While rockets built and launched by private companies are the most visible example of the growth of private space companies, a little known movement has come to dominate new space startups: Terrestrial First. Terrestrial First startups are using the technology and services created for space to solve problems on Earth today. These are not spin-offs, or one-off products, but businesses committed to addressing challenges on Earth for the long term.
Visionaries in NewSpace know the road to the space-based economy will be long, and that private companies cannot expect their investors or employees to wait 5-10 years developing product for a market that doesn’t exist yet. Using the commercial innovation cycle to support space development means getting new technology developed and in place with more immediate rewards. In other words: to get products to market, the industry is beginning to look to Earth.
For startups, Terrestrial First’s benefits are limitless. By building companies to serve markets on Earth, they must go through the same development process as traditional startups, and therefore focus their ambitions on a problem they can solve now. Space companies have had a bad habit of over-committing themselves by trying to solve every problem for a space-based supply chain, leading to a lot of ambitious ventures closing their doors before ever releasing a product. Terrestrial First startups can come to market by taking the most manageable part of their technology and developing it without nearly the same risk as before. Focusing on a single solution also makes it easier for more space companies to develop products and services that complement each other. In effect, Terrestrial First lays the groundwork for space-based supply chains by making it easier for companies to get started bring more products and services to market.
For the government, Terrestrial First opens the floodgates for companies looking to take advantage of government research programs that otherwise would be unavailable to them. Small Business Innovation Research/Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) grants have often been the source of funding of space startups just getting off the ground. Terrestrial First companies can use these programs to not only secure funding, but guide research into technologies that they are better positioned to bring to market. This benefits the government because not only does it encourage the development of mission-specific technology it creates a system by which said technology can be validated in the marketplace on Earth. In effect, Terrestrial First companies give taxpayers a faster return on their investment.
For consumers, the benefits of Terrestrial First are simple: the extreme innovation, precision, and expertise demanded of spaceflight industry put into products everyday people can use. Terrestrial First has already done this with companies using small satellites to take countless pictures of the Earth and analyze the images to give everything from hyper-accurate weather reports, to better parking lot layouts. Other companies are looking to use life support monitoring technology to give farmers a better idea of the condition of their crops, and companies like 4th Law are using computer controllers meant for guiding satellites to guide swarms of drones. Terrestrial First is ultimately about sharing the fruits of space R&D with people on Earth today.
RedWorks is a Terrestrial First company. Right now the technology we created for building on Mars is being prepared for building here on Earth. The same challenges that will face pioneers on Mars are being faced by builders on Earth, most severely in remote locations with limited resources and infrastructure or urban areas with simply overburdened infrastructure. RedWorks will continue to participate in competitions and research programs aimed at furthering humanity’s reach into space, and always look for ways to bring what we learn back to Earth. The path to Mars will guide innovation, and help us create the next generation of our technology for builders and architects on Earth. When humans take the first steps on Mars, the printers we built on Earth will be ready to join them and build the first homes on another planet.