Deep Dive Space Tourism & Exploration

The fifth session of the Course on “The Business and Economics of Space” was on Tuesday, Nov 16. This session was a Deep Dive into Space Tourism and Exploration. You can find my earlier post on the Deep Dive into Launch and Satellites here.

Space was in the mainstream news this summer with plenty of excitement over Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson becoming “astronauts” as each took short flights to sub-orbital space on their own company’s rockets. This was followed by the Inspiration 4 mission by SpaceX launching a crew of four civilians for a 3 day orbital flight that also served as a fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. These events kicked off a new era of space travel in which billionaire-backed companies offer high-flying excursions to anyone who can afford it.

Space Tourism, however, has been around a lot longer than that. Dennis Tito was able to visit the ISS as a private citizen in 2001. The trip was conducted by the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) and arranged by Space Adventures. This was well before Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and SpaceX were founded.

How does one commercialize Space Tourism ? We have to look beyond the technology to see what the problem is these companies are trying to solve ; ie what is the customer use case ? The core problem is to figure out what is the job to be done. One of the most famous quotes in marketing comes from HBS Professor Theodore Levitt: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”

We can get some idea by looking at the charts below to see the functional jobs that need to be done for a Virgin Galactic flight to space, followed by a chart showing the personal journey each customer gets when they sign up for a flight on VG. Perhaps Space Tourism has more in common with Disney rather than a rocket company ?

It is apparent that what Virgin Galactic is selling is a luxury good item, a premium experience that offers High Net Worth signalling. There are segments of the population that it would appeal to, those into conspicuous consumption and those looking for a unique adventure like going to Antarctica or climbing Mount Everest.

In the previous session we debated the price elasticity of rocket launches, and if demand for them rose as the price declined. Space tourism does not follow a typical demand curve, demand does not go up when the price declines, as it would lose the “snob value”. It is more like a type of good called a “Veblen Good”. Wealthy people by luxury goods for many reasons and will spend a lot of money on what they want. A Space Tourism company needs to be able to fulfill these needs at the highest efficiency to maximize returns.

What then happens if there is democratization and expansion of the space tourism industry , if it moves beyond a bespoke , luxury experience through efficiencies of scale to one that more and more people could afford ? Will the demand curve shift to one more like a business class airline ticket ? Perhaps these flights evolve from tourist hops to rapid continental travel to disrupt that industry.

The other topic we looked at this session was the economics of space exploration. What was the utility of the Space to Earth economy, the Space to Space economy or Earth to Space ? There are examples of each of those that were examined, for example the often touted mining of asteroids . There are potential asteroids that may have resources that might be valued in the trillions of dollars. Finding one and actually being able to extract those resources and bring them back to Earth is a whole different story. What would happen to the market for such scarce precious metals if they were brought back in bulk ? Supply demand curves would indicate that prices would decline.

Perhaps there would be better use cases for mining asteroids, or the Moon or Mars for resources in the Space-Space economy. It is expensive to launch everything required for establishing space stations, Lunar (or Martian) outposts from Earth. Ideally resources for fabrication, for fuel as well as oxygen and water for life could be obtained from these sources.

That assumes that there is an intrinsic utility in establishing such outposts in space. There are those who advocate moving heavy industry to space to avoid polluting the Earth further. Others tout establishing humanity on Mars so be a multi-planetary species to avoid the eventual extinction events of being only on Earth. Space exploration ties into the natural urge of humans to explore new frontiers, and Space is the ultimate frontier.

These were all topics worthy of discussion, especially with the guests we had in the second hour of the Session; retired NASA astronaut Nicole Strott and Blue Origin’s Head of Corporate Strategy Kylie Lucas and Corporate Development, Zach Havanec.

Civic Holiday Long Weekend

Its a long weekend, pull up your Muskoka chair and clink glasses ! Cheers !

Monday August third is the Civic Holiday ! If you are in Toronto, “Simcoe Day”; Ottawa “Colonel By Day”; “John Galt Day” in Guelph; “Terry Fox Day” in Manitoba. It has different names all across the country (except for Quebec cause they took Saint-Jean Baptiste Day off in June). What is the Civic Holiday for ? A day to relax and enjoy ! Cheers !

