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#SpaceWatchME Op’ed: Orbital Bookings – How Satellite Operators Should Prepare For The Coming Launch Revolution

Image courtesy of Precious Payload.

The satellite launch industry is making great strides and advancements, but as a market sector is riddled with inefficiencies that are a drag for both the launch industry and for satellite manufacturers. Enter Andrey Maksimov, based in the UAE, and Andrei Rebrov, based in New York, who have created the company Precious Payload that promises to erase these market inefficiencies, revolutionise the launch industry, and help kick-start the New Space Economy.

Why Satellite Businesses Fail

Jeff is a brilliant ex-Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) engineer and has a great track record of building robust smallsats. Several years ago he came up with the idea of creating a constellation of new generation Earth-observation satellites that will use an innovative optics design and antennas to significantly increase the business value of data beamed down to ground stations.

Jeff pitched the project to a couple of investors and in the course of several months was able to secure enough funding to start operations, build satellites, create and test software, as well as secure the rideshare launch through a broker.

Using his network, Jeff quickly built a great team of hardware engineers and a software development team, who came up with very promising ideas on how to extract the valuable information out of the satellite imagery.

The launch date was due in less than 30 months, so both teams worked really hard to meet the deadlines and get the demo satellites and processing software ready. They were able to complete both milestones ahead of the schedule, and by T–3 months two shiny demo satellites were ready to be integrated into the rocket.

The news, however, was unexpected: due to a launch failure, all future launches were delayed for at least 12 months. Jeff’s agreement with the broker did not allow him get a refund and rebook another launch. Additionally, the broker did not agree to rebook Jeff’s satellites with another launch provider, or, perhaps, there was no other suitable option.

A hard decision was made to wait for the delayed launch, and Jeff was forced by investors to search for a bridge investor to continue funding the business operations while waiting for the new date. The company had to downsize, losing its key engineers and developers behind the project.

After 6 months of burning remaining cash, talking with the investors and arguing with the launch broker, Jeff had to admit he lost the battle. He failed to raise the bridge funding round, dismissed the team, and lost his business and reputation.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the United States, a giant rocket was launched to low orbit, carrying its main payload and big chunks of aluminium in the remaining space inside the fairing. The main payload owner gave clearance to find customers for the spare capacity just four months before the launch, and vice president of sales could not find clients in such a short period of time, even while offering substantial discounts.

Despite being imaginary and exaggerated, Jeff’s story is based on real facts and is quite common among young companies struggling to fulfill our dreams of creating a space economy. The recent struggle of ridesharing leader Spaceflight to launch their customers satellites due to SpaceX’s launcher problems once again revealed that the New Space market is slowed down by a “launch bottleneck.”

Selecting The Right Launch Provider Is Crucial

Things seems to be improving, though. Many new commercial players are coming to the launch market in the next two to three years. Apart from conventional multistage small rockets, brought in by Rocket Labs and Vector Space, there are many innovative launch solutions like launching to space from a balloon by Zero2Infinity or airborne launch by Virgin Orbit, just to name a few.

How does one select a launch provider? Every company has its own market niche and unique value proposition to the smallsat market. Despite all the standardization efforts, dozens and dozens of parameters define the launch capabilities of any one vehicle. On the other hand, every spacecraft builder has its own technical and business requirements for its satellites to be launched. Today, closing this gap and the comparative analysis required takes weeks, if not months.

This decision is extremely important for modern spacecraft builders. Today, in many cases, the type of launch vehicle defines spacecraft design. Launch booking costs are one of the biggest one-off investments a small company needs to make in its early days. Rebooking the rocket to accommodate the pivot in business schedules, or rescheduling in manifests, is not possible.

No Reliable Access To Space Means No Space Economy

Creating a space economy is hard. We missed our chance in the Apollo Moon landing days, but today we have been given a second chance. This time the race is driven by private companies, which is both good and bad. On the one hand, business strives to create sustainable cost-effective business models, but on the other hand, we all know that opening new frontiers like the Internet or space creates investor hyperbole and even an investment bubble.

Lowering the cost of launching to space is crucial to lift the economy off-Earth. We rely on new private players to solve this problem, but if these pioneers do not get enough traction and disappoint their investors, the bubble will burst and we will remain grounded.

The New Space economy means new ways of doing business. Opening the High Frontier requires us to rethink current models of what it takes to launch a satellite to space. We have seen not that long ago that whole new markets were born when businesses realized the potential of the Internet and online commerce. Those who missed the window of opportunity had to quit or play a difficult catch-up game.

