WASHINGTON — A new report predicts that around 20,000 new satellites will launch by the end of the decade — a more conservative forecast compared to other sky-high projections. 

Quilty Space, a research and consulting firm, says there are “positive indicators for sustained growth within the space industrial base, particularly given continuing momentum in the low Earth orbit broadband mega-constellation markets that make up about 85% of all satellite demand in Western markets.”

However, “financing headwinds are expected to cause some dampening of near-term demand from earlier-stage entities.”

To inject realism into its satellite demand predictions, Quilty’s analysis focused on funded satellite projects that are likely to survive, as opposed to forecasts that take companies at their word about huge planned constellations. An example is E-Space, an internet-of-things startup currently holding an overwhelming 443,000 filings for future satellites without much evidence it can deploy those at scale by 2030.

If all the missions planned by 350 commercial and government constellations analyzed by Quilty reached orbit, a whopping 478,000 total satellites would be in space by 2030.

By assigning a probability weighting, Quilty estimated that about 20,000 satellites are likely to make it to orbit. 

By comparison, other organizations have forecast much larger numbers. The Government Accountability Office in a report last year projected about 58,000 satellites would be launched by 2030. Euroconsult anticipates about 1,700 satellites to be launched on average per year by 2030.

Growth fueled by Starlink

By far the heaviest driver of new demand is SpaceX and its Starlink broadband constellation, said the Quilty report, estimating that SpaceX has launched more than 5,400 satellites as of November.

Satellite demand also is fueled by government constellations like the U.S. Space Force’s Space Development Agency Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture and Europe’s IRIS2.

“Government space activities are on the rise,” the report said. This is due to lower-cost access to space, the rise of national programs promoting space investment and innovation, and recognition of space as a critical warfighting domain.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...