May 22, 2024

June 5, 2024

5YF Episode #16: Epsilon3 CEO Laura Crabtree

Space command reimagined, automating mission control, new deep tech hubs, interstellar missions, and the future of space operations w/ Epsilon3 CEO Laura Crabtree

5 year frontier

Episode Transcript

Future of space operations: automating mission control

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Today, we look ahead at how space operations are being digitized and automated, enhancing speed, improving reliability, and decreasing the cost of accessing space.

When I joined this industry, I was told you can get two of three things: faster, better, or cheaper. And you can only get two. All of us that joined SpaceX wanted to challenge that paradigm.
My takeaway - over the next 5 years:
  • Small teams will drive access to space
  • Interconnectedness between space and the broader economy will spark a cycle of innovation
  • New deep tech hubs become pillars of future US innovation supremacy

My guide to the near frontier is Laura Crabtree, CEO of Epsilon3, a software platform designed to manage and orchestrate engineering, testing, and operations for the space industry and other complex industries. Backed by frontier investors Lux Capital and Village Global, Epsilon3 serves NASA, Virgin Galactic, and the United States Space Force. Their software is embedded throughout these organizations and seeks to drive operational excellence amidst the complex chaos. Laura spent a decade at SpaceX as a Senior Mission Operations Engineer, as well as five years at Northrop Grumman as a Systems Controller, providing us with a unique perspective on the two generations of space companies.

Let’s dive into what stood out when previewing the future of space and complex operations through Laura’s eyes.

Small teams will drive access to space

Intelligent software automation is coming to the space industry and will make a significant impact on operational headcount. Expect a proliferation of smaller teams composed of immensely capable researchers, scientists, engineers, and controllers that can deliver space programs previously reserved for the industrial complex.

You won’t see 50 people in a control room for launch…you’ll see 5 controlling 50 different assets and a couple of 100 assets that are mostly operating on their own

While increasing automation is a common macro trend, the complex workflows, data security, and scrutinized regulatory environment have meant that for the space industry to benefit from advances in software intelligence, they require homegrown solutions. These are the kinds of solutions that the new generation of space entrepreneurs, like Laura, is ushering in with Epsilon3.

Importantly, the buyers they are selling to have become far more receptive with the arrival of new private sector entrants, from SpaceX to new startups, who are seeking to outcompete the industrial complex by showcasing their agility, speed, and lower cost structure.

It is a win for the space industry and signals a further lowering of the barriers to accessing space. We have already witnessed this in rocket manufacturing, with SpaceX employing only one-sixth of the engineers that Boeing does. Additionally, the emerging startup Rocket Lab, which 3D prints its rockets, has only one-tenth the number of employees as SpaceX.

Interconnectedness between space and the broader economy will spark a cycle of innovation

Space is rapidly becoming a viable theater for the private sector, expanding the range of businesses being built. No longer limited to space exploration and communication satellites, we are now seeing companies mining asteroids for minerals, manufacturing advanced alloys in microgravity, developing novel pharmaceuticals, advancing crop propagation and terraforming, and making strides in solar energy harvesting.

As access to space democratizes, the list of applications grows, fostering tighter collaboration and innovation transfer between the space industry and other sectors of the economy. In five years, I envision a stronger synergy between cutting-edge advancements in space and their applications on Earth, and vice versa, particularly as founders and operators in both sectors increasingly cross-pollinate

Hypersonics, Supersonics, I think there’s going to be a lot growth in those areas in the 5 years. I’m really excited to travel to a different country in an hour or two!

One area Laura highlights for the near term is aerospace. An obvious beneficiary of advances in flight, it will usher in hypersonic and supersonic travel on Earth to dramatic effect.

New deep tech hubs become pillars of future US innovation supremacy

Silicon Valley has powered America's position as the world's leading innovator. While the landscape has become more diverse and interesting since COVID, a bigger shift is taking shape. Deep tech innovation is turning science fiction into science fact, benefiting from Silicon Valley's advancements in AI and making groundbreaking strides in space, robotics, and life sciences. These industries require different physical infrastructure, specialized partners, and expert talent. Startups and their operators are integrating with traditional aerospace and defense hubs such as El Segundo, Colorado, and Florida's Space Coast, creating new, fast-moving ecosystems of innovation.

After SpaceX started in 2002, you now have the ability for those people to go to a startup just down the street. And now you have a startup mentality being born in this area

As the technology curve steepens, encompassing dramatic advances in humanity's ability to travel throughout the solar system, exert command over the building blocks of life, and unlock transformative breakthroughs in energy and material sciences, the locations where these innovations will be developed will become pivotal hubs of industry and research. Harboring the organizations and facilities that will underpin the most critical sectors of the US economy.

What’s clear is that the countdown to the future has begun!

- Daniel Darling

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