Payload: The newsletter covering the business of space

We spoke with the team behind the daily newsletter to find out when we'll land on Mars. If Jeff Bezos will become Blue Origin's CEO. And the 5 most interesting space startups.

As you can imagine, we here at The Hustle enjoy a good newsletter.

One to watch for the space industry is Payload, which raised a $650k seed round last September per Axios.

We recently spoke with Payload’s team to ask all things space:

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Why a space newsletter?

We believe that newsletters are the new homepage of the internet. In the consumer world, newsletter companies like Morning Brew or yourselves at The Hustle have reimagined how young professionals access news. That evolution is starting to happen for business verticals too.

Media companies such as Politico, Industry Dive and Aging Media have reimagined a variety of B2B verticals, all by starting with an email newsletter. Today, those companies are worth millions and in the case of Politico – $1B. We believe that what these companies built within their respective verticals, we can do for space.

What is the background of Payload’s team?

[Payload co-founder] Mo Islam spent more than 9 years working in the investment world. In that role, he actively invested in the space industry. He noticed an accessible, pithy, and refreshing digital media product (a la The Hustle) was hard to come by.

There were traditional high-quality trade publications, some of which still had print versions. Then, there was excellent research that cost tens of thousands of dollars. This fast-growing industry was  raising billions of dollars each quarter and tapping the public markets (thanks to SPACs). And there wasn’t a media company at the nexus of investing and space,to match.

So we decided to start one.

We started with a weekly newsletter, which we sent for over a year. We said if it crossed 1k subscribers we’d go full-time. We launched in September 2020 and went full-time in April 2021. We raised money, hired an amazing managing editor (Ryan Duffy) and transitioned to a daily newsletter.

But a daily newsletter is just the start. We have plans to build a podcast, event series, and more. Payload’s job board went live just this week, as a matter of fact. The space industry is going through a revolution and we are going to be the go-to source for covering every phase of change.

What are the most interesting sub-industries within space? 

Launch captures most of the headlines, but the vertical is a small part of the overall space economy. Look, we love a good launch as much as the next space nerd, but rockets are just the tip of the iceberg.

From an investor or space agency official’s POV, sub-industries to watch are orbital debris removal/management, commercial orbital outposts, and advanced manufacturing.

Orbital debris: We continue to break satellite launch records every year, adding to the millions of objects flying uncontrolled at speeds of over 18,000 mph in Earth’s orbit. Russia’s recent anti-satellite (ASAT) missile test increased space debris by as much as 10%, according to some estimates. Accelerating commercial and military activity in space will only add to the congestion of key orbits. It’s not an urgent issue today, but it will be. Policies and market mechanisms need to be put into place that tackle the tragedy of the commons that is space junk. 

Commercial space stations:The International Space Station (ISS) has been orbiting Earth since 1999 and has been continuously inhabited by astronauts since 2000. At $150 billion and counting, the ISS  is the most expensive object ever built by humans.  However, the treaty between NASA and the ISS’s other governing nations has an expiration date—and wear and tear is taking its toll on the outpost. When ISS reaches the end of its useful life in 2031, the platform will be decommissioned and deorbited into the Pacific Ocean. That leaves a significant gap in the western world’s ability to operate in space. We expect there to be strong government support for a successor platform, and one that will hopefully launch and reach initial operational capacity before the ISS is deorbited.

Advanced manufacturing: It’s no secret that the aerospace supply chain in the U.S. is inefficient and heavily fragmented among thousands of mom and pop shops. As new commercial startups iterate and innovate faster than ever before, we will need far more software-led automation that leverage  advanced manufacturing techniques. The winners who emerge in this space will gain significant share in aerospace supply chains.

READ MORE: The Hustle previously wrote “How the explosive growth in satellites could impact life on Earth”.

What are the 5 most interesting companies?

There are so many innovative and interesting companies in the industry, but if we had to choose just five, we’d go with:

  • Hadrian is a SF-based startup building a vertically integrated, software-defined, aerospace parts factory. The company intends to grow a network of manufacturing facilities that will eventually cover the vast majority of space and defense components.
  • Axiom Space has arguably one of the more ambitious visions on our list: building the world’s first commercial space station. The company has an exclusive relationship with NASA to connect to the ISS and leverage its key revenue lines. Watch for Axiom’s first all-private mission launching to the ISS next month.
  • Privateer, Steve Wozniak’s next venture, clearly can’t be ignored. Co-founded by Alex Fielding and advised by space environmentalist Moriba Jah, Privateer intends on building a space intelligence platform that allows the industry to more accurately track and understand debris trajectories.
  • Less than a year old, Varda plans to establish the first manufacturing facility in space as early as 2023. The company is planning to build advanced products like fiber-optic cables, semiconductors, and pharmaceuticals. These high-value goods, the theory goes, can be manufactured far more efficiently and effectively within the microgravity conditions of space.
  • SpaceX: A list of most interesting companies would not be complete without SpaceX. There is no company in the world that’s innovating and evolving as fast. Full stop.
LOS ANGELES, CA – AUGUST 03: General view of SpaceX headquarters on August 03, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

When will we land on Mars?

In our view, the United States’ ability to land on Mars will swing heavily on one variable:  how quickly SpaceX’s Starship launch system comes online. We expect an orbital test in the first half of this year, with Starship becoming fully operational by 2023. The Artemis missions to the lunar surface will take place in the late 2020s, with a planned mission to Mars in the early 2030s. China has targeted a  specific year (2033) for its first crewed mission to Mars. There’s no question if—or rather, when—that plan starts to look like a reality, the U.S. will exponentially increase its efforts to be first.

Will Jeff Bezos become Blue Origin CEO? 

It’s only a matter of time, in our opinion, before Jeff decides to take the helm at Blue Origin. The company he started 2 years before SpaceX has continuously suffered from product delays, cultural issues, and employee attrition. The ruthless efficiency present throughout Amazon is notably missing at Blue. Jeff’s leadership will be critical as the company shifts from R&D to beginning to commercialize core business segments beyond suborbital human spaceflight.

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