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My watch-list for the 2023 space sector

Updated: Jan 26, 2023

I love the beginning of things, and the beginning of a new calendar year is no different. Every year, I set aside some time to take stock of the previous year and to set intentions for the next. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I liken the practice to a mental spring cleaning.

This year, I thought I would build on the tradition and put together a list of things I will be looking out for in the aerospace community this year. As we all know, the last couple years have been booming for the space sector. The first all-private astronaut crew has visited the ISS and returned. Additional companies have sent a few stars well above the stratosphere. A couple of space companies rang the bell on Wall Street in 2021 and 2022, which was balanced by others closing their doors. The government continues to conduct investigations into various space-related investments, often called to do so after concerns have been raised so the findings are rarely positive. Ingenuity, the first ever airborne vehicle deployed on Mars, made its last flight this month after nearly two years of service. We also got a major upgrade in space telescopes with the James Webb Telescope. Both of which represent exciting technological advances. And billions of dollars, both private and public, have poured into several companies prompting explosive growth in personnel and technology development programs.

So much has happened in this nascent marketplace in such a short amount of time that it can make a person’s head spin. But, it makes me wonder how all of that activity will affect the space sector in the coming year. Here are three points of interest, loosely informed, that I will be watching for as the year unfolds.

Companies will invest money wisely or be held accountable

Some organizations developing and providing launch services or building other types of space infrastructure are doing so through government contracts while others have secured a mix of government and private funds. A few of them landed hefty prize purses. As such, these companies could afford to double, triple, or quintuple their workforce as well as move into additional technology areas. And others appear to be struggling to deliver on their promises in a timely fashion. However successful they are or where they have obtained operating capital, both governments and VCs will be looking for a return on those investments at some point. And while this sector is appreciated as being especially high-risk and attracting more patient investors and stakeholders, these individuals and organizations may start paying closer attention. And that attention could reveal itself in some interesting corporate decisions this year.

Space companies will diversify their talent pools.

In 2022 and the first month of 2023 we saw massive layoffs from companies like Facebook, Google and Microsoft. While a major blow to the workforce in these sectors, I am hopeful that many of these individuals will find new professional opportunities in the space sector. Many of the space companies today still aim most of their scouting at NASA. One wonders how much of a drain that is on the agency. Many space companies are still growing, however, and may even struggle to find adequate talent to fill certain roles, particularly those outside of engineering. And, with all of that NASA legacy in their ranks, these organizations would be wise to fill their ranks with personnel new to the sector and bring with them fresh perspectives. While the economy continues to keep us all on the edge of our seats, I believe that this highly-skilled talent pool represents an incredible opportunity for the space sector to inject fresh blood and address some gaps in thinking.

Space companies will sharpen their focus.

As capital is used and the darlings of the sector are confronted with some hard truths written in their ledgers, one approach is to focus the business on less. Right now, a few companies are developing products and services to serve all aspects of the market, including logistics and supply chain, in-space manufacturing, information technology, tourism, and more. The ISS was built upon and maintained through the international cooperation of 16 nations and, later the help of a few plucky startups. A lucrative and mature market has several components to it, beyond what is listed above plus regulation. As such, existing entities within the emerging space economy may start to sort themselves out into more discrete technology and service areas while brand new companies may spring up to fill gaps in the marketplace.

This has been a collection of a few things I am going to be watching out for in 2023, but I am no sage. And there is certainly no shortage on perspectives here. What I do know is that every year, something unexpected or incredible or unprecedented happens in the space sector. I can’t imagine that this year will be any different. And I can't wait to see how it all plays out.

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