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双语:小型卫星何以成了热门科技?

2015-08-20    来源:fortune    【      美国外教 在线口语培训

双语:小型卫星何以成了热门科技?

过去5年来,随着新型小型卫星技术的成熟,从空间轨道获取新数据的前景吸引越来越多的知名风投机构和《财富》500强企业投身卫星行业。投资者们真正看重的,其实是必将与一系列轨道技术融合的大数据、互联网和全球市场情报。

It’s a bullish time to be in the commercial space business these days. The industry as a whole has grown more than sixfold in the last five years to include more than 800 companies. Deal activity has increased for three years straight, according to data published by CB Insights. In the first half of 2015 the industry hit four-year highs both in terms of deals completed and dollars invested (driven largely by a $1 billion Series D funding round for SpaceX in January).
当前正是商业空间探索领域行情看涨的时候。过去5年里,该行业整体增长了6倍多,目前业内已有800多家公司。根据CB Insights公司提供的数据,该领域的交易活动已经连续3年直线增加。2015年上半年,空间探索领域完成的交易数量和投资数额都达到4年新高。(这在很大程度上归功于SpaceX公司今年1月获得的10亿美元D轮融资。)

Most of that investment has been swallowed up by a private space launch industry anchored by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. The allure of new data streams from orbit (powered by a new breed smaller satellite technologies) has lured an increasingly prestigious roster of venture capital firms and Fortune 500 companies toward the satellite industry. It’s an industry long considered too capital-intensive and risky for many investors since a late-‘90s collapse of several satellite communication companies.
大多数投资都流向了以埃隆·马斯克的SpaceX公司为代表的私人航天发射行业。随着新型小型卫星技术的成熟,从空间轨道获取新数据的前景吸引越来越多的知名风投机构和《财富》500强企业投身卫星行业。其实,自从上世纪九十年代几家卫星通讯公司相继倒闭以来,很多投资人都认为这个行业对资本要求太高,风险太大。

Interest in small satellites—typically defined as those under 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds)—has grown over the years based on a number of factors working in tandem: The miniaturization of once-bulky satellite components, standardization of many satellite parts, and other factors have trimmed costs substantially. That has made the building, launching, and operation of “smallsat” constellations increasingly feasible.
不过在许多因素的共同作用下,投资人近年来对小型卫星(一般指重量在500公斤以下的卫星)的兴趣逐渐升温。由于许多原本庞大笨重的卫星部件日趋小型甚至微型化,很多部件已经实现标准化等因素,小型卫星的成本已经显著下降。这使得建造、发射和运营“小卫星”甚至“小卫星星群”,变得越来越具有可行性。


2014年2月,两颗行星实验室的“鸽子”卫星被从国际空间站释放到轨道。

When it comes to investment, there’s also a psychological factor at play, says Will Marshall, co-founder and CEO of earth imaging satellite service Planet Labs. “There’s a sudden threshold that’s been reached,” Marshall says. “Some people made some bets and won. Investment is recognizing that, and investors like to see some early players succeed. In some sense, some of the early players in the space renaissance have made it easier for investors to get their heads around it.”
地图成像卫星服务商行星实验室公司联合创始人兼CEO威尔·马修认为,就该领域的投资而言,也有心理因素在起作用。“这个领域突然达到了一个临界点,有些人出了一些赌注并且成功了。投资界也认识到了这一点,投资人乐于见到一些早期参与者获得成功。在某种意义上,某些早期参与者在这个空间探索的复兴时期所做出的成绩,的确使得投资人更倾向于往这个领域投钱。”

Planet Labs is one of those early players in the newspace renaissance. Founded in 2010, the company has a constellation of 36 small satellites in orbit, each of which is capable of imaging the earth at three to five meters resolution. The company now has a growing stable of paying customers eager to get their hands on regularly refreshed satellite imagery of specific parts of the planet.
行星实验室就是空间探索复兴时期的早期参与者之一。该公司成立于2010年,目前已有36颗在轨卫星,其中每颗卫星都能以3到5米的分辨率进行地面成像。该公司目前的付费用户越来越多,他们都想获得能够定期更新的地球特定区域的影像。

Planet Labs isn’t the only smallsat success story. Companies like Digital Globe, O3B, and Skybox—which was acquired by Google GOOGL -0.52% last year for $500 million—have all put small satellites in orbit while lining up customers for data and other services those satellites provide. Their relative success coupled with the vast potential for space-based Internet services and real-time satellite imaging has made believers out of many investors and potential customers alike. As a result, the industry has pulled in more as companies like SpaceX prove commercial access to space can be less expensive, and increasingly feasible.
行星室实验并非唯一一家在小型卫星领域取得成功的公司。像Digital Globe、O3B和去年刚被谷歌以5亿美元收购的Skybox等公司,都拥有一批在轨的小型卫星,同时也有很多客户排队购买他们的卫星数据和其它服务。这些公司的成功,再加上天基互联网服务的巨大潜力以及卫星的实时成像能力,使很多投资人和潜在客户对该行业的发展潜力深信不疑。因此,随着SpaceX等公司证明商业航天的成本可以大幅降低并且越来越具有可行性,越来越多的公司加入其中。

