Much of the buzz about NewSpace focuses on exciting space-related startups led by entrepreneurs with new ideas, young work forces, and Silicon Valley positive attitudes. This is all true, but legal practitioners in this area also see many of these new companies struggling with the hard realities of raising money with earlystage business plans, difficulties in establishing brands or other distinguishing features, meeting the market requirements for robustness of the technology necessitating more time and money than expected, and other issues experienced by many startup tech companies.
Many of the new business plans are also quite ambitious, going directly from drawing board to operating constellation. Although these systems are smaller and less costly than the constellations introduced in the commercial space industry in the 1990's, many of the same hurdles still exist. Satellites still need to be manufactured. Though the costs are much lower and some NewSpace companies are essentially manufacturing in-house, for many of them there is a fair amount of development work to be done between pilot and actual constellation before there is a marketable product. The costs of that development and the time to market needs to be bridged in some fashion. Launch costs are much lower for than for large geostationary satellites, but are still far from insignificant and lack of availability of appropriate launch vehicles is currently a real issue. There are also significant regulatory hurdles for NewSpace companies, as spectrum is not easily obtained, the application process is often long and difficult, the regulatory regime applied to NewSpace applications is not always clear, and competition can be fierce.
The historical experience with constellations has been challenging. A few notable non-geostationary satellite systems (NGSOs) were architected in the 1990's, with the most ambitious one (Teledesic, at 840 active satellites) halted following financial challenges. Iridium (1999) and Globalstar (2002) initially filed for bankruptcy. And some more recent constellations have struggled in various ways, either on the technology side or with a mismatch between system capabilities and actual customer demand. It appears that even with NewSpace, developing, building, and financing satellite systems is still not an easy task, and the barriers to entry are formidable.