The Invisible Transformation of Global Industries - Part 2

March 3, 2022
Alan Yu & Justus Kilian

The modern global economy, and the underlying systems that drive industries, rely on space technologies as the only global infrastructure. Concepts like synchronous time and key attributes in precise positioning form the fundamental building blocks of many of our innovations today. Unseen by human eye, space technologies have become the “invisible backbone” that power the next generation of digital infrastructure, helping coordinate and automate key facets of our global economy. Beyond the Global Positioning System (GPS), Geospatial Intelligence, and Satellite Communications also play a critical role in transforming major industries. Telecommunications, Agriculture, Oil & Gas, Construction, Financial Services, and Insurance all benefit from space-based infrastructure.

Figure 1. SkyWatch helps construction businesses to track progress and monitor land use

Like the Oil & Gas industry, project efficiency and cost effectiveness are also top management priorities for the Construction industry. Schedule control and compliance with technical regulations are also very important in every stage of a construction project. All of this is especially challenging for isolated areas, where one of the biggest issues is controlling the supply chain and budget. The standard approach involves contractors visiting construction sites greatly increases design costs and pushes back project completion dates. SkyWatch, a Space Capital portfolio company, has made commercial satellite imagery very accessible. Leveraging their EarthCache API, construction companies can view the most up to date satellite images as well as historical ones. 

When combined with AI and ML, satellite imagery can be further utilized to provide timely and accurate information on project updates including surrounding development changes and construction process down to the detection of each installed unit or construct. Geospatial analytics companies like Earth Observing System can help construction companies compile 3D models of facilities under construction and classify objects within the construction site and adjacent areas. This solution offers landscape classification, calculation and analysis of the characteristics of classified objects such as industrial buildings, construction sites, land areas as well as more granular change detection.

Financial Services

GPS is the most widely used Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and has become an irreplaceable system that consumers and businesses depend on. What you may not have realized is that it is that GPS is more than a location tool. It has become a critical part of all ATM transactions and every other point-of-sale transaction conducted in the United States and most of the world, and it is vulnerable to attack and disruption. Banks and regulators alike rely on time stamps to monitor transactions, catch fraud, and update payroll. The need to determine the precise time that the transaction occurs and the ability to make machines around the world agree on exactly what time it is is something only GNSS systems provide. The National Institute of Standards and Technology estimated that the loss of GPS service would have caused a US$1 billion per-day economic impact. Companies like Xona Space Systems and TrustPoint are developing the next generation of private GNSS to overcome the shortcomings of heritage systems, become the failsafes of GPS and to enable mission critical commercial applications.

Another danger the Financial industry is facing is emerging cybersecurity threats. Cryptography in banking has long been used to ensure the security of transactions and data transfers. However the conventional symmetric key encryption is vulnerable to quantum computing attacks. Quantum computers can solve the mathematical problems used in the most common form of modern encryption that governments and businesses rely on today. The only way to protect financial institutions from quantum threats is to adapt new quantum cryptography technologies. 

Figure 2. Quantum Xchange helps financial institutions defend quantum-based cybersecurity threats

Quantum Xchange, a Space Capital portfolio company, has developed a unique key infrastructure that helps organizations stay ahead of the evolving threat landscape. The company’s core product, Phio TX, is the only crypto-agile network security solution today capable of making traditional data and communication networks quantum-safe and has become the first vendor in the world with commercially viable  Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), overcoming its previous distance and delivery limitations. The core concept of Phio TX is sending the keys separated from the data. By sending an encrypted out-of-band key, the tools to decrypt data are made much more difficult to track. Cyber attackers will now need to identify, track, and associate two separate quantum assets, which many believe to be close to impossible. This is in fact a step-change improvement in quantum cryptography, and forms the backbone for truly verifiable, quantum-resilient security.

Figure 3. Arbol helps protecting businesses from weather risks with satellite data

Insurance is fundamental to the financial infrastructure of a society, and it has grown to encompass every facet of life, especially in developed countries. We use insurance to reduce risks stemming from untimely and unexpected issues. Weather is one of the primary sources of risk on the planet directly affecting the livelihoods of over billions of people and more than 70% of all businesses. Weather events heavily impact cycles of crop planting and unusual temperature or precipitation patterns can be devastating to crop growth and in turn, have a major effect on the livelihoods of farmers. While agricultural insurance programs do exist, claims are typically based on losses in production. While this approach seems intuitive, these products require in-person, qualitative assessments to be made by the insurer, making this form of insurance highly subjective, costly, and inefficient.

Arbol, a Space Capital portfolio company, has launched an insurance marketplace that connects weather exposed businesses with capital providers like insurers and asset managers. Arbol’s parametric insurance platform removes information asymmetry and reduces administrative costs by leveraging trusted resources from NASA, NOAA, commercial satellites and weather stations. Parametric insurance means that Arbol pays out based on predetermined, verifiable, and objective metrics that customers choose at the beginning of their contract, such as yearly deviation in rainfall amounts or temperature. After deciding on a premium and selecting a payout amount, the end user then relies on Arbol's platform to handle the rest. Because parametric contracts are data-driven, they can achieve a level of precision, reliability, and cost effectiveness that traditional insurance cannot. Satellite data’s increasing refresh rates have given Arbol an edge over legacy weather insurance because it allows for hyper-local protection for managing user-specific levels of risk.

Although the industries and companies showcased above provide a few examples of how space technologies are being leveraged in a global transformation to digitize our physical world. We see this trend accelerating as the tools and insights provided by space-based infrastructure become more flexible and easier to integrate into our everyday lives. In the same way that every company today is a technology company, we believe that every company of tomorrow will be a space company.

Check out Part 1



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