Tag Archives: nanosats

New smallsat company plans 200 satellite constellation

The competition heats up: A new smallsat satellite company, Sky and Space Global, is planning to launch a 200 nanosat communications constellation for less than $160 million.

More important, they have funded and built the first three, which they will launch in 2017:

The company, located in the U.K., Israel and Australia, has fully funded the first three satellites to precede an initial constellation of 200 nanosatellites. Coined the “Three Diamonds,” the nanosatellites are scheduled to launch as a rideshare aboard a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) from the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) in the second quarter of 2017.

The pilot satellites are to determine the final characteristics of Sky and Space Global’s operational satellites, which are scheduled to begin launching in 2018 via Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne. Sky and Space Global’s goal is to field a constellation that will eventually become global for low cost telecommunications services such as voice, instant messaging and data forwarding.

What this story illustrates is that the smallsat market is about to become a reality, and in doing so it will shake up the entire geosynchronous communications satellite industry, much as SpaceX has shook up the launch industry. As I’ve noted earlier, these new smallsats suggest that the space industry is splitting, with unmanned Earth-orbit satellites going small and manned capabilities staying large.

New smallsat rocket company plans first launch in 2018

The competition heats up: Vector Space Systems now plans its first test flights of its Vector 1 will begin in 2017 with the first orbital flights in 2018.

[Chief executive Jim Cantrell] said he expects to do three or four orbital launches in 2018, increasing to 12 in 2019. “We’re going to call them test launches,” he said of the planned 2018 launches, “but we have a number of people who want to buy those launches already.”

Cantrell said Vector Space Systems has signed up one customer, and is in negotiations with a second customer, both of whom he declined to name. Both customers, he said, are planning satellite constellations. “Between those two, we will have sold close to 30 launches,” he said, with those launches spread out over several years.

Vector 1 is being designed to launch very small satellites weighing generally less than 100 pounds.

Build a satellite of your own for less than $30K

The competition heats up: An industry of new cubesat builders can now build satellites for anyone for any reason for very little money.

The miniaturisation of technology allows people to do more with less hardware, said Chad Anderson, the managing director of Space Angels Network, an investment house specialising in the space industry. That industry, he said, was worth $300bn (£200bn) last year. Constellations of smaller satellites, like those suggested as tracking devices for planes over oceans, are now a possibility. “The launch costs are coming down and people leveraging today’s technology are able to do more with less and launch less mass to orbit. The price point has come down to where start-ups and entrepreneurs can really make an impact on the scene for the first time,” he said.

When the first tiny satellite launch companies arrive, expect this industry to blossom at an astonishing rate.

Small satellite industry predicted to blossom

The competition heats up: An industry study now predicts that more than 500 small satellites, including nanosats, cubesats, microsats, and minisats, will be launched in the next five years.

Note however this important detail, highlighted below:

75% of the 510 satellites to be launched during the next five years will be for government civil and defense agencies. Growth in government demand will be stronger than in the commercial world where a total of 130 satellites are expected. “Large constellation projects such as those announced in 2014 by OneWeb and by SpaceX in association with Google have not been included in our forecasts/scenarios for launch by 2019,” said Rachel Villain, Principal Advisor at Euroconsult and Editor of the report. “Large constellation projects could, however, represent a very significant component of launches over the following five year period (2020-2024).” [emphasis mine]

Even though the predicted launches represent a two-thirds increase per year compared to the previous decade, this launch rate does not include the big private constellations that appear almost certain to fly. In other words, all signs point to the possibility that we are about to see a real boom in the space industry.

Two low-cost, car battery-sized Canadian space telescopes were launched successfully in Russia today

Two low-cost, car battery-sized Canadian space telescopes were launched successfully in Russia today.

The important detail here is this quote:

“BRITE-Constellation will exploit and enhance recent Canadian advances in precise attitude control that have opened up for space science the domain of very low cost, miniature spacecraft, allowing a scientific return that otherwise would have had price tags 10 to 100 times higher,” [emphasis mine]

Most nanosats and cubesats have not had the kind of precise attitude control of larger satellites, which is one of their limitations. If the technology is now maturing so that these tiny satellites can be pointed as accurately as bigger payloads, it will mean that unmanned satellites are going to get smaller very quickly. This lowers cost and increases the customer base, creating more business for launch companies.

Boeing this week revealed a new line of small satellites, the smallest weighing less than 9 pounds, for both military and commercial operations.

The competition heats up: Boeing this week revealed a new line of small satellites, the smallest weighing less than 9 pounds, for both military and commercial operations.

This decision tells me that my worries about Boeing’s competitiveness are unfounded. Moreover, the increasing shift to building smaller satellites will once again lower costs and therefore increase the number of customers who can afford the product. The result will be a larger aerospace industry.