I’m very excited to announce that I am returning to pursue my passion in aerospace and manufacturing. This isn’t without some sadness, though. I spent almost 2 years at Sense360 working with an amazing team. Since joining as employee #6, we raised a round of funding, brought on loads of new clients, grew the team to over 15 people (and growing!), and had a lot of fun doing it. The team has a lot of work ahead of them, and I am extremely confident that they will continue building a world-class company that dominates the market. I want to give a special thanks to Kamil M. His passion and commitment to building out an excellent engineering team at Sense360 is more than just inspiring — it has been formative to my growth as a software engineer. He has taught me his ways and prepared me for my next adventure.
I am extremely excited by the amount of activity that is emerging in the NewSpace sector. This movement has quietly been under way for over the past decade. I say “quietly” because news from this sector is often drowned out by news about terrestrial companies with valuations in the billions. For those in the know, it has never been a more exciting time to be in NewSpace. Companies with audacious goals are popping up regularly, and even renowned Silicon Valley VCs are getting in on it.
I spent a few years working in NewSpace during my years at SpaceX. While SpaceX and other launch companies are doing amazing things and continue to push the boundaries of possibility, the next generation of NewSpace companies is already being formed. These companies are typically made up of less than 50 people and can be found in inconspicuous warehouses. Real startups! Some of the companies that I’m really excited about are right here in my backyard in Los Angeles, but the amazing thing about NewSpace is that the activity is not localized to a single region in California — they’re forming all over the world.
There are primarily two types of companies in NewSpace: the launcher and the launchee. This is overly generic because there is diversity within each one of those categories. Launchers are what you might think of — rockets that takes things to space. The launchee is a little bit more nuanced. Generally speaking, these consist of earth observation satellites, communications satellites, or experimental payloads. There is a growing number of these that are built in a standard known as a CubeSat, but there are a number of satellites that are larger. These two categories are fueling one another and really energizing the industry. Availability and price of launch providers are driving more demand for putting things in space. With increased demand, there is increased interest in further bringing down the costs and availability of launch. Launch companies like Rocket Lab, Relativity Space, and Vector exist to specifically serve the emerging demand for small satellites (their current target market). This level of scalability mirrors what we’ve seen in the software infrastructure industry over the past decade: a move to smaller, on-demand services for varying sizes of payload. I will write a future post on this shift soon.
All of this activity recaptured my imagination and got me excited to get back into NewSpace. While the number of companies emerging is large, my observation has been that much of the activity has followed a similar pattern to the NewSpace companies of the last wave (SpaceX, Blue Origin, etc.). Specifically, these companies are building solutions for common problems within their own walls and focusing on their core value propositions without letting systems and process get in the way. Furthermore, a 15-person venture to build rockets doesn’t necessarily have a focus on developing world-class software systems to enable their missions. If the destiny of these companies is anything like what I saw at SpaceX, the current approach will surely run into scalability walls. Rocket and space problems will become paperwork, configuration management, and automation problems.
My skills and expertise are in platforms and data systems. Reflecting on the kinds of problems that I’ve solved in the past and the ones that I want to solve going forward, I think this can be boiled down to a few questions:
How can I make it easier for people to get things done faster and better?
How can I help people focus on the problems they want to be focusing on?
How can I use web and data technologies to improve an engineer’s workflow?
These are the questions that I am aim to answer in the coming months. If you are also interested in these questions, please reach out.
Seeing that we’re just at the beginning of a whole new wave of activity that is going to further propel our species into the universe, I am extremely excited to get to work on these problems now. Fast and cheap launch, earth observation, and communication are only the beginning. If the interest in space continues to gain momentum, the applications of our dreams — asteroid mining, space tourism, inter-planetary exploration, in-space manufacturing — could very well be mainstream activities in this next wave of NewSpace companies. Much like GitHub, Atlassian, npm, AWS, and many more did for the web, there is a real need to develop cross-industry tools and standards that will help all boats (or, in this case, spacecraft) to rise. In a future post, I will share my vision for what this looks like for the aerospace industry and how I plan to contribute to it. Again, if you’re interested in these problems, please reach out. Let’s do this!