Space Tourism, Mergers, Debris and Other Space Tech Trends to Watch in 2022

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

Space Tourism, Mergers, Debris and Other Space Tech Trends to Watch in 2022
Meet the 10 Startups in Techstars' 2021 Space Accelerator Class

The past year has seen a rapid increase in space exploration, both by professional astronauts and those with enough money to afford a jaunt to the stars.

2021 may be remembered as the year wealthy travelers went to space in droves. The Who’s Who list includes Amazon exec Jeff Bezos, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson and millionaires Michael Strahan and William Schatner. But that likely won’t be the end of space tourism.

Viewing the “pale blue dot” of our planet (as Carl Sagan once described it) is a life-changing experience few typically get to have, and it can often change a person’s perspective of their home forever.


“I know a large number of astronauts and every one of them has told me that their view of our world changed the moment they looked back at the Earth,” said Bobby Braun, director of planetary science for NASA’s Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “All of them have been impacted by this, and they come back with kind of a different view of our Earth and the fact that we're all in this together. I think that's a very positive force.”

As people continue to venture further into space, it will continue to shift the way the aerospace industry approaches working, playing, and maybe, eventually living among the cosmos.

Here’re a few trends to keep an eye on as the space industry accelerates next year.

Space Tourism’s Acceleration

Propelled by suborbital flights from Blue Origin, SpaceX and Virgin Galactic this year, interest in visiting space has skyrocketed.

The billionaires at the helm of these companies, including Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson, may have led the way this past year, but the trend won’t end there. It’s unlikely the average person will be able to travel to space anytime soon;– ’s the price tag for a Virgin Galactic flight into orbit was $50 million in August 2021.

In 2022, it won’t be just private firms looking to capitalize on space tourism. Some nations are already looking to offer trips. Russia, for instance, is asking $60 million per person for a ride to space on its Soyuz rockets.

While interest in space tourism grows, demand for adventures beyond the typical 10-minute sub-orbital trips will accelerate. Expect questions about the future of our species’ experience among the stars to come to the fore, including the big question: Could we eventually live there?

There’s long been talk of making space hotels, crafts that can house travelers in more glamorous conditions than the research-oriented International Space Station. Fontana-based Orbital Assembly is looking to finish a hotel in space by 2027.

Chief Operating Officer Tim Alatorre told dot.LA earlier this year that while we don’t have the ability to build large commercial structures in space yet, “there's no engineering reason for that. It's just a matter of will, and getting all the business and the commerce components in place to make it happen.”

Orbital Debris Will Become a Factor

What goes up must come down, eventually.

As private companies such as Musk’s satellite internet firm Starlink launch more satellites into space alongside a growing number of government launches, the final frontier will become even more crowded.

About 3,000 inactive satellites are still in space, the World Economic Forum reported in May.

Experts say there’s a chance that satellites (or the debris of one-time satellites) could create a greater hazard to essential systems such as GPS. It’s also a potential problem for the ISS crew, which could see missions jeopardized if the station were struck by a piece of debris.

As larger pieces of debris inevitably return to Earth, expect to see more instances of the panic that followed in May when huge pieces of a Chinese rocket landed off the Maldivian coast.

Braun said the JPL is keeping an eye on this, especially after the crew had to go into “shelter mode,” hiding in crew capsules for safety in November as a piece of a Russian anti-satellite weapon test went flying by.

“It's becoming more and more of a problem, because there have been both accidents and deliberate acts where people have proven that they could blow up something in low Earth orbit,” Braun said. When they do, he said, they create a dangerous “swarm of debris” that can just hurtle around the vacuum of space forever if left unchecked.

More Competition for ISS Missions

Missions to the International Space Station have been a cornerstone of NASA’s agenda, but it's been nearly 11 years since the final publicly funded Space Shuttle mission. Governments and private firms are now in a constant competition to out-bid each other for valuable ISS launch contracts.

SpaceX has been the main beneficiary of new contracts, ever since it swooped in to offer a much cheaper ticket to the ISS than the $90 million per-seat Russian rockets. That isn’t to say SpaceX can’t itself be outbid. Companies including Long Beach-based Relativity Space are 3D-printing rockets and quickly becoming a new favorite of the Space Force.

