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Remarks by Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross at the Space Startup Summit

Good morning, and welcome everyone to this exciting event. Given the amount of interest in this subject — and an unexpected onrush of registrations — we had to change the location to handle all the additional attendees. We are delighted that you are all here during one of the busiest weeks of the year for space industry conferences.

Right now is probably the best time yet for space startups. In earlier periods, the gap between start up and revenue realization was too long and too uncertain for many investors. Back then, it was also not obvious how much room there would be for the sector’s growth.

What changed are several things. President Trump reactivated the Space Council with Vice President Pence as its Chair. Both have emphasized private sector participation. 

Meanwhile, technological innovation has greatly reduced launch costs. Satellite miniaturization, reusability of launch vehicles, and improved rockets have vastly cut costs and production time. Technology has also greatly enhanced the precision of remote sensing and signal communication.
Finally, the regulatory environment has become somewhat more supportive. For example, we have cut processing time for remote sensing to about 90 days and more regulatory updates are on the way.

Entrepreneurs also are broadening their focus – from hardware to providing commercial services made possible by the new technologies. Multiple large constellations of small shops are creating new direct opportunities and less obvious ones like space situational awareness, space traffic management, and debris removal. 

To encourage even more startups, we have a tremendous lineup of speakers and panelists, including space entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and federal officials who are actively fostering the development of this industry. They are doing this by creating new procurement opportunities for innovative space products and services.

Promoting the commercial space industry has been one of my highest priorities as Secretary of Commerce, and it is a top priority of our administration.

One of our illustrious panelists, CEO Chad Anderson of Space Angels, recently reported that the amount of non-governmental equity investment in commercial space companies reached $5 billion during the first nine months of 2019. That is an increase of 49 percent over the same period in 2018, and we are on track to surpass 2017 as the largest year on record for private space investment. 

We want today’s event to make a difference in creating new financing opportunities for companies that are developing innovative technologies, solutions, and services. We are also interested in exploring ways for the government to support our most innovative firms. 

The Commerce Department is actively promoting the commercial space industry. This is the fourth in a series of space summits that our Office of Space Commerce has organized within the past year. We held a similar summit on late-stage startups and how they can overcome the challenge of attracting institutional financing from Wall Street.

To address one of the challenges identified at that event, we are streamlining regulations and export controls for applications such as remote sensing. These efforts will provide significant relief to the industry.

We have hosted events on mitigating risks and lowering costs for space companies by engaging the U.S. insurance industry, and by increasing the availability and quality of space situational awareness information. We also have successfully encouraged major investment banking firms to provide research on the $415 billion space industry. They are the firms that ultimately will provide IPOs, exit opportunities, and later state funding.

Our Office of Space Commerce continues to make progress toward establishing an open-architecture IT system for sharing the Defense Department’s catalogue of SSA data with the commercial sector. This system will promote the formation of new companies specializing in the commercial collection, analysis, and dissemination of vast of data generated by the monitoring of space assets and debris.

This past June at the Space Enterprise Summit we co-hosted with the State Department, we heard from commercial startups interested in the active removal of space debris. Other companies are developing commercial enterprises on, or near the Moon. Today’s summit will focus on the unique needs of early-stage companies at the pre-operational stage.

We in government, need to understand the specific challenges your companies face, and the conditions you need to succeed. The government can no longer be a passive player in the development of the commercial space industry. Space agencies should do more to engage with you from the startup phase, to the point where you can provide your services to non-government customers here and throughout the world. Strategic U.S. government purchases from early-stage start-ups create the foundation companies need to seek additional private capital.

Today, a panelist from NOAA will discuss how that Commerce agency is purchasing data from startups that collect atmospheric soundings from small-sat constellations. NOAA’s Commercial Weather Data Pilot program has finished two rounds of procuring test data, and is working toward its first major purchase of operational data. 

The agency has also developed a new NOAA Satellite Observing Systems Architecture, called “En-So-Sa.” This new architecture is designed to include on-ramps for commercial space data and services. It is the type of pro-business planning we will promote across all federal space agencies.

Our first panel this morning — which I am pleased to moderate — will discuss the current state of financing for startups, and where we are headed in the near future. After that, we will get a small taste of the exciting and wide-ranging innovation in the startup community by hearing a series of lightning talks from five early-stage startups.

On a personal note, thank you for everything that each and every one of you are doing to drive this industry into a prosperous future, that generates new opportunities and hope for millions of Americans. We know that one person’s ideas and the funding to see them through to fruition can change the course of history.

Kevin, I’ll leave it to you to introduce our panelists. Thank you.

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