Space Awareness

Summary of The Space Report Data at SmallSat Symposium

Written by: developer

Have we reached the top of the growth curve for Small Satellites? This was one of the questions addressed by the Space Foundation's Director of Research and Analysis, Micah Walter-Range, as a panelist at the inaugural SmallSat Symposium in Menlo Park, Calif.

Looking at the satellite deployment data added to The Space Report  daily, the answer is clear -- there is ample room for further growth in the small satellite (smallsat) market. The past three years have seen a huge spike in the number of smallsats deployed around the Earth, particularly those with a mass of 5 kilograms (11 pounds) or less. On average, 15 smallsats were launched each year from 2006 through 2012, whereas 2013 through 2015 saw an average of 100 per year, with no indication that smallsat deployments will slow down any time soon.

Going beyond the satellites themselves, there has also been a shift in the way satellites are deployed.

The International Space Station (ISS) deployed more spacecraft in 2014 and 2015 than any other platform (the other platforms were launch vehicles that released spacecraft into orbit directly, instead of delivering them to the ISS for subsequent deployment). Although this type of change has no substantial impact on the way larger satellites are deployed -- nobody in their right mind would try to send a multi-ton telecommunications satellite to GEO from the ISS -- it indicates the space industry is continuing to find new ways to satisfy market demands without being limited by existing solutions invented decades ago.

Focusing on the business side of the smallsat industry, the panelists were asked to offer one piece of advice for someone building a smallsat business today. Walter-Range suggested that smallsat companies should not focus solely on selling the raw output provided by their space systems, whether it is Earth observation data or telecommunications. Instead, they should work with their customers to develop new applications and value-added services, since that category of product is likely to bring in more revenue, experience higher growth rates, and be less subject to price pressure from competitors. There are ample opportunities for generating revenue with smallsats, so long as the company leadership understands both the breadth and needs of the market they are entering.


This article is part of Space Watch: March 2016 (Volume: 15, Issue: 3).