SpaceX doesn’t just carry crew members to the ISS; it will continue to deliver valuable resupply missions for the astronauts living there, and launched its final resupply mission of the year Dec. 21.

Expect More Mergers

A number of space companies went public in 2021, driven in part by a wave of special purpose acquisition mergers (SPACs) that allowed them to raise gobs of funding in a short amount of time. In 2022, that trend could accelerate for space companies, though there are headwinds that could put a damper on the practice.

Merging with a blank-check company to go public was a favorite tactic of tech firms, as it provides a faster route to IPO listing. SPAC deals also allow companies to list on exchanges with sometimes less financial scrutiny. Firms that aren’t yet profitable can still raise large sums by listing via SPAC. Take Astra, a rocket startup that hadn’t conducted a single successful launch by the time of its roughly $500 million SPAC IPO in February.

Rocket Lab went public in August via a SPAC that valued the 15-year-old company at $4.1 billion. The IPO raised at least $777 million for the company, much-needed capital to fuel the development of its newer, bigger rocket: the Neutron – as well as keep launching satellites on its existing reusable Electron rocket, which has launched 107 small satellites since 2017.

Virgin Orbit is planning an IPO through its SPAC in 2022, and it is expected to raise up to $483 million.

Other California-based companies that went public this year included Planet, which raised $500 million in December, and Momentus, which paid $7 million to the SEC to settle a case alleging it misled investors about its technology and national security concerns regarding the background of its founder. The SEC also hit Stable Road Acquisition Corp., the VC-backed blank check firm that merged with Momentus to take it public, with a $1 million fine.

SPAC Research data showed that by March 2021 U.S.-based SPACs raised $87.9 billion, exceeding the total raised in 2020. That number is expected to grow, though SEC Chairman Gary Gensler recently told NPR he plans to crack down on SPACs in the new year as part of a larger plan to regulate markets and “meme stocks.” If it becomes difficult for space startups to raise cash, they’re likely to need to rely on the venture capital market a bit more heavily.

Overall, 2021 was a banner year for the space industry, and it’s expected to grow even more in the coming year. As the industry expands and more private firms compete for valuable launch contracts, it’ll look to overcome long standing challenges that could slow down its rapid growth.

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🤠Musk Picks Texas and 🔥Tinder AI Picks Your Profile Pictures
Image Source: Tinder

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Tinder is altering dating profile creation with its new AI-powered Photo Selector feature, designed to help users choose their most appealing dating profile pictures. This innovative tool employs facial recognition technology to curate a set of up to 10 photos from the user's device, streamlining the often time-consuming process of profile setup. To use the feature, users simply take a selfie within the Tinder app and grant access to their camera roll. The AI then analyzes the photos based on factors like lighting and composition, drawing from Tinder's research on what makes an effective profile picture.

The selection process occurs entirely on the user's device, ensuring privacy and data security. Tinder doesn't collect or store any biometric data or photos beyond those chosen for the profile, and the facial recognition data is deleted once the user exits the feature. This new tool addresses a common pain point for users, as Tinder's research shows that young singles typically spend about 25 to 33 minutes selecting a profile picture. By automating this process, Tinder aims to reduce profile creation time and allow users to focus more on making meaningful connections.

In wholly unrelated news, Elon Musk has announced plans to relocate the headquarters of X (formerly Twitter) and SpaceX from California to Texas. SpaceX will move from Hawthorne to Starbase, while X will shift from San Francisco to Austin. Musk cited concerns about aggressive drug users near X's current headquarters and a new California law regarding gender identity notification in schools as reasons for the move. This decision follows Musk's previous relocation of Tesla's headquarters to Texas in 2021.

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  • Penguin Random House agreed to acquire comic book publisher Boom! Studios from backers like Walt Disney Co. - learn more

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Top LA Accelerators that Entrepreneurs Should Know About

Los Angeles, has a thriving startup ecosystem with numerous accelerators, incubators, and programs designed to support and nurture new businesses. These programs provide a range of services, including funding, mentorship, workspace, networking opportunities, and strategic guidance to help entrepreneurs develop their ideas and scale their companies.


