Is the space tech bubble bursting? That’s the wrong way to think about it
2021 was a record-breaking year in the aerospace industry, with over $10 billion invested from private-sector funding.
Predictably, several voices are now crowding in to claim some credit of wisdom or foresight as they declare the space industry is the latest bubble–too big, too fast, and on the brink of bursting.
This belief is misguided–and it underestimates one of the most robust industries of all time.
Today, the aerospace industry is in a formative phase. In addition to security and IP boundaries, the space industry requires government space agencies and venture capital to make building-block investments in sensing, defense, advanced connectivity, and ESG priorities.
Other investments, like space tourism and deep-space habitats, we would distinguish as less essential right now for human survival and the future of our planet. These other, not-right-now investments are larger, more complex endeavors that can ultimately evolve from the essential work being built out now.
Much attention is drawn to those later-stage developments by those foretelling a space bubble collapse. Meanwhile, government spending that supports essential building-block investments is being omitted. With some 70 national space agencies spending $92 billion in 2021, more countries are investing in aerospace capabilities than ever before–a trend that only continues to accelerate.
Gone are the days when the government developed and owned the best technology. In recent years, funding vehicles and commercialization branches have been established across a wide swath of government agencies. Their main purpose? Engage with the private sector outside of prime contractors.
Space startups are improving legacy technologies or building novel business models that unlock new approaches to mission planning and space operations. Space comprises a web of interdependent technologies that no single company can wrangle. In aerospace, collaboration is essential for generating sustainable value.
From the outside, these startups may seem opaque and unaccountable, but they are key to the industry’s survival. The companies that imploded in the dot-com bubble lacked underlying value. However, the fast-emerging aerospace economy comprises many collaborative players who create real products and tangible services to address extreme environments and critical planetary needs.
Vetted by vigorous technical diligence and backed by VC funding vehicles with capital ready to deploy, deeptech technologies pioneered by startups are addressing the major challenges of our time. Using A.I., electrification, and a suite of advanced technologies, companies are activating sustainable sources for abundant clean energy and actively working to restore Earth’s biodiversity.
As analysts get caught in the repetitive, distracting cycle of fear-mongering and market speculation, our planet wanes in real-time. With little time left to reverse the effects of impending planetary disasters, we need to be paying attention to the brilliant minds striving to undo the almost irreversible environmental damage. They are our biggest sources of hope.
We also see intense market volatility fueling the mobilization of space entrepreneurs. We see brilliant research moving from labs to real-world applications. With a surplus of ideas, the sheer number of new companies is unlikely to be sustainable under current market conditions. There will be some consolidation in the form of acquisitions and closures. Some ventures will require more supporting infrastructure before they become revenue-generating businesses.
However, a meaningful portion of space startups, powered by revenue-generating business models, are addressing near-term problems: in-space power and propulsion, debris monitoring and avoidance, communications, mission planning, and radiation protection.
Market bubbles do signify vulnerability for space industry investors–but these are the natural vulnerabilities of emerging deeptech startups that offer essential and formative contributions at an increasingly critical time.
It’s our role as investors and partners to encourage and support these efforts, rather than dismiss those at the vanguard of the most important industry to impact modern-day life–and the future of our planet.
Thomas d’Halluin is the managing partner of Airbus Ventures, based in Silicon Valley.
The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.
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