Meet the Companies That Could Bring Government to Space

The cost of accessing space has dropped rapidly, making it more feasible for state and local government to work with companies that launch, maintain and provide a range of services through satellites.

by / May 3, 2019
A rendering of a communications satellite in space. Shutterstock/Johan Swanepoel

The modern technology stack is typically described as a pyramid: At the bottom is infrastructure, in the middle is a platform, and on top of it all is software. Each layer supports the next.

The evolving commercial space tech industry — which appears to have some interesting use cases for state and local government work — can be thought of in much the same way. On the ground, there's launching infrastructure to send hardware into orbit. Circling the Earth are satellites carrying various cameras, sensors and other tools. And through that technology, software is able to deliver data and services.

A growing number of companies are working in each layer of the stack. Perhaps the most visible has been SpaceX, one of Elon Musk's companies, which has earned publicity for itself through its pioneering testing of reusable rockets, as well as headline-grabbing stunts like launching a Tesla car into space.

SpaceX also operates in all three layers of the stack — they launch, they orbit and they provide services, including the planned Starlink satellite constellation slated to bring Internet connectivity to hard-to-reach areas.

Defense contractor Northrop Grumman, which acquired rocket-launched Orbital Sciences in 2018, offers a variety of launching and satellite services. Relative newcomer Rocket Lab is working specifically on smaller launches.

Amazon and Amazon Web Services are, perhaps, surprising players in the industry. The diversified tech giant is offering services to satellites, including "Ground Station as a Service" — helping to establish a link between ground and orbit. Like SpaceX, Amazon has plans to create a satellite constellation for Internet connectivity purposes.

Companies that focus more on the top service layer include Planet and Swarm, which both own satellites in space and intend to use them to provide imagery and monitoring services to customers in a variety of industries.

Government Technology plans to continue covering this niche going forward. If you are aware of a space company that has a connection to state and local government, drop a line to bmiller@erepublic.com.

Ben Miller Associate Editor of GT Data and Business

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.