What investors are betting on is nothing short of the future of big data, the Internet, and global market intelligence all rolled into a suite of orbital technologies. “What’s driving a lot of the excitement in the eyes of investors is really ones and zeros—it’s software, it’s services,” says Richard Rocket, CEO and co-founder of space industry analysis firm NewSpace Global. “It’s not so much the infrastructure itself, or the satellites themselves.”
投资者们真正看重的,其实是必将与一系列轨道技术融合的大数据、互联网和全球市场情报。空间行业分析机构NewSpace Global的CEO兼联合创始人理查德·罗克特指出:“真正让很多投资者兴奋的其实是数据——也就是软件和服务,而不是基础设施本身或卫星本身。”

Right now those services fall into two main categories: space-based Internet and high-resolution earth imaging. Some have likened the advent of reliable, space-based Internet service as a second coming of the first Internet boom. Smallsats would provide technology capable of plugging new people and markets into the global web-based marketplace and enabling new business models (Facebook last week unveiled a solar-powered, broadband-beaming drone aircraft designed for the same purpose). Likewise, near-real time (or even real time) satellite imagery would allow global corporations to monitor all their assets at the same time and generate high-resolution visual data for individual companies, governments, or those trading on global financial markets.
目前,小型卫星领域的服务主要分为两大类,一类是天基互联网,一类是高清地球成像。有些人将可靠的天基互联网服务比喻为互联网的重生。小型卫星提供的技术,能令新的人群和区域市场进入基于网络的全球市场,催生新的业务模式。(Facebook上周发布的太阳能宽带联网无人机也是为这个目的设计的。)另外,接近实时(或达到真正实时)的卫星成像,也使得跨国企业能够实时监控它们的所有资产,同时也能为企业、政府或其他国际金融市场弄潮儿提供高清可视的数据。

“It’s a really, really big opportunity with very attractive economics,” says Steve Jurvetson, a partner at Silicon Valley venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson. The firm was an early investor in both SpaceX and Planet Labs. “There will be a whole other wave of businesses that build on the data streams or are ancillary to these smallsat companies.”
硅谷风投机构Draper Fisher Jurvetson公司的合伙人史蒂夫·尤尔韦特松表示:“这是一个非常巨大的机会,并且具有极其吸引人的经济价值。将有一大波企业在这些数据流的基础上构建起来,或者成为这些小型卫星公司的附庸。” Draper Fisher Jurvetson公司也是SpaceX和行星实验室的早期投资人。

The upfront capital investment in space-related businesses is high, Jurvetson adds, but the amount of room to run is virtually unparalleled in any other industry. “Compared to other industries, I have never seen such an enormous margin for improvement. There’s this canonical thing about a startup needing to pitch a 10X improvement to be a worthwhile investment. You rarely see an entrepreneur pitch a 100X improvement. But in space we’ve seen 1,000X, and really we’ve seen 10,000X.”
尤尔韦特松指出,空间相关业务的前期投资是非常高的,但它的发展空间几乎也是其他任何行业都无法比拟的。“相比其他行业,我从没看到过这样巨大的利润增长空间。人们都认为一家创业公司要有10倍的利润空间才值得投资,你很少见到一个企业家能实现100倍的利润增长。但在空间行业,我们见过1000倍甚至10000倍的利润增长。”

That growth is a testament to the huge amount of technical talent flowing into the newspace industry, and a sign of how imperfect the incumbents are, Jurvetson says. Those two ingredients make for a market in which nimble startups have a lot of space to move in and grab market share.
尤尔韦特松表示,这种增长解释了为什么大量技术人才正涌向空间探索领域,同时也表明现有公司是多么不完美。这两种因素使得这个市场有很大的空间让灵活的创业公司进入其中,并攫取市场份额。

Over the past decade, roughly $2.5 billion has been invested in small satellites, NewSpace Global’s Rocket says; nearly half of that amount has come into play in the last 12 months. In January, Google and Fidelity announced a $1 billion investment in SpaceX to help the company build out its own constellation of Internet-beaming satellites. That same month, newcomer OneWeb announced that it would likewise put in orbit a constellation of 648 smallsats capable of supplying Internet to points on the ground below (the estimated $2 billion project, set to begin launching in 2018, is not accounted for in NewSpace’s $2.5 billion number cited above).
据NewSpace Global公司的罗克特称,过去10年间,约有25亿美元的资金被投在了小型卫星领域,而其中近半数投资都是在过去12个月中做出的。今年1月,谷歌和富达国际投资宣布对SpaceX投资10亿美元,帮助该公司建立自己的天基互联网卫星。在同一个月份,一家名叫OneWeb的新晋公司宣布,该公司也将向地球轨道发射648颗能向地面提供互联网接入服务的小型卫星。(该项目预计耗资20亿美元,预计将从2018年开始发射,而且这笔资金还未算入上文提到的25亿美元之内。)

