The first recorded usage of rockets dates back nearly 800 years. That is how long it has taken for our understanding of the sciences to support viable spare-faring, payload delivering, reusable rockets.
Now, these modern variants are doing more than extending our reach to the stars though – they are facilitating newfound levels of global connectivity right here on Earth through cost effective deployment of vast satellite networks.
Manufacturers and Innovators
Before we dive in to how reusable rockets are changing the way humans interact, lets take a look at a few of the companies/agencies fostering innovation within the aerospace sector.
For years now, the world has been using a growing satellite array which provides global voice and data services. In 2019, Iridium underwent the process of decommissioning its original fleet of communication satellites by lowering their orbit, and allowing for them to burn up in the atmosphere. Upon doing so, its next generation fleet was deployed, which is currently comprised of 75 deployed (66 of which are in use), and an additional 6 which are grounded as spares.
Notably, various firms including Barclays Capital, Morgan Stanley, and more, have each listed IRDM stock as a ‘Strong Buy‘ at time of writing. Over the past 12 months, IRDM shares have risen by ~88%, with the company boasting year over year increases in revenue in its latest 5-year trend.
Iridium Communications (IRDM) was founded in 2001, and operates out of the State of Virginia, United States.
While there are various companies competing to make space exploration viable, there is no doubt that the most well-known of this group is SpaceX. Whether this is due to its affiliation with Elon Musk, who owns 44% of the company, or the strides it has taken with endeavors like Starlink and its reusable orbital class rockets, SpaceX has essentially become a household name at this point.
Still operating as a private company, SpaceX most recently raised $250M in mid-2022 at a pre-money valuation of $125B. In doing so, its total funding to date now tops $9.4B, accrued over 33 rounds of funding.
While SpaceX may one day go public, for now retail investors cannot directly gain exposure to the company. Indirectly however, investors can gain exposure by investing in publicly listed companies that have participated in SpaceX funding rounds like Alphabet (GOOGL), and Bank of America (BAC).
SpaceX was founded in 2002, and operates out of the State of California, United States.
This independently operated, government funded, agency was has been synonymous with space since its inception. Despite being founded with the goal of space exploration, it has been pivotal for decades in ushering in the modern world through leveraging its expertise to deploy satellites that have made technologies like GPS, long-range communication, intelligence gathering, etc. all possible.
As a government funded agency, investors cannot gain exposure to NASA.
NASA, the ‘National Aeronautics and Space Administration' operates out of the State of Washington, and was founded in 1958 by the United States government as a technological race with Russia broke out.
Although we have had the capability to deploy satellites through use of rockets for decades, the practice has traditionally been extremely expensive. Much of the associated costs are due to the simple fact that rockets were essentially designed and treated as single-use vehicles.
This all changed in 2011 however, when SpaceX announced its plans to develop a reusable rocket, eventually capable of delivering significant payloads to orbit. Four years later, and the company successfully landed a first-stage rocket for the first time. By 2020, SpaceX had then achieved enough success in subsequent launches, that it was able to being deploying satellites for its lauded Starlink program designed to eventually provide global access to internet services.
While satellites are now routinely being deployed through the use of reusable rockets, future prospects for even more ambitious endeavors continue to fascinate the public. Whether it be making space-travel accessible to the masses, or colonizing Mars, the possibilities are endless. For now though, achieving a global communications network, accessible by anyone, anywhere, is having immeasurable effects on the way we interact, and quality of life for many.
In its recently released report titled ‘Big Ideas 2023: Technological Convergence‘, Ark Invest highlighted what it believes are set to be the most influential fields of technology looking towards the future. Among them was ‘orbital aerospace' and how it is enhancing connectivity through use of reusable rockets. Ark Invest noted that over the past 19 years, satellite bandwidth costs have dropped 7,500 fold. Combined with the cost savings of reusable rockets, this has brought the idea of global connectivity from a dream to reality.
As it stands, the program benefiting the most from reusable rockets is Starlink. In mere years, the program has gone from launch to having in excess of 3,300 satellites deployed, all with the purpose of bringing cost-effective internet access to areas where it was previously inaccessible.
At first glance, it may sound as though services on offer by Starlink are expensive with start-up costs around $499, and recurring monthly fees starting at $110. Consider though, that this service is targeted towards regions that in the past have no had access to high-speed internet services, and even in 2023 often need to rely on either existing cost prohibitive and bandwidth capped satellite services, or simple dial-up. With speeds ranging from 100Mbps to 350Mbps, Starlink is changing the way businesses and individuals not located in city centers interact/communicate with the world.
Currently, Starlink boasts roughly half a million subscribers to its service, with scores more waiting for coverage to extend to their area. In time, Starlink intends for its coverage to span the entire globe. To achieve this, it has already filed for approval of and eventual launch of up to 42,000 satellites. While it has filed for approval of this many, SpaceX has noted that it will most likely not need this much.
Although the sheer amount of satellites already deployed, and amount scheduled for future launches, bode well for global communications, there have already been concerns raised. Namely, a continual increase in what is labelled space-junk (pieces of debris floating in orbit from past launches and obsolete equipment), and essentially lighting up our night sky. Although it may not seem detrimental to the naked eye, the amount of light being reflected back towards Earth by so many satellites is already causing challenges for astronomers studying the cosmos.
To garner further insight into just how many satellites are currently in orbit, click HERE for an extensive coverage map.
The benefits of global connectivity go beyond simply offering rural customers the ability to stream movies, and play games over satellite internet with low latency. It also provides many impoverished communities with the ability to access previously inaccessible opportunities.
For example, there are many parts of the world that have access to power sources, with no means of connecting to a grid and delivering it to where it needs to go. Through the use of things like Bitcoin mining, and access to a service like Starlink, these areas can now monetize energy that was previously being wasted.
This monetization of energy brings jobs and the potential for prosperity to impoverished areas in which this was previously is pipe-dream.
At the end of the day, global connectivity made possible through mass satellite deployment is a good thing. It brings us closer, and opens countless opportunities for many through an improvement in quality of life. Yes, there are concerns being raised, but there always will be with new technologies and such large scale initiatives. If we can find a way to explore beyond Earth, we can find a way to overcome whatever issues may arise along the way.
It is important to remember that this leap forward in global connectivity all comes down to the cost-savings made possible through the development of reusable rockets from industry leaders like SpaceX. Eight hundred years since inception, and rockets continue to open doors to new possibilities.