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The 10 most innovative space companies of 2022

How SpaceX, Planet Labs, Relativity Space, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, and more are leading the orbital economy.

The 10 most innovative space companies of 2022

Explore the full 2022 list of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, 528 organizations whose efforts are reshaping their businesses, industries, and the broader culture. We’ve selected the firms making the biggest impact with their initiatives across 52 categories, including the most innovative robotics, design, and AR/VR companies.

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Innovation in space continues to soar as investment pours into the sector. In the decade leading into 2021, $178 billion in investment flowed into the space economy. Last year, that number hit $14.5 billion for space infrastructure companies. Beyond the flashy space tourism voyages sending billionaires and other rich people into space are advances in rockets and launch systems; Earth observation, which has a wide variety of applications for businesses and society; small satellites for next-generation communications and sustainability efforts; and systems to defend against asteroids and clean up space debris.

This year’s list of the most innovative companies in space is topped by SpaceX, which continues to lead the pack of launch vehicle manufacturers, with a record number of launches last year and delivering on its promise to get NASA and its corporate customers into orbit more cheaply than before. Challengers Rocket Lab, Relativity Space, and ABL Space Systems are each looking for an edge to compete with the industry giant, with each company finding a novel angle in the new space race. Rocket Lab had five successful launches last year, and is working to make its rocket components reusable. Relativity Space has built the large-scale 3D printing capacity to make its rockets, which has significant potential for the future of manufacturing as well as changing how rockets are built, and is preparing for its initial launch. ABL Space Systems also has developed a fresh approach to a launch system, creating a launch-site-in-a-box concept.

Earth observation—and its implications for using space to impact sustainability—remains a vibrant sector, with Planet Labs giving its customers a daily view into what’s happening with an increasing degree of precision. This insight is giving the company’s customers the ability to monitor deforestation and engage in marine-protection projects. GHGSat has been able to detect large methane leaks so they can be remedied immediately. Another major vista for the space economy is facilitating communication on Earth, whether that’s via SpaceX’s Starlink internet service or Kymeta, which has assisted first responders in remote locations communicate critical information about forest fires.

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1. SpaceX

For breaking records and sending civilians to space

In 2021, SpaceX completed 31 successful launches of its Falcon 9 rocket, breaking its record for the number of missions completed in a year. In April, NASA selected SpaceX’s Starship rocket to send humans to the moon, investing $2.9 billion in the vehicle that Musk’s team is developing with the goal of sending man to Mars. Starship is built to be fully reusable and the world’s most powerful launch vehicle, capable of carrying more than 100 metric tons of passengers and cargo. SpaceX hopes to launch its first orbital flight test of the rocket early this year. In September, SpaceX made history launching the first-ever all-civilian crew into orbit, and two months later, it delivered four astronauts safely back to Earth after a six-month stay aboard the International Space Station. The company capped its landmark 2021 by setting a new world record for the number of satellites launched into space on a single rocket, sending 143 into orbit on a SpaceX Falcon.

SpaceX is No. 9 on this year’s list of the World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies.

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2. Planet Labs

For producing a high-resolution Daily Planet

With its constellation of more than 200 satellites, the Earth imaging company Planet Labs provides high frequency data on our planet every day. From agriculture to sustainability, Planet’s geospatial insights are used across industries to inform the decision making of researchers, businesses, and governments. Customers subscribe to receive satellite imagery of any location on Earth, and they can search through the company’s Planet Archive which contains over 10 billion square kilometers of imagery. In October, Planet announced the development of a next-generation satellite constellation with increased accuracy, improved image resolution, and reduced latency. In December, after raising roughly $450 million in private funding, the company went public as a public benefit corporation.

Planet Labs is No. 43 on this year’s list of the World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies.

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3. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

For protecting Earth from asteroids

In November, the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) launched the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), the world’s first full-scale planetary defense test to protect against asteroids. The mission, in collaboration with NASA, will demonstrate new technologies designed and built by APL to change the direction of an asteroid’s motion in space. Using a kinetic impact method, the DART spacecraft will navigate toward an asteroid and intentionally collide with it in order to change its trajectory. DART is expected to impact its target, the asteroid Dimorphos (which is not a current threat to Earth), in September 2022.

