Commercial low-Earth-orbit (LEO) satellites are about to witness tremendous economic growth. Last year, hardly a month passed without the announcement of another satellite constellation designed to support Earth observation or broadband communication. Compared to those in more distant orbits, LEO satellites offer shorter orbiting periods and multiple daily flyovers thanks to their close proximity to Earth; this opens the door to an intriguing market, especially with regard to high-resolution imagery and videos produced by these constellations.

ISS offers alternative to new satellite constellations

The Canadian start-up Urthecast has blazed a trail for innovators looking to make commercial use of LEO satellites. High-tech cameras on board the International Space Station (ISS) orbit the Earth 16 times every day, delivering high-resolution images and videos that are then provided to developers along with analytical tools.

Meanwhile, a new concept from Airbus Defence and Space and Teledyne Brown Engineering is taking it a step further: These two companies want to attach an external service platform capable of housing multiple external payloads (for Earth observation or technology demonstrators, for example) to the European ISS module Columbus. Its position on Columbus was chosen to provide Bartolomeo, as the platform is known, with unrestricted views of Earth and outer space. Bartolomeo is to provide customers with a comprehensive service package: Regular supply missions to the ISS present a reliable alternative to launch capacities that are currently high in demand, new payloads will be installed fully robotically, and the platform provides all necessary infrastructure such as power management, data transfer and a cooling system. The team behind Bartolomeo plans to drive commercial use of the ISS directly in offering a cost-effective complement to other satellite missions, even without the involvement of the international space agencies.

The Airbus Defence and Space Challenge

To identify innovative solutions and new business models for the future aerospace industry, the new idea competition INNOspace Masters is to award prizes to creative ideas for optimisations along the entire value chain in satellite manufacturing under the theme “Satellite 4.0”. It is geared towards small and midsize enterprises (SMEs), research institutions, universities, and start-ups. The competition’s partners, which include the Space Administration of the German Aerospace Center (DLR), Airbus Defence and Space, and Germany’s two ESA Business Incubation Centres, will be sponsoring prizes in three categories for ideas and projects at different stages of maturity and innovation.

“In the Airbus Defence and Space Challenge, we’re looking for innovations all along the satellite value chain – from concept definition, construction, manufacturing, assembly, integration, and testing all the way to launch, operations, and evaluation, with a main focus on the application of industrial standards and processes,” reports Dr Ulrich Kübler, director of business innovation, intelligence, and future trends at Airbus Defence and Space.

Have you come up with an idea for optimising the satellite value chain?

Then get registered today at The winner of the Airbus Defence and Space Challenge will have the chance to become an Airbus supplier or partner and gain access to the company’s knowledge pool and expert network. If necessary, the winning team will also receive support in applying to BizLab Accelerator or Airbus’s own venture capital fund.

The submission phase will end on 31 January 2016.

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Lena Nietbaur
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