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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios.

SpaceX, Amazon and others have high hopes for launching constellations of satellites that will provide internet to the globe, while some startups hope to nearly continuously beam back images from space.

Yes, but: The industry's growth is limited by the earthly half of the equation: ground infrastructure needed to receive data and control the satellites themselves.

Why it matters: Investments in the roughly $277 billion satellite industry are mostly funneled into space-based assets, not the ground infrastructure needed to keep those satellites functioning.

  • In 2018, investors funneled about $110 million into companies focusing on building ground segments to facilitate satellite communication, while about $845 million was invested in satellite constellations and airborne platforms used to collect data, according to SpaceNews.
  • "We often advise investors to look on the ground segment side for underexploited opportunities," Carissa Christensen, CEO of Bryce Space and Technology, told Axios.
  • "The satellites are usually the flashier, more sexy part of the company, but there's a lot of critical infrastructure that surrounds it," Mike Safyan, vice president of launch at Planet, a company that operates more than 100 satellites, told Axios.

What's happening: A number of companies are looking to build out that infrastructure, including receiving and relaying stations, and capitalize on increasing demand from governments and companies.

  • In 2019, Amazon announced it would start providing ground station services for customers around the world, and last month it added a new location in Sweden. Other players include RBC Signals and Italian ground station operator Leaf Space.
  • Companies hoping to launch hundreds of satellites to beam internet to people all over the planet are also working to develop user terminals that their customers would use to log on from their homes.

The catch: Earth itself comes with a host of challenges.

  • It's covered in water, limiting locations for ground terminals.
  • Each country has its own regulatory framework that needs to be followed.
  • "One of the common challenges is actually the need for greater internet bandwidth on Earth to more rapidly get the data downlinked and buffered at the ground station sites back to the cloud for processing," says Duncan Eddy, space operations lead at Capella Space, a user of Amazon's ground station services.
  • And analysts question whether there will be enough consumer demand to support the satellite internet industry at large even if the ground infrastructure is set up to support them.
"I think the market is a lot smaller than most of these systems anticipate, and the reality is that they're going to run out of customers before they run out of technology."
— industry analyst Tim Farrar told Axios.

The bottom line: As the satellite industry grows, infrastructure on the ground needs to expand and improve to keep those spacecraft healthy and functional in orbit.

Go deeper: Thousands of new satellites could make asteroid hunting harder

Go deeper

Updated 11 mins ago - Economy & Business

Janet Yellen co-opts Reaganomics phrase for new Davos speech

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen at a speech this week. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The U.S. needs to focus on increasing its productive potential, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told world leaders Friday, calling for what she terms "modern supply side economics."

Why it matters: She co-opted a phrase traditionally used by political conservatives to describe low-tax and deregulatory policies — and framed the Biden administration's initiatives as the best path forward to achieve greater national prosperity.

National Archives releases Trump White House records to Jan. 6 panel

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The National Archives on Thursday evening released records of former President Trump's White House to the House Jan. 6 Select Committee, the agency said.

Why it matters: The committee now has documents that Trump attempted to keep hidden, arguing that their release would undermine his executive privilege.

Worker shortage unleashes a forever jobs crisis

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Workers are in the driver's seat in the labor market, and that doesn't look likely to change anytime soon. It's also starting to alter the competitive landscape across the business world.

Driving the news: The terms of competition are shifting, especially in labor-intensive industries. The advantage goes to companies that have some distinct advantage in their ability to attract the best workers.