Space exploration and orbiting are still an exciting area of investment, because if history and reputation can be used as a guide, then the space program is the place to design, test and prove the technology of tomorrow’s market changes. Not much has changed, not even Covid-19.
For example, you may not have noticed that there have been 114 space launches in the past year. That is a high point in the past 20 years. You may indeed have noticed the recent proliferation of commercial players in space launches and deliveries. Of course, SpaceX and Blue Origin dominate most of the headlines, but in fact the space market is now a viable and addressable market.
However, this is not a new market. Some investors have been interested in private space for many years. For example, a few years ago, I supported the private OneSpace. Therefore, it is not a new spatial factor, but an addressable market potential.
Something that needs more space
This space is now an arena for commercial competition, which is why we see, for example, the cost of transporting materials from the earth to orbit has dropped dramatically. In the past, it cost an astonishing US$54,000 to send a kilogram into space on a space shuttle. Now, the cost of private carriers has fallen below US$3,000 per kilogram, and it may fall further.
With the decline in rail freight rates, it seems counterintuitive that the increasing enthusiasm for investing in the space-adjacent 3D printing market seems counterintuitive.
To some extent, the idea of 3D printing in space has been regarded as a workaround for the peculiar and expensive costs of getting things into orbit. If you only need to print them in space, saving cost and trouble, why would you want to box and launch heavy machinery, gears or even fragile parts?
The drop in launch costs seems to undermine this premise. If launch costs are now as cheap and acceptable as shipping things across the African continent, then why 3D printing in space?
Why 3D printing is still needed in space
There are many reasons to believe that 3-D space printing is not only feasible, but also increasingly indispensable. The two most important reasons are availability and security.
Although the cost of moving objects to orbit is decreasing, it is still not an easy task. Vehicles and launch windows are still more restricted than ever. The safety inspections and tests of space materials are huge and expensive, and it is not worth the risk to put an entire launch cargo on a small piece of something that is not absolutely safe.
Even if you send something into orbit, it is difficult to get it exactly where it needs to be. There is no DoorDash space yet.
So, for example, if someone needs spare parts on the International Space Station, it is much more convenient to have them print the parts on site instead of shipping them from Earth.
Secondly, many parts required on the track are not completely safe or easy to launch at any price. Lasers, heat shields, batteries, microprocessors, and even off-the-shelf laptop computers are all sensitive to vibrations and shocks that occur during launch. Damage to them may restrict their use and may even be dangerous. It̵
All of this means that even if orbital prices drop and competition increases, 3D printing in and out of space is more likely to become more common and necessary. The more space flights, the more satellites, exploration and research tools, the more parts and components they need. And in many cases, activating them is unreasonable in terms of logistics or safety.
From an investment point of view, the good news is that dozens of companies have made deep investments in 3D space printing, both financially and technically. This is an independent list of 50 of them. As the need to bypass or supplement the launch process continues to grow, some of these companies will perform well.Although most listed companies are still private companies, there are still a few publicly traded companies, such as Airbus SE (OTC: EADSY), Boeing (New York Stock Exchange: BA), Northrop Grumman (New York Stock Exchange: NOC), Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc (NYSE: AJRD), Lockheed Martin (New York Stock Exchange: LMT), Jacob Engineering Group (NYSE: J), and I’m currently an investor in this company, KULR Technology Group (OTCQB:KULR).
The better news is that some companies that do space printing correctly will surely occupy the front row of the technology’s growth and commercialization, and this will definitely happen. This is what investing in space is all about-looking for things that work in space and on earth. I think 3D printing may do it at the same time.
Xia Zuoquan Is the founding investor and director of BYD Co., Ltd., a manufacturer of electric buses, plug-in electric vehicles and batteries. Mr. Xia founded Zhengxuan Capital, an investment company in 2004, with an estimated asset of US$1.5 billion.
Photographed by SpaceX on Unsplash
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