On the startup side, companies like Spire and BlackSky Global have in the past year gathered tens of millions in venture cash from the likes of Bessemer Venture Partners, Lemnos Labs, RRE Ventures, and Vulcan Capital—investments that would’ve been hard to come by just a few years ago. BlackSky promises an earth imaging constellation that will deliver imagery more frequently than existing services do at a lower price point, Spaceflight Industries CEO Jason Andrews says. Spire will offer a range of data services, most notably real-time maritime tracking of ships anywhere in the world and relevant weather data.
在创业公司方面,Spire和BlackSky Blobal等公司去年分别获得柏尚投资、Lemnos Labs、RRE Ventures和Vulcan Capital等风投机构数千万美元的投资——要拉到这种规模的投资,在几年前还是很难的。Spaceflight Industries 公司CEO杰森·安德鲁斯表示,BlackSky公司称其将发射一组地球成像卫星,以更低的价格提供比现有服务频率更高的地球影像。而Spire公司则将提供一系列数据服务,其中最值得注意的一项服务,是提供全球船只的实时海事追踪,以及相关的天气数据。

These investors are banking on the idea that in just a few years data from smallsats will begin impacting business models around the world. It’s a fact not lost on corporate investors either. Many see real-time imaging data as well as better weather and asset tracking as potential competitive edges they can’t afford to ignore, Rocket says. Investment in smallsat technologies and companies is also coming from global corporations like Airbus EADSY -1.37% , Harris Co. HRS -0.01% , FedEx FDX -0.42% , and—of course—Google. For these companies, it’s not just about investing in the next big thing, but investing in keeping their existing revenue streams competitive.
投资者们都希望,在短短几年内,来自小型卫星的数据将开始影响全球的商业模式。企业投资者也没有忽视这一点。罗克特指出,很多企业认为实时成像数据和更好的天气及资产追踪能力是一种不容忽视的竞争优势。包括空中客车、哈里斯公司、联邦快递及谷歌在内的许多大公司都向小型卫星技术进行了投资。对于这些公司来说,投资小型卫星技术不仅是为了投资“下一个大事件”,同时也是为了让他们现有的收入流继续保持竞争力。

“Almost regardless of business model, those Fortune 500s today who ignore what smallsats are doing … (i.e. earth imaging, providing communications or Internet services) they’re going to be on the wrong end of financial evolution in the next decade,” Rocket says. “The number of Fortune 500s that are putting money into small satellites—it’s not an alarming rate, it’s not irrational exuberance, but it’s an increasing rate that we expect to continue.”
罗克特表示:“不管他们的业务模式是什么,这些《财富》500强公司如果忽略了小型卫星正在做什么(比如地球成像、提供通讯服务或互联网服务),他们就将在未来十年的财富变迁中站错队。向小型卫星投资的《财富》500强企业并不算特别多,这不是一种非理性繁荣。这个数字正在增长,我们预计这种增长势头还将继续。”

The greatest potential land mine threatening the smallsat boom in the near term has little to do with the smallsat industry itself and much to do with how those satellites get to orbit, Rocket says. The June 28 launch failure of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket—one which was carrying 8 Planet Labs imaging satellites—reminded the industry that space is still a risky business. If the launch industry can’t begin launching more frequently and more reliably than it is now, there could be a bottleneck that would trap some of these smallsat assets on the ground.
罗克特指出,在短期内,对小型卫星产业威胁最大的因素并非来自行业本身,而是来自这些卫星的入轨方式。今年6月28日,载有8颗行星实验室成像卫星的SpaceX猎鹰9号火箭发射失败,再次提醒了整个行业:太空探索仍然是一项有风险的业务。如果火箭发射行业不能比现在发射得更频繁、更可靠,那么它无疑将成为扼制某些小型卫星资产发展的瓶颈。

“In the next couple of years we predict that billions will continue to be invested in smallsats,” Rocket says. “But if we do not see launches happening at a much higher rate than it is now—and more of these launch vehicles coming online and becoming operational—we’ll see a stalling. Investors won’t get the returns they want, and investment will slow down.”
罗克特表示:“我们认为,未来几年,还将有数十亿美元资金被投入到小型卫星领域。但如果火箭的发射速度没有显著提高,没有更多可运营的新发射工具出现,这一领域发展就会陷入停滞。投资者将无法收回期望的回报,投资也将会减速。”

Vocabulary:

bullish adj. 看涨的;上扬的;似公牛的

prestigious adj. 有名望的;享有声望的

miniaturization n. 小型化,微型化

feasible adj. 可行的;可能的;可实行的

constellation n. [天] 星座;星群

renaissance n. 新生;再生;复活

reliable adj. 可靠的;可信赖的

ancillary adj. 辅助的;副的;从属的

incumbent n. 在职者;现任者;领圣俸者/adj. 现任的;依靠的;负有职责的

exuberance n. 丰富,茂盛;健康;感情洋溢(或慷慨激昂)的言行;(感情等的)过度(或极度)表现

bottleneck n. 瓶颈;障碍物



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