Smallsat 2016: Trends, Policies & Science

Eight small-sized satellites total a big bonus for science. The Edison Demonstration of Smallsat Networks (EDSN) mission was to have used a swarm of small spacecraft to carry out scientific measurements. (Credit: NASA Ames Research Center)
Eight small-sized satellites total a big bonus for science. The Edison Demonstration of Smallsat Networks (EDSN) mission was to have used a swarm of small spacecraft to carry out scientific measurements. (Credit: NASA Ames Research Center)

While the smallsat market is forecast to experience double digit growth over the next five years, U.S. government policy continues to lag behind the rapid developments in the field. Meanwhile, a recent National Academies report has found that smallsats can be return high-quality scientific data if missions are designed correctly.

Those are the conclusions of three presentations made this week at the Small Satellite Conference in Utah. Below are summaries of the talks drawn from Tweets by the following attendees:

  • Jeff Foust ‏@jeff_foust
  • David Hurst ‏@OrbitalDave
  • Hanna Steplewska ‏@spacesurfingirl

Enjoy!

SpaceWorks Enterprises
Bill Doncaster

  • Double digit growth expected in 1-50 kg smallsats over the next five years
  • 53 smallsats in the 1-50 kg have been launched this year
  • Possible that 200 1-50 kg CubeSats will be launched in 2016
  • 3U commercial CubeSats will drive this growth
  • 3U class CubeSats beginning to overtake academic 1U tech demo CubeSats, which were most fo the market before 2014
  • SpaceWorks has a launch demand database that includes a forecast for 1-50 kg class satellites
  • Database also includes information about all missions launched since 2010
  • There was a downturn in smallsat launches during 2015 due to failure of SpaceX Falcon 9 in June and continued lack of availability of Orbital ATK’s Antares launcher
  • Demand remains high despite launch problems
  • High demand for dedicated smallsat launch vehicles
  • Dedicated launch vehicle will allow operators to put satellites into specific orbits as opposed to being secondary payloads on other rockets
  • SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and ULA’s Atlav V were main launch vehicles for smallsats as secondary payloads in 2015

Aerospace Corporation
Barbara Braun

  • Government policy is lagging behind developments in the smallsat area
  • Government authority is fragmented, with different agencies having authority depending upon the type of satellite
  • Private remote sensing/imaging satellites need approval from NOAA
  • Satellites needing frequency allocation must go through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
  • NASA-funded missions follow space agency policies
  • Department of Defense and other federal agencies must seek spectrum allocation from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), not the FCC
  • Satellite capabilities, use, orbit and reliability are more important than its size
  • There are no requirements for private satellite operators to encrypt data uplinks
  • End of life decisions about private satellite are made by their operators
  • Launch providers are only responsible for safety of satellite on orbit up through payload separation

National Academies Report on CubeSats
Thomas Zurbuchen

  • Recent National Academies report found that CubeSats can and have done high-priority science
  • CubeSats can be rapidly developed and turned around
  • CubeSats can return excellent scientific data with well designed instruments and measurements
  • Constellations of CubeSats could potentially provide better scientific data than a single expensive spacecraft
  • Propulsion, communications and sensors are key limiting technologies for CubeSats
  • Policies developed for big spacecraft are causing problems when they are applied to small satellite programs
  • Briefed Congress and the White House on the study’s findings
  • There already has been an impact in the way research opportunities are written