Friday, January 15, 2021

Sprouting the Seed of a New Space Analytics Idea


Image credit: NASA

Sometimes a seed of an idea takes extra long to sprout. When I started my company Astralytical five years ago, I knew I wanted to focus on analysis of the space industry. I had experience working at a now-quiescent space industry analysis company leading their analysis team. I knew I was good at it.

But I didn't know quite how to achieve the kind of company I envisioned. In those early months of my young company, I experimented writing a short space policy report. But the result wasn't exactly what I was going for. In the following years, a few clients commissioned me to write reports on various space topics, diving deep into areas important to the clients' needs. But there's a difference between working on what someone else finds important versus working on what I find important.

Two years ago, the nucleus of the idea for the Astralytical Explore: Flybys and Orbits began to take shape. I worked with an intern and even hired an artist to create two prototypes. And it wasn't at all what I wanted. I accepted the monetary loss and scrapped the project. I needed to better understand what I hoped to achieve before I could create it.

One thing that has always bothered me is the high expense of industry market reports. I remember reading my first report when I just started my first full-time job, written by a well known general market analysis company. It was... okay. Not great. Even very early into my job, I knew I could have written a better report. I knew the space industry better than they did. I wondered how much my employer paid for this commissioned report but I didn't ask.

The shocker came when I was hired to write two reports for a client and learned how much they were selling the reports for. Let me tell you – these reports are overpriced. They only sell for thousands to tens of thousands of dollars because that's what others are willing to pay. But just because a report sells for $5,000 doesn't mean it's high-quality, accurate, or reliable. I was dismayed at the shoddiness of the process.

I have two problems with the high-cost report model: 1) The price point of these market reports promotes an exclusive, elitist, gatekeeping element to the space industry which is the opposite of my viewpoint that space should be for everyone. 2) The price point also limits the readership of these reports to a very small number, so my work helps very few people. I didn't find it satisfying to work so hard for so long for my work to benefit almost no one.

I kept all this in mind as I formulated the Astralytical Flybys and Orbits concept. Then it came to me: focus. I decided to focus these graphical mini-reports on bite-sized questions. Flybys consist of information and insights surrounding one question of interest. Orbits consist of multiple questions related to one hot topic.

Because these are mini-reports, I could price them accordingly. Anyone can afford a Flyby. And the top-level insights are published for free in Astralytical blog articles. My work can be broadly assimilated by anyone and affordable to those who want to dive deeper. And for those with money to spend, an annual subscription is available to provide even more access to information.

I'm so heartened to have gotten such overwhelming response to my first series on space tourism! This is a hot topic filled with headline-grabbing hype that was a big flashing target for me to tackle in a realistic, critical, hype-free way. I've had the idea of a space tourism report for four years now since I gave the idea to a former client who rejected it, then decided three years later to do it, but did it poorly. In fact, all space tourism reports I've ever come across have been unsatisfactory or laughable. It takes someone who knows the industry very well to do a great job with a report on any topic. I'm literally writing a book on space tourism and I'm excellent at my job. I'm so pleased my work (both the Astralytical Flybys and Orbit series and the upcoming book) will help people widely as they navigate this emerging field.

Sometimes a delayed seed sprouts into a beautiful, healthy plant. I've already dived deep into the next Astralytical Flybys and Orbit topic: launch delays. In-space manufacturing is next. I've got a whole list of hot space topics I'm excited to dive into and release for anyone to read and understand. I look forward to contributing more to the understanding of these topics with a realistic, critical, hype-free eye. The space community needs it.