David Ziegler is vice president of Aerospace & Defense, Dassault Systèmes.
The global satellite industry is booming and now dominates the rapidly expanding space economy. For 2023 and beyond, look for the sector to maintain its robust growth.
The cost to build and launch satellites has declined sharply in recent years, which has led to their deployment in record numbers. In 2022, operational satellites increased more than 45% to over 7,000, according to Satellite Industry Association (SIA) President Tom Stroup.
Two principal drivers of that growth are the increasing need for mobile communications and Earth observation (EO) services, from optical imagery to synthetic aperture radar able to penetrate cloud cover and see through darkness and weather.
The single largest — and fastest growing — market segment is communications satellites. Its market size was valued at more than $72 billion in 2022 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 9.5% from 2023 to 2030, according to Grand View Research, a San Francisco-based market research consulting firm.
Another space mission area rapidly growing is that of EO. The EO market is predicted to reach $13.6 billion by 2030, according to Straits Research, a Pune, India-based research firm. EO is more than just pictures from space; this data deluge pushes the space economy into a major data economy player. AI can examine this massive amount of data collected by EO constellations and reveal insights from geospatial analytics – satellite-based mapping and surveying techniques, such as remote sensing, to analyze the Earth and human societies. Geospatial technology is used in everything from resource and supply chain management to urban planning and development.
There is almost no industry that cannot find valuable information in data collected by satellites, from disaster management to agriculture and air quality monitoring. By capturing data from the overlapping ‘systems-of-systems’ that can affect business operations, it becomes possible to fully assess the threats and opportunities across a particular geography or industry sector. The best way to convert this deluge of analytical data into actionable insights is to layer the data into a simulated real world called a virtual twin. Digital simulations of physical objects, alongside layers of dynamic systems and interactions from the real world, all in a physics-based environment, enables teams to understand complex system-wide interactions. These virtual twins allow an organization to see the possible outcomes of decisions, simulate “what if” scenarios, and continuously update based on real-time changes to the incoming data.
There is strong interest in using satellite data around sustainability, especially in Europe. For example, in Stuttgart, Germany, where there is a lot of heavy manufacturing, if air pollution exceeds a certain threshold, as measured by satellite sensors, city officials ban most vehicular traffic until pollution levels decrease to acceptable levels.
Like the rest of the space economy, the design, manufacture and deployment of commercial satellites is fiercely competitive. Not all of the current startups and early-stage companies will survive, much less become wildly successful. The ones who do and go on to challenge established enterprises will share certain traits: they will be nimble, innovative and have a healthy appetite for risk. Launching spacecraft has become four to 10 times cheaper than it was in the previous decade, and market analysts expect the number of satellites in orbit to reach 58,000 by the year 2030, an increase of nearly 10x. Companies that can accelerate product lifecycle from concept to take-off will gain critical advantages by being first-to-market. Collaboration based around a virtual product model and manufacturing process will enable teams to create sustainable rocketry and systems with the speed and precision needed to compete.
One of the clearest harbingers of the satellite industry’s growth prospects may be the infusion of investment capital. “We’re seeing space investments really pay off, which means there will continue to be a great deal of interest in all parts of the satellite industry,” said Maureen Haverty, vice president at Seraphim Space Investment Trust. “Generally, seed- and early-stage investment remained buoyant in 2022 and is likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future.”
She added: “The number of satellites in orbit is on an exponential growth curve and will present a lot of opportunity for both start-ups and investors for years to come.”