SpaceWorks Review Shows Sharp Growth Expected in Nano- and Microsat Market

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Artist conception of WhiteKnightTwo and LauncherOne. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

SpaceWorks Enterprise has released an update to its nano- and micro-satellite market analysis study that indicates that between 121 to 188 spacecraft weighing 1-50 kg will need to be launched in 2020.  This is a significant increase from the 33 satellites launched last year.

“The Nano/Microsatellite Market Assessment by SpaceWorks shows that nano/microsatellite launches have grown by an average of 8.6% per year since 2000, with an expected 16.8% growth per year over the next 7 years (2013-2020),” according to a SpaceWorks press release.

“Small satellites continue to gain traction as their utility becomes apparent to a diverse user base,” stated Mr. Dominic DePasquale, Director of Washington D.C. Operations for SpaceWorks. “Our quantitative research confirms that small satellites have proven their value and that the market is likely entering a growth phase. We offer our study’s summary presentation as a resource for the community and for those interested in understanding this market better.”

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The report is based upon publicly announced nano- and micro-satellite projects as well as projections. So, it might not cover all of the projects currently underway, particularly military ones that are being kept secret.

“Analysis of trends by sector show that nano/microsatellite development continues to be led by the civil sector (including academic), but the defense/intelligence community is showing increased interest and involvement,” the report states. “Analysis of trends by purpose suggests that applications for nano/microsatellites are diversifying, with increased use in the future for science, Earth observation, and reconnaissance missions.”

The report included some interesting information on the launch vehicles now being used for sending these satellites into space.

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The interesting thing about the above charts is that there are no dedicated launch vehicles for nano-and micro-satellites. These satellites are primarily launched as secondary payloads; in some case, they might be clustered together on smaller launch vehicles.

This raises an interesting question, which the study doesn’t address, of what happens if new launch vehicles aimed at these market segments become available over the next seven years. The table below, which I compiled, shows launch vehicles that are now under development around the world aimed at launching payloads weighing up to 250 kg. (If I have left any projects off the list, please let me know and I’ll update this table.)

Small, Nano, Micro and Cube Satellite Launchers in Development
Booster Name
Builder(s)
& Supporting Agencies
Payload to LEO or SSO
First Flight(s)
Haas 2 Haas 2 ARCA 400 kg
(880 lbs.)
Unknown
cartoon_rocket Unknown Swiss Space Group (S3) 250+ kg
(550+ lbs.)
2017(?)
SPARK_sm Super Strypi (a.k.a., SPARK) Aerojet, Sandia National Laboratories & University of Hawaii/DOD Office of Operationally Responsive Space 250 kg
(550 lbs.)
2013
Brazil_VLS_sm Satellite Launch Vehicle (VLS-1) Brazilian Space Agency (AEB) with Russian assistance 250 kg
(550 lbs.)
2013
2014
2015
launcherone_sm LauncherOne Virgin Galactic 225 kg
(500 lbs.)
2016
Neptune_30_rocket_sm Neptune 5, Neptune 9 Interorbital Systems 30 kg
(66 lbs.)
70 kg
(154 lbs.)
Unknown
cartoon_rocket ALASA Program Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Virgin Galactic, Northrop Grumman, Ventions LLC & Space Information Laboratories LLC/DARPA 45.4 kg
(100 lbs.)
Unknown
cartoon_rocket North Star 1 (NS-1) NAMMO, Norwegian Space Centre, ESA 10-40 kg
(22 to 88 lbs.)
2017
SWORDS_SM SWORDS U.S. Army 25 kg
(55 lbs.)
2013
GO2 GOLauncher 2 Generation Orbit Launch Services & Space Propulsion Group 5 to 30 kg
(11 to 66 lbs.)
2018
whittinghill_sm Minimum Cost Launch System Whittinghill Aerospace Nanosats Unknown
Lynx_sm Lynx XCOR Aerospace Microsats 2015 or 2016
Brazil_microsat_LV Microsat Launch Vehicle (VLM) Brazilian Space Agency (AEB), German Space Agency (DLR) Microsats 2015
cartoon_rocket Long March Micro Launch Vehicle (LM-MLV) China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation/China National Space Administration Microsats Unknown

(Table updated on 2/21 with NS-1 rocket, Haas 2, Neptune, and LM-MLV rockets. A special shout out to Theo Pirard of the Space Information Center.)

The larger vehicles in this table would be capable of launching individual small satellites as well as secondary payloads. The Super Strypi (SPARK), for example, can be configured to carry one or two small satellites as well as multiple CubeSats using the NASA Ames Payload Adapter and Deployer (PAD).  The precise number of CubeSats depends upon their size and the number of small satellites carried on the mission.

SPARK_confliguration

Rideshare arrangements help to spread out costs among different satellite producers. However, they limit flexibility on launch dates because of the need to complete and integrate all the payloads. There are also limitations on specific orbits that can be reached. If the primary payload is going one place, the secondary ones are going there, too.

Even with that limitation, rideshare arrangements on the small launch vehicles shown above are likely to be more frequent, less complicated and much less costly than the larger rockets they ride on now. That could really open up the market for nano- and micro-satellites as secondary payloads on these launches.

Dedicated launch vehicles aimed at putting individual satellites into orbit will offer far more flexibility, albeit with greatly reduced payloads. With the Lynx and GoLauncher 2, for example, the timing issue would  shift largely to when an individual satellite is ready for integration with the rocket. These vehicles also offer the opportunity to place a satellite into a very precise orbit almost on demand. The impact of have that type of service could really make this segment of the satellite market boom.

These smaller launch vehicles will have the same chicken-or-the-egg question that all new launch vehicles face. If you build the rockets, will there be enough payloads to support a thriving market? Or does one have to wait for the payload demand to increase?

My guess is if the rockets  prove to be affordable, reliable and can be launched frequently, then the number of payloads are likely to increase significantly enough to support a thriving market. Especially given the increased sophistication of very small satellites and the reduced cost and size of their components.

  • Carolynne Campbell

    With the pace of development of nano-technology, it may well be the case that the era of massive satellites is coming to a close. What used to weigh several tonne may well weigh 100 kilos in the not-to-distant future. That said, hundreds of small sats will generate a massive problem of regulation and co-ordination to keep collisions and mishaps down. There will be those in the developing world who will not want to play by the rules. This could end up in a ‘Wild West’ free-for all!!

  • kolbjorn@rocketrange.no

    The Norwegian proposed launch service – North Star Launch Vehicle is not affiliated with the Norwegian Space Centre, but is a joint prestudy undertaken by NAMMO Raufoss, Andoya Rocket Range, NAROM and NDRE. All Norwegian companies and institutions. The prestudy (finish by summer 2013) is headed by Head of Marketing at Andoya Rocket Range – Kolbjorn Blix Dahle.

    For more info: http://www.rocketrange.no/?p=1513