Founder and CEO, Nobu Okada of Astroscale is doing something that many States would rather not. And he’s ahead of the game, thinking of the future and addressing one of the most pressing needs of the future, tackling Space Debris. Yes, Space Debris.
Calling themselves #Space Sweepers and here you may envisage the lack of glamour and burdensome role of cleaning up space – wrong. On the contrary, Astroscale has touched the hearts and minds of all environmentalists, all Millenials and most likely old Space actors, who are all too clearly aware of the problem of space debris yet have little power, incentive, and ideas of how to tackle it.
Don’t get me wrong, space debris has always been a long term problem. We have seen different case scenarios pop up in the news, yet Nobu Okada and his team have brought it to light and they are doing something about it.
As Founder and CEO, Okada’s background is impressive to say the least. An all-rounder with a vision who has a mighty team of experts behind him to do the task. I met up with a few of his team members, more specific Chris Blackerby and the tour de force cannot be underestimated.
If you speak to many investors and VCs, the first thing they usually look for is a strong team – and Astroscale has it.
So here is my take on what makes Astroscale successful:
They may well be the first to admit this is not what they are striving for, but as an observer, I think they have persuasive and actionable power in terms of not just removing space debris, but actually enlightening policymakers on how to go about it. Having actually studied, researched and worked on international environmental law, concepts such as sustainable development, debris is still debated, perhaps less so more recently though certainly there are still those that strongly resist against the idea that there is a problem.
Having sat through a few UNOOSA sessions, let’s just say that States are somewhat coy about addressing space debris. Why? Because the problem seems to be too big, too costly to be addressed. Not for Astroscale. I am a firm believer that when we step up to a challenge, the Universe brings to us all the resources and talents we need to realise it. I think this is what is happening with Astroscale. Visionary and leaders are able to understand and appreciate the task at hand, and it requires all the help they could get.
2. Global Good
I am usually biased in my assessments of startups though very few could argue that Astroscale probably ranks at the top for global good. There are plenty of startups out there that don’t consider this a necessity at all, and whilst there are some that do strive for the billion people impact, they may not necessarily quite articulate it so well. As the NewSpace ecosystem grows with initially the trend of smallsats and launch of smaller vehicles, we are going find our selves in a challenging situation where debris is going to be a fundamental problem. Why wait until a disaster occurs? Astroscale is forward-thinking:
Their Mission is:
‘To develop technologies, advance the business case and inform the international policies that will lead to reliable and safe orbital debris capture and removal’ and their
Vision is to:
‘Secure long-term spaceflight safety and orbital sustainability for the benefit of future generations.’
source: Satellite today
3. Change maker
The work of Astroscale is more than just debris removal if you look closely at where the bigger vision lies. On their website, they have a section dedicated to Policy & Regulations which is rarely seen on other NewSpace websites and I think it allows one to observe two things:
a. Astroscale clearly understands the barrier to proceed
Law and policy has to move with the technology
I am speaking with a little experience of working on unmanned systems technologies and see the great vacuum that needs to be filled in terms of law and policies. Currently, it appears that Astroscale is having deep global conversations with many space agencies like in Japan, UK, European Space Agency and the US to address how the increasing activities in space, the impact and how we can mitigate and remove potentially harmful degree. Reference is also made to Japan’s developments over the last few years, for instance in June 2017, the Space Policy Committee (SPC), a leading body to Prime Minister Abe released an interim report for Space Basic Plan revision for the fiscal year 2018 and included the study of indemnity for third-party liability in orbit.
The issue of liability is a serious one, particularly as companies contend with the idea of doing space. In my research on space applications, that is probably one of the first barriers to entry, which is how could businesses ensure their own survival if they are working with a sector/industry/service/good with no backup plan? I am talking about insurance.
I have had some interesting discussions with a number of startups and policy departments on this and so hopefully conversations and ultimately would pick up pace, because unless businesses know where they stand in terms of risk, it is going to be difficult for commercialisation of NewSpace. At least that’s my take on it.
source: Japan Times
4. NewSpace Spirit
Why Astroscale? Here are their catchphrases:
‘We are creating the technology.
We are developing the market.
We are gathering for a purpose.
Have fun. Change the future.’
I think this pretty much encapsulates my thinking on the NewSpace spirit. It is far more than just working and doing an ordinary job. It is about doing something pioneering and extraordinary for oneself, for humanity and for society. Creating the technology is undertandable. Developing the market, is one I had to struggle with other entrepreneurs. When I said, NewSpace is about creating the customer – it gets lost on others. I think Astroscale has totally embraced that thought. Gathering for a purpose– for the cause of debris removal and future generations and having fun whilst we are changing the future.
I think Astroscale has a pivotal role to play in inspiring other startups to do the same.
source: Astroscale & e27
Astroscale is a leader in the field. They are showing other startups, businesses, policy makers how to do it. And from observing the scene, it is because not many have stepped up to this almost impossible challenge. Let’s be clear, what Astroscale aspires to do is not easy, neither will it be achieved in the short term. Though like a movement in appreciating the damage that we as humans have caused on earth – I believe Astroscale serves as a collective consciousness for all space explorers, future human space flight passengers and NewSpace startups.
I suppose an analogy could be, one that cares only for one self, looks only at what is ahead of them, whilst true leaders look at the bigger picture. Astroscale is a startup which demands our attention, because their cause is too great to ignore. When I think of Simon Sinek’s discussion on the Why of the successes of the likes of Apple, and the revolutionary change required by early adopters to technology – I think Astroscale has the power and leadership to do that.
Written by Helen Tung
Emergent Tech Advisor/ MINERVA fellow- Space Applications & GNSS, EU – Japan Centre
Creative Convenor, EU-Japan NewSpace2060 Illustrated Haiku Competition 2019
#Astroscale #NewSpace2060 @EUJapanCentre