emergence of New Space, which offers a disruptive approach and paves the way for innovative technologies. This new ecosystem is progressively being consolidated, and it was in this context that the second edition of the “Assises du New Space” was held in Paris on 5 and 6 July. These two days of conferences offered an excellent opportunity to bring together the historical players of the space ecosystem, the institutions involved in these developments and, of course, the new entrants who are shaping and building tomorrow’s space every day. Mews Partners was delighted to participate to this second edition and to provide a summary of our main findings.
The topics of the various presentations and round tables highlighted the current challenges faced by the various stakeholders, particularly regarding the new usage of space data, the financing difficulties faced by young companies in the scale-up phase and the important role played by public institutions in the ecosystem.
New Space in a Nutshell
New Space first emerged in the United States with innovative start-ups driven by digital millionaires for whom access to low-cost space is essential. New Space players are working hard to develop low-cost space access solutions for everyone. Fortunately, with Europe’s strong space heritage, European companies have also emerged and therefore participated in this movement to democratize access to space. Europe’s New Space sector has gained momentum over the last decade, as evidenced by the ever-increasing fundraising in the sector across Europe.
Space data as an asset for humanity
Although accessing space has always been a dream of mankind, rockets and satellites are not launched into space just for the technical beauty of doing so. In particular for many terrestrial applications, the data generated by Earth Observation (EO) is extremely valuable and the number of conferences and round tables addressing those applications during the Assises is a very meaningful indicator of their importance for the sector: two conferences during the opening session on “new users” and “new service providers” and several dedicated sessions in smaller room (“Insurance”, “Finance and macroeconomics”, “Maritim”, “Urban Planning”, “Car and autonomous driving”, …) . Indeed, those applications are particularly driving the New Space industry, as it seeks to obtain more frequent and higher definition images of different areas of interest. The potential uses for this data are huge, and new types of users are being brought on board on a daily basis.
EO usage can be very diverse, from the calculation of financial indices based on the measurement of global economic activity using Earth observation data as highlighted during the opening session of the event, to the optimization of land-use planning. Thanks to this satellite data, some sectors are even making the transition from “forecasting” to “now-casting”, in the sense that we are no longer talking about forecasts into the future, but about near-real-time forecasts. This means that we can monitor the use of natural resources or production levels on a global scale in real time. In an economy where everything is moving faster and faster and where you need to be one step ahead of the market to invest and manage your activities most effectively, these new capabilities offered by the space sector are extremely valuable. This trend was highlighted by the participation in the event of actors who are not space specialists, but for whom the use of this data is a major step forward.
Space-based data is also an excellent option to monitor what happens on Earth. Whether it is monitoring the impact of human activity on ecosystems, analyzing the effects of climate change on urban development, or measuring changes in large-scale infrastructure such as ports and planning maintenance, space-based data enables many of today’s services. This ever-growing number of services is placing new demands on data providers and satellite operators: higher and higher resolution, more frequent data over a given area and, of course, cheaper data. These new challenges shape New Space’s vision: democratizing access to space. The New Space movement is now being driven mainly by these ‘downstream’ service providers, and it is in this specific sector that most new companies are being created. Although the value proposition of each company can be very different, they all have one thing in common: to make space-based information understandable and useful for terrestrial applications. This is where the real challenge for the downstream sector lies: meet the end-users needs. This has been made clear at several conferences by various actors whose value proposition relies using space data to provide hands on services.
The role of institutions in structuring New Space
The second major aspect highlighted at the Assises du New Space was the crucial role played by public institutions in the development of the sector. Whether it’s BPI France, CNES, DGA, ESA, or EUSPA public institutions strongly support the industry and, in some cases, can provide significant financial support. As a matter of fact, almost all of these players were present and presented their different programs on the main stage. For instance, one of the main ways of bringing together the various players in this complex and rapidly expanding ecosystem is the Connect by CNES program. As previously mentioned, new applications are emerging with new users, often unfamiliar with the space ecosystem. Connect by CNES aims to help bring these different worlds together and to structure the exchanges between them.
From a funding point of view, public institutions also play an important role through two main mechanisms: public support (subsidies and refundable advances) and public contracts. On the one hand, public support is used to support the launch as well as the development and industrialization of breakthrough technologies as part of R&D programs. On the other hand, public contracts, which include the purchase of services, service demonstrations or even sovereign contracts, provide an anchor customer to help companies consolidate their business models. These two mechanisms are highly complementary and allow to support companies at different stages of their development. For instance, the French public investment in space is ambitious: €1.5 billion over 5 years as part of the France 2030 space program, 2/3 of which will go to emerging players. This underlines once again the strategic dimension of Space in France and in Europe in general, whether for the development of breakthrough technologies or for strategic access to space. If further proof were needed, the speech given by Thomas Courbe from the Direction Générale des Entreprises during the opening session on the main stage should have convinced everyone of the importance of the space sector for France.
At European level, ESA is also involved in the development of the New Space, with four main themes: Space for a Green Future, Protection of Space Assets, Rapid & Resilient Crisis Response and Independent Human Spaceflight. These themes are at the heart of Europe’s current concerns, and not only when it comes to space.
Many support options available, but they are often complex to understand for young companies whose priority is to develop the product or service at the heart of their value proposition and not be overloaded with administrative procedures. This complex structuring of support and financing options has been referred to as the “jungle of funding” during one of the conferences, which is really a good way of describing it.
The Intersection of AI and Space Missions
One of the conferences was on “On Ground and Embedded AI” which shed light on the growing role of artificial intelligence (AI) in the space industry. The discussions revealed a significant evolution of AI, particularly in its applications for New Space clients. The speakers emphasized the need to transition to an accelerated phase of AI deployment in space.
At the heart of this evolution were three categories of AI applications identified: customer applications, enterprise applications, and Industry 4.0 engineering applications. However, the primary focus was on customer applications, with a clear goal: reducing the time required to implement AI-based solutions in space. To achieve this, it is essential to enhance the maturity of critical functions and foster synergies by collaborating with research laboratories and startups.
A major technical challenge addressed was “embeddability,” notably the management of the size of embedded systems and their energy autonomy. Additionally, the availability of connectivity is a crucial factor to consider, requiring data preprocessing to optimize the transmission of essential information.
An innovative startup, in partnership with major players in the space industry, presented concrete applications of AI in New Space. These applications included real-time space monitoring for trajectory and position identification, collision prevention between satellites, and support for launch systems. What sets this startup apart is its platform that prioritizes reinforcement learning based on specific data rather than existing datasets.
Overall, the conference on “Embedded AI on the Ground” during the New Space conference not only showcased the rise of AI in the space sector but also emphasized the exciting opportunities and challenges accompanying this transformation. These challenges include accelerating space applications, enhancing system autonomy, and addressing issues related to connectivity and embeddability. This conference reflected the ongoing commitment of the space industry to leverage AI in shaping the future of New Space.
The emergence of the New Space sector has profoundly transformed the space industry, promoting disruptive approaches and innovative technologies. The New Space Conference in Paris brought together historical players, newcomers, and institutions, showcasing current challenges. Affordable space access and the growing utilization of space data, particularly for terrestrial applications, are at the core of this movement. Downstream service providers play a pivotal role, translating space data into actionable insights. Public institutions are key in financially and structurally supporting new entrants, thus strengthening this developing sector.
Cognizant of the New Space challenges and opportunities for the various stakeholders of the value chain Mews Partners has developed specific expertise and support to its customers with a downstream and a New space offer. Do not hesitate to reach us out!