Techstars Los Angeles

Techstars is a global outfit with a chapter in Los Angeles that opened in 2017. It prioritizes local companies but will fund some firms based outside of LA.

Location: Culver City

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: StokedPlastic, Zeno Power


Grid110

Grid110 offers no-cost, no-equity programs for entrepreneurs in Los Angeles, including a 12-week Residency accelerator for early-stage startups, an Idea to Launch Bootcamp for pre-launch entrepreneurs, and specialized programs like the PledgeLA Founders Fund and Friends & Family program, all aimed at providing essential skills, resources, and support to help founders develop and grow their businesses.

Location: DTLA

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: Casetify, Flavors From Afar


Idealab

Idealab is a renowned startup studio and incubator based in Pasadena, California. Founded in 1996 by entrepreneur Bill Gross, Idealab has a long history of nurturing innovative technology companies, with over 150 startups launched and 45 successful IPOs and acquisitions, including notable successes like Coinbase and Tenor.

Location: Pasadena

Type of Funding: Stage agnostic

Focus: Industry Agnostic, AI/Robotics, Consumer, Clean Energy

Notable Past Companies: Lumin, Coinbase, Tenor


Plug In South LA

Plug In South LA is a tech accelerator program focused on supporting and empowering Black and Latinx entrepreneurs in the Los Angeles area. The 12-week intensive program provides early-stage founders with mentorship, workshops, strategic guidance, potential pilot partnerships, grant funding, and networking opportunities to help them scale their businesses and secure investment.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed

Focus: Industry Agnostic, Connection to South LA and related communities

Notable Past Companies: ChargerHelp, Peadbo


Cedars-Sinai Accelerator

The Cedars-Sinai Accelerator is a three-month program based in Los Angeles that provides healthcare startups with $100,000 in funding, mentorship from over 300 leading clinicians and executives, and access to Cedars-Sinai's clinical expertise and resources. The program aims to transform healthcare quality, efficiency, and care delivery by helping entrepreneurs bring their innovative technology products to market, offering participants dedicated office space, exposure to a broad network of healthcare entrepreneurs and investors, and the opportunity to pitch their companies at a Demo Day.

Location: West Hollywood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage, convertible note

Focus: Healthcare, Device, Life Sciences

Notable Past Companies: Regard, Hawthorne Effect


MedTech Innovator

MedTech Innovator is the world's largest accelerator for medical technology companies, based in Los Angeles, offering a four-month program that provides selected startups with unparalleled access to industry leaders, investors, and resources without taking equity. The accelerator culminates in showcase events and competitions where participating companies can win substantial non-dilutive funding, with the program having a strong track record of helping startups secure FDA approvals and significant follow-on funding.

Location: Westwood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Health Care, Health Diagnostics, Medical Device

Notable Past Companies: Zeto, Genetesis


KidsX

The KidsX Accelerator in Los Angeles is a 10-week program that supports early-stage digital health companies focused on pediatric care, providing mentorship, resources, and access to a network of children's hospitals to help startups validate product-market fit and scale their solutions. The accelerator uses a reverse pitch model, where participating hospitals identify focus areas and work closely with selected startups to develop and pilot digital health solutions that address specific pediatric needs.

Location: East Hollywood

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed, early stage

Focus: Pediatric Health Care Innovation

Notable Past Companies: Smileyscope, Zocalo Health


Disney Accelerator

Disney Accelerator is a startup accelerator that provides early-stage companies in the consumer media, entertainment and technology sectors with mentorship, guidance, and investment from Disney executives. The program, now in its 10th year, aims to foster collaborations and partnerships between innovative technology companies and The Walt Disney Company to help them accelerate their growth and bring new experiences to Disney audiences.

Location: Burbank

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Technology and entertainment

Notable Past Companies: Epic Games, BRIT + CO, CAMP


Techstars Space Accelerator

Techstars Space Accelerator is a startup accelerator program focused on advancing the next generation of space technology companies. The three-month mentorship-driven program brings together founders from across the globe to work on big ideas in aerospace, including rapid launch services, precision-based imaging, operating systems for complex robotics, in-space servicing, and thermal protection.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Aerospace

Notable Past Companies: Pixxel, Morpheus Space



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🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

🔦 Spotlight

Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.


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