In my talk at Space 2.0 a month ago, I laid out what I saw as a Cambrian Moment coming in space development and commercialization, especially in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Many people have since asked me if I could elaborate on this topic.
541,000,000 years ago, the Earth went through a time known as the Cambrian Period. The Cambrian Period was marked by a profound change in life on Earth. Up to this time, life had largely been unicellular and multicellular organisms. In this period, biomineralized organisms – those that produce minerals in order to stiffen tissue (e.g. mollusks) - appeared for the first time. These new organisms diversified rapidly, fueling their rise off the well-honed building blocks of unicellular & multicellular life that had come before them. Many of these new organisms were odd, and not well-adapted to survive. Those that did survive became the first representatives of all modern animal phyla. This was the Cambrian Explosion: nature experimenting through trial and error.
540,999,994 years later, the year is 2012. The Economist published an article describing a Cambrian Moment in the technology industry. Tech’s Cambrian Moment had started around 2008. Earth’s Cambrian Explosion and tech’s Cambrian Moment were indeed remarkably similar. Instead of odd creatures, we saw odd startups, diversifying rapidly into nearly every possible niche. The trends fueling this rise were rapidly falling barriers of entry, hardware increasingly becoming a service, APIs that allowed data to flow between services, and rapid scalability enabled by the internet. Many of these startups had odd products and/or business models and failed. Those that survived are some of the great success stories in the industry (eg Dropbox). This was tech’s Cambrian Moment: entrepreneurs experimenting through mindful iteration. Or at least, I’d like to believe it was mindful iteration and not like nature’s raw trial and error, though it does give you pause to wonder if there is really a difference. In any case, on to 2018.
Just as Earth and the tech industry had their Cambrian Moment, now it’s our turn in the space business. Barriers of entry are falling by increased accessibility to space at increasingly lower costs, space hardware is becoming commoditized ever more so day by day, and increasingly becoming a service, and lastly scalability bottlenecks are melting away by improving TDRS with bigger pipes to access terrestrial internet and networks. A Cambrian Moment in space is near.
Is our Cambrian Moment underway now? Not yet. It will start without announcing itself, so it may begin without anyone noticing it. But we’ll know when we’re in the midst of it. My estimate is that we are about 5-6 years out—placing it in the 2023-24 time frame. We need more launch players lowering costs, especially for cubesats and nanosats, as well as more TDRS players lowering costs with bigger pipes, especially on downlink. Lastly, we need Aurora Station as a place to host burgeoning human economic activity in LEO, increasing demand for orbital services across the board. Imagine one day ordering an Uber or Lyft to go from Aurora Station back to Earth! It’s closer than it might seem and it will be a part of a Cambrian Moment in Space.
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