4. Relativity Space

For 3D printing entire rockets

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Launch vehicle manufacturer Relativity Space is scaling up production of its 3D printed rockets. In 2021, Relativity completed successful testing of its first rocket, the Terran 1, which is set to be the first 3D-printed rocket in space when it is launched early this year. In March, the company shipped Stage 2 of Terran 1 to the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi for hot fire testing. Last year, the startup also revealed plans for a second, larger rocket, the fully reusable and 100% 3D-printed Terran R. Printing of the Terran R is already underway in Relativity’s new 1 million-plus-square-foot headquarters in Long Beach, California. The company has raised over $1 billion in funding to date and has secured launch deals with customers like NASA, Lockheed Martin, and Iridium.

5. Kymeta

For bringing broadband to remote regions

Kymeta provides broadband communications worldwide, with its flat-panel satellite antenna and connectivity services. Through its antenna technology, Kymeta brings on-the-go internet access to remote regions, helping customers like first responders deliver critical information to the public such as the location and trajectory of forest fires. In July, Kymeta was awarded a $950 million contract by the U.S. Air Force to develop integrated connectivity services across air, land, sea, cyber, electromagnetic spectrums, and space. Along with satellite provider Intelsat, Kymeta successfully demonstrated satellite-enabled 5G services in November with its electronically steered antenna.

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6. ABL Space Systems

For building transportable launch sites in shipping containers

ABL Space Systems, which was founded in 2017, has developed a transportable launch system model that can send a rocket to space anywhere there’s a flat patch of concrete. ABL’s rockets, built in-house, and its ground stations can be moved via shipping containers and require only five operators per launch. ABL plans to launch its first rocket, the RS1, early this year, and has already secured a list of major launch agreements over the next five years. One such contract is with Amazon, which plans to send two prototype satellites to space for its Project Kuiper broadband constellation aboard ABL rockets by the end of 2022.

7. Astroscale

For cleaning up space

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The Japanese startup Astroscale is the industry leader in orbital sustainability work. It debuted a new universal docking device in November, built to attach to satellites to help them be captured at the end of their missions. The device, designed with the goal of being used by all satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO), includes a standardized interface that can operate with both magnetic and robotic capture mechanisms. Astroscale’s new technology is an expansion of its End-of-Life Services for satellites, which completed a successful demonstration of satellite-capture technology in August. The new docking device is currently undergoing testing in LEO. Astroscale has raised more than $300 million to date, including $109 million in its most recent round of funding in November.

8. Rocket Lab

For challenging SpaceX with its launch systems

In December, Rocket Lab revealed plans for a new, reusable, midsize launcher called Neutron. The Neutron will operate with an industry-first design, with the rocket’s second stage encapsulated within the first stage. The first stage will open to release the second rocket, before closing its doors and returning to Earth. Rocket Lab already operates the second most frequently used U.S. space launch system after SpaceX’s Falcon 9, the Electron launcher. In 2021, Rocket Lab completed six successful missions with Electron rockets, bringing its total number of completed flights to 23. After three successful recoveries of Electron rockets in 2020 and 2021, Rocket Lab revealed that it is ready to catch a booster in midair with a helicopter early this year.

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9. GHGSat

For identifying methane leaks from space

Canadian company GHGSat claims to operate the world’s only fleet of satellites that can detect greenhouse gas emissions from space and determine the exact facility from which the emissions have leaked. In 2021, GHGSat detected large methane leaks from landfills in Dhaka, Bangladesh and Madrid, and eight natural gas pipelines in Turkmenistan. In November, the Canadian government announced that it will be contributing the first high-resolution satellite dataset to the International Methane Emissions Observatory, comprised of GHGSat’s findings. The climate-focused company currently has three satellites in orbit and plans to have a fleet of 10 commercial satellites in space by the end of the year.

10. Totum Labs

For moving satellite tracking indoors

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With its novel Doppler Multichannel Spread Spectrum (DMSS), the satellite connectivity startup, Totum Labs has introduced a global tracking chip that can monitor anything anywhere in the world both indoors and outdoors. In September, the company successfully completed indoor operation of its tracking solution, achieving communication between its satellite in low Earth orbit (LEO) and an object in an office building in San Diego. With a combination of worldwide satellite reach and indoor coverage, Totum offers a unique connectivity solution for supply-chain monitoring, transportation, agriculture, and other markets. The company has booked roughly 2 million advance orders to date.

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