How To Make The Launch Market Sustainable

At Precious Payload we believe that in order to help the Jeffs of this world create beautiful satellites and launch them in to space, we have to make space launch easier, and when we say easier, we mean it. It is simply not enough to make space launch just affordable.

Image courtesy of Precious Payload.

We want everyone to focus on what they are best at. Let rocket engineers create reliable launchers, have them in stock, and launch them upon short notice. Let satellite engineers create powerful satellites and have them launched when they are ready, on any rocket available at the time.

Satellite operators need to have the ability to effortlessly book or reschedule launch in case of delays, cancellations, or simply because of a change in business strategy. You pay less if you book in advance, you pay a premium for a business-class-like off-the-shelf launch, and you always keep an eye on what is going on in congested orbits and launch windows, monitoring availability and price levels.

All of the above, and much more, will eventually become a reality. It has happened in cargo shipment, airlines, car rentals, and the hotel booking industries. When the amount of inventory and volume of concurrent bookings becomes high, there is the need to create a separate, independent architecture that will manage availability. It may seem early with the current amount of rocket launches per year, but shall become a reality when three to five companies, with 50–100 launches each carrying 3–12 small satellites, enter the market.

A global distribution system (GDS) is a well-known concept of an industry standard that manages the inventory available on carriers. The space launch market is becoming mature enough to benefit from such a system. At Precious Payload, we believe that developing an industry-wide launch booking system is a key concept necessary for creating a sustainable private space launch economy for smallsats.

Background On The Orbital Bookings Concept

Precious Payload is a company started in late 2016 by Andrey Maksimov, a UAE-based entrepreneur, and Andrei Rebrov, a New York-based co-founder of a YC-backed IT startup. The company mission is to design, build, and promote a standard for booking launches for small satellites. Andrey and Andrei advocate building a GDS-like architecture for space launches, similar to what has been done for airlines, cargo shipments, and hotel bookings when those industries entered the age of global networks and the Internet.

Image courtesy of Precious Payload.

In the Precious Payload concept, launch providers and brokers share and exchange their immediate and future availability of inventory with the independent Precious Payload GDS, including the status of reservations of inventory (eg. available, reserved, booked, etc.).

Anyone who wants to launch a satellite uploads their mission profile into the Precious Payload GDS. A special algorithm then analyses the data and shows the real-time availability of launchers for specific types of mission.

Launch providers, both manufacturers and brokers, can benefit from the Precious Payload GDS by being able to open another sales channel for their core businesses. They not only receive and process the booking requests from satellite companies, but also browse through the backlog of satellites waiting for launch and bid for their business. Advanced services like rebooking the launches and effectively managing client cancellations and launch failures raise the bar for customer experience in the market.

Precious Payload was created for the benefit of entrepreneurs and investors in the New Space sector to ensure sustainable growth and create the space economy. The concept has received broad support among launch providers, satellite operators, insurance providers, and investors.

Prepare Yourself For A Ride

All smallsat manufacturers and owners need to hedge their risk against rescheduling of their launches and, moreover, against being overtaken by competitors who are able to benefit from new launch opportunities that offer substantial cost savings and flexibility.

To show the benefits of the Precious Payload GDS approach, we are building our first product called Match, which we are offering for free. Upload your mission profile using our interface and get push notifications and updates whenever we find a suitable launcher that matches your profile, schedule, and budget.

Image courtesy of Precious Payload.

Precious Payload works directly with launch providers and launch vehicle manufacturers to provide real-time availability of their inventory. This ensures that satellite operators will only get the launches they can actually book. Our algorithm takes more than 50 technical, legal, and economic variables into consideration to make the match.

If you are building an innovative way of launching small payloads to (near) space, let us get you listed! We have created an easy on-boarding process to include you in the search results. We are also participating in the Smallsat conference in Logan, Utah, August 5-10, 2017. Come meet us!

Andrey Maksimov. Photograph courtesy of Precious Payload.

Andrey Maksimov is a young serial entrepreneur based in Dubai and has established several businesses across several countries. Andrey is a founding partner in an IT services company, a hedge fund, and the space launch booking company, Precious Payload. Andrey is passionate about space resources and rockets.

Andrei Rebrov. Photograph courtesy of Precious Payload.

Andrei Rebrov is a tech serial entrepreneur and passionate software engineer. Andrei has more than 10 years experience in software development in different industries — logistics, finance, and E-commerce. He is also a founder of a successful online subscription business and the space launch booking company, Precious Payload. Andrei is passionate about space, asteroid mining, and astrophysics.

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