It is an unfortunate fact that the hackers of the world like to plan their attacks on public holidays when network supervision may not be at its highest. On top of that we are still in the fight against COVID-19, and the criminals have escalated their attacks. Furthermore, our friends south of the border will not be celebrating anything which means the hackers will be focussed on us !

Please remember to be vigilant this Civic Holiday and guard access to your switches.

AurorA has to deliver any traffic that is sent to it , so you are responsible for any unauthorized access to your network. AurorA will pass on any alerts that it gets of suspicious traffic patterns. AurorA has also implemented automatic blocking of B numbers once we detect a suspicious fraudulent traffic pattern in an attempt to minimize losses. Also we have also implemented blocking of entire routing destinations after a threshold is breached to further protect you, our customers, from these criminals and mitigate the damage.

Make no mistake, these frauds are perpetrated by criminals; sometimes organized crime, sometimes terrorist groups looking to raise funds for their causes.

Have a safe and happy holiday. Thank you for choosing AurorA and trusting us with your international traffic.
Timo Vainionpaa

2020 Redux

Photo Credit ; Carmi Levy, @carmilevy more at

Back in early January, I wrote a post on my 2020 vision where I focused on a few topics I thought would be of importance in the New Year. My goal was to avoid the dreaded Top 10 list of predictions by providing more substance.

Back then we were all quite innocent and unprepared to imagine a global pandemic and what our collective human response to it would do to our lives. So I thought I would revisit the trends I identified to see how well they held up over four short months. Then try to look forward to what the rest of this year might bring, especially as we begin to restart the economy as we inevitably come out of self-isolation and lockdowns.

Telecom Fraud
Well, did I ever nail THAT one on the head. As we have been forced to self-isolate and work from home, the hackers, cheats and swindlers have been out in full force. Traffic on telecom networks both here in Canada and globally have skyrocketed but there has also been more and more attacks on telecoms. Traditional fraud schemes such as Wangiri fraud and the related International Revenue Share Fraud (IRSF) are up dramatically. This has been a major point of emphasis for AurorA since fraud mitigation is a key part of the added value of providing premium voice termination. The AI based fraud tools that we use have saved tens of thousands of dollars of catastrophic losses for wholesale customers and their retail and commercial customers. This trend shows no sign of abating and will continue throughout the rest of the year.

The Decline of Voice
I missed this one badly. My basic premise, supported by the traffic numbers, was that voice traffic was in a long term secular decline. Who would have forecast that during a pandemic, the killer application would turn out to be voice ? During their isolation, people wanted to reach out and talk to friends, family and loved ones. Voice traffic has skyrocketed, especially to international destinations.

Given that apps such as WhatsApp and Skype are available for free calls, it is interesting that people still rely on the ubiquitous telephone and voice calling. Everyone has a phone, and calling “just works” for everyone. My own feeling is that people prefer the high quality connection that comes from a premium quality phone call. Text (and email) doesnt cut it; it is too cold and lacks nuance.

Recession is coming
Wish I didnt get this right. Recession has come on a whole lot faster than anyone anticipated. The pandemic hit to our economy is huge, the unemployment levels are unprecedented in their speed and depth. The governments have had to spend huge sums to provide liquidity and financially prop up people, families and businesses while we dealt with the pandemic. This recession will be deep, and the length of it is unknown. There is far to much complexity to try and predict how and when we will come out of this recession.

Moving Forward
So, whats next ? What should we be doing as telecom service providers over the next few months when the lockdowns slowly get lifted. How can we prepare for what’s next ? Some of us will be looking simply to survive, others to maintain and still some will be better positioned to grow. I think three potential things to consider are a) controlling costs b) solidifying existing revenues c) looking to add top-line revenue.

For cost control now is the time to tighten the screws on your organization from top to bottom. Examine all costs, especially all S,G & A line items to see where savings can be had. Billing systems, payment services, any form of overhead costs should all be examined and cost savings sought wherever possible. Now is the time to tackle those cost savings projects that we were too busy for before and make productive use of the work from home time.

