Smallsat market forecast to exceed $30 billion in coming decade

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WARSAW, Poland —  French consultancy Euroconsult forecasts that significant expansion in terms of capabilities and demand is underway in the smallsat market.

More than 6,200 smallsats are to be launched in the next 10 years, with the market value expected to reach up to $30.1 billion, compared with $8.9 billion in the previous decade, according to a report Euroconsult released last month.

“The smallsat market from 2017-2026 will be driven by the roll-out of multiple constellations accounting for more than 70 percent of this total, mainly for commercial operators,” the consultancy said. “Of the total $16.5 billion manufacturing market value from 2017 to 2026, $3.7 billion is absorbed internally by in-house manufacturing; the remaining $12.8 billion is considered part of the open market.”

Meanwhile, European smallsat industry players diverge on their evaluation of the outlook. While various observers recognize a positive growth trend, they also caution to take the forecast with a pinch of salt.

Walter Ballheimer, the CEO of German Orbital Systems, told SpaceNews the company considers Euroconsult’s estimates realistic, but space “is a risky and expensive business.”

The forecast is “based on estimations of a successful deployment of OneWeb and SpaceX megaconstellations which technically are also small satellites,” Ballheimer says. “In our opinion, these numbers [are] possible because of the transition from building and operating unique large satellites to serial mass production of unified spacecraft” and the resulting “lowered entry barriers to the space industry”.

German Orbital Systems was established in 2014 as Germany’s first company focused on cubesats. Initially concentrated on subsystems, its current main product is providing turnkey satellite missions to its customers.

“Our business idea is to provide a one-stop shop for our customers willing to fly their payload to LEO. We build buses based on customers’ requirements, provide integration services and take care of the launch at a market-transforming price,” Ballheimer says.

Ballheimer says the “coming years will be important in terms of ensuring timely, sustainable transportation of numerous payloads to the orbit. It is frequent for satellites to wait for their launch for years, that’s why we can see a growth in numbers of startups developing dedicated launch vehicles for small satellites” and this is “why part of our business strategy is to fly customer payload into space within 18 months after contract signing. We also offer ‘express’ packages with an overall duration of 12 months from contract to orbit.”

Joelle Sykes, a spokeswoman for Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL), tells SpaceNews that gazing “into the crystal ball is always a dangerous exercise. The market is growing very, very fast and the numbers predicted are, barring a major financial or technological crisis, possible.”

“One factor that will strongly influence the reality of these numbers is launch availability. In the current highly constrained launch market, with few available launches and prices in the $30,000 [per kilogram] range; these numbers are not realistic. Assuming many new initiatives to build low-cost launchers are successful, then the numbers do make sense,” Sykes says. “Another factor … is the level of success of the commercial initiatives. The numbers predicted are on the basis of very large capital investments. These will dry up if the business propositions do not show initial success.”

Established in 1985, SSTL is a smallsat builder and space mission prime. The company offers satellite platforms ranging from 12U nanosats up to a 1,000-kilogram geostationary platform. In 2009, Airbus purchased a 99 percent stake in SSTL.

David Henri, the co-founder and COO of French startup Exotrail, tells SpaceNews that, while it is difficult to evaluate the forecast, the numbers for telecoms satellites could be exaggerated, and the numbers for Earth-observation satellites underestimated.

“In the future, most of the market for smallsats will come from Earth observation,” Henri says. “We’re also preparing for a high number of telecoms smallsats, but this number might not be that high, because the first constellation to come live will put huge barriers to entry for the others.”

The company says it is designing the smallest Hall Effect thruster in the world.

“Propulsion companies that understand how the value chain works and how to fit into it will be winners. Performance is important, but so is flexibility. Our system will be very flexible, suitable for 3U to 27U satellites and higher in the future. And it will consume a low amount of power, embark enough fuel to perform a wide range of missions, and won’t be harmful for your spacecraft at all, unlike other technologies” Henri says. “We want to develop a fully-integrated propulsion subsystem by early next year, and raise some seed funds. We already see interest from potential investors, but more importantly, we have seen a lot of interest from potential customers over the past few months.”