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Space Industry Fast-Forward

According to a Frost & Sullivan report, Small-satellite Launch Services Market, Quarterly Update Q3 2018, Forecast to 2030, 87 key commercial small-satellite operators are going to be responsible for 8,000 to 10,000 small-satellites in the 2018 to 2030 timeline. On an annual basis, considering a low scenario (operators who have a launch history), the commercial small-satellites expected to be launched vary in the 280 to 560 range. Considering the low scenario, mass-class wise, 68.1 percent of the forecast covers small-satellites in the 1 to 15kg segment comprising of cubesats. The 16-75kg and 76-150kg segments cover 25 percent and 6.1 percent respectively. The 76-500kg segment is expected to gain prominence moving forward, once players such as OneWeb and SpaceX start installing their large mega-constellations. Nanosatellites will, however, remain the majority of smallsats launched.

What’s happening?

Multiple commercial players are entering the space industry aiming to install and operate their small-satellite systems to deliver a new range of products and services to existing and new customers. Most of these players are in the development and/or fundraising stage and a few of them have established their launch history. Companies such as Planet had crossed the 100 smallsats in-orbit mark more than a year ago.

Connectivity players are fewer in number but their estimated number of small-satellites is significantly large. Earth observation systems are covering a relatively lesser number of small-satellites but the number of players in the market is high and rising as we speak. Persistent surveillance and Artificial Intelligence (AI) based analytics solutions downstream are key differentiating factors for the earth observation players and similarly the connectivity players are aiming for global connectivity especially covering the rather underserved polar regions.

What’s the consequence?

NewSpace products and services are entering the space market at relatively lower prices bringing along new customer groups. The new products and services are using modern technologies such as big-data, cloud computing and AI and are reaching the diverse customer groups via multiple channels, most of them being device agnostic and using a web based front end.

Maritime surveillance solutions are using big-data and AI-engines to mine actionable insights and detect spoofing using large volume of historical data. Imagery sales are getting democratized where service providers are aiming to let their customers pre-order their space based imagery at affordable prices using their smart devices. Small satellite operators are delivering narrowband services for Internet-of-Things solution developers who in turn are looking to enable their customers connect systems spread apart, including those in remote locations.

Want needs to happen to enable these trends materialize successfully?

The small-satellite operators are in need of multiple smallsats in a relatively shorter period of time so they can meet their mission installation timelines. This means the satellite manufacturing segment players are expected to expand their capabilities to build and deliver in large volumes. The manufacturing players in the space industry are migrating to automotive-style serial production formats, aiming to deliver hundreds of small-satellites a year. The sub-system and component manufacturers will see the trickling effect of this in the form of a steep rise in demand for their existing products. Getting sub-systems and components qualified for standardized small satellite platforms will be key for sustainable opportunities moving forward.

While booking the serial production of their small-satellites, the operators are pre-booking their respective launches for their missions. This is resulting in a steep rise in demand for dedicated launch services for small-satellites. Frost & Sullivan’s research covers over 30 players looking to deliver such dedicated launch services covering single-manifest to multi-manifest launches across land, air, and sea-based launch capabilities. These new capabilities are, for the most part, range independent and utilize smaller vehicles with potential reusability elements for lowering cost over time.

The launch service providers, however, have strong regulatory clearances to go through while also countering the lack of sufficient launch infrastructure. In come the spaceport-based business models, which might very well be the next new segment of services within the space industry. These spaceport-based business models are looking to collaborate with the dedicated launch service providers to supply affordable access to space to small satellite operators. Certain social media interactions indicate that the spaceport business is moving fast and could be operational and accessible to the global market very soon. With governments — for example, the U.K. government — actively taking interest in the fast growing small satellite markets, it will hopefully reduce the regulatory hassles and create fair coexistence for the new entrants and the incumbents — both upstream and downstream. Hoping for a brand new space industry cutting across itself and other sectors with next-generation products and services will not be in vain after all. VS