Maintaining revenues such as voice traffic can be key. Consumers and businesses have rediscovered calling. Promote that service, especially the high quality of your voice connections. Using a premium supplier that protects you from exposure fraud also protects you and your customers from unforseen costs. Be prepared to cement that goodwill that your customers feel towards you right now.

Finally, if you are lucky enough to have been prudent and maintained strong cash liquidity, times of recession can often be times of the best top-line growth. During hard times, business customers are looking to cut costs, and will be more receptive to moving away from their current providers to be able to save money. This is when they will look to competitive suppliers. So have your marketing and especially your front line sales staff prepared for this opportunity. You can attract customers with new offerings too; to increase the value of your bundle how about internet, home phone and asset tracking ?

We will get through this period, we are resilient and we are strong, especially together. As always, Amitel and AurorA are here to help. Reach out to me to have deeper discussions on the above, or any other pain points you may be experiencing. Reach out to me just to talk ! Looking forward to growing together with you in 2020 as we navigate through these unusual and uncertain times.

Your Friend in Telecom


Thanks to Carmi Levy, @carmilevy for use of his superb photograph. Follow his work at

How Cell Towers Work

I found this on YouTube and thought it was worth sharing. It is by Michael Fisher aka “Mr. Mobile”

“Come along as I scope out not one, but two cell sites: one hidden in the steeple of a church, the other perched high atop the tallest mountain in the Northeast. In the process we’ll learn about RF energy, what happens when the power goes out, and why the term “tower” isn’t always accurate. “

How Cell Towers Work :Hands-On ! Learn all about the Network

Enjoy !


Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the Oktoberfest Gemuetlichkeit VIP Night at the Concordia Club in Kitchener.

It was sponsored, as usual, by BMO, Deloitte and Miller Thompson. It was an evening that included networking, food stations, keg tapping and door prizes. And beer !

Dignitaries from our sponsors about to Tap the Keg !

There were lots of local dignitaries; Mayors, Councillors the Regional Chair and representation from the Waterloo EDC. I was able to connect with some friends in the data industry as well as make some new friends and connections.

The Concordia Club is one of the five German Clubs in Kitchener area and is the largest ethnic German Club in Canada. Based on the original German Oktoberfest, it is billed as Canada’s Greatest Bavarian Festival, and is the second-largest Oktoberfest in the world.

The Black Forest Band getting ready to start the polka party

If you ever get a chance, come down to Waterloo Region around the Thanksgiving weekend and join in the fun, the Gemuetlichkeit , which is German for congeniality, or warm friendliness.

Prosit !

Home of the NBA Champions

Recently I was in downtown Toronto for the RAG (Risk and Assurance Group) Conference on telecom fraud. That conference will be the subject of another post.

RAG was being held at Telus Harbour which is next to the Scotiabank Arena. So I had to take a picture in front of the home of the 2019 NBA Champions, the Toronto Raptors.

Those who know me well, know that I am a big basketball fan and especially a Raptors fan. I come by it honestly. I attended the University of Waterloo starting in 1978, just a couple of years after UW had won the Men’s National Championship. Basketball was huge at UW, with a rabid fan base that packed the PAC for every game. That year also was classic in the NCAA tourney as Larry Bird (Indiana State) and Magic Johnson (Michigan State) duelled, which I watched intently while on a work term in Timmins.

Post graduation in 1983 I lived for five years in Windsor and adopted the Bad Boy Pistons as my team. Isiah, Joe Dumars, Dennis Rodman, Bill Laimbeer, Vinny the Microwave and Coach Chuck Daly… that was a team that played hard (very hard!) and won championships.

Then in 1995, Toronto got a team and I became a Raptors fan. Throughout the lean years, the various highs and lows. I won’t chronicle them all here. Suffice to say that this season has been something special, and the Raps playoff triumphs over Orlando, Philly, Milwaukee and then Golden State were awesome to watch.

So I had to get my photo in front of the home of the 2019 NBA Champions !