Advances in technology have now made it possible for smaller entities to launch low-orbiting satellites to collect their own data of the Earth, but bringing this data back down to Earth still remains a challenge. It isn’t possible for smaller companies to build and install their own worldwide networks like the ones owned by, say, NASA, so they are limited to downloading their data in small batches, and only at certain times of the day. This is the problem that Christopher Richins, co-founder, and CEO of RBC Signals, intends to solve.
Richins got his beginnings working for Sea Launch, a company that puts Russian and Ukrainian rockets on Norwegian ships, and then used the ships to launch satellites from the equator. After learning about the space industry, satellites, and border regulations, he conceived of the idea to establish the infrastructure that would allow small companies to bring data back down from space.
The number of companies launching low-overhead satellites is increasing by the day, and Richins’ shared economy model would simplify retrieving data from these satellites for these smaller companies. He recognized that large corporations have dishes that span the world to be in contact with their satellites, but they only used these facilities for a small amount of time every day. So he approached some of these companies and asked if he could sell some of the remaining time to smaller companies, in exchange for a cut of the profits, to which a significant portion of them agreed, allowing him to provide this communications infrastructure as a service.
A few years later, in 2015, his idea came to fruition when the number of satellites launched per year had finally grown to the point where the business would be feasible and he finally launched RBC Signals with Olga Gershenzon. Further down the line, they plan to build their own sharing-economy-style network, making data retrieval from space a more achievable and economical goal for many of the ‘little guys’.
RBC certainly isn’t the only company providing ground station services to the space industry. Norway’s KSAT, Italy’s LeafSpace, and Spaceflight Networks are among the other companies working to provide options to budding companies launching their own satellites.
Consequently, having options will make it a lot easier for smaller companies to undertake to put satellites into orbit, so in the future, we will probably see a lot of companies venturing upwards and breaking barriers.