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The smallsat industry has found itself slowed by the federal government’s reluctance to adopt the new technologies that allow tiny satellites to do the same things that once required big satellites.
Small satellites have been hailed as a game changer in the space industry, but the government’s slower than anticipated adoption of smallsat technology has been a disappointment for many companies. “When the smallsat movement started, the thinking was, ’We don’t need the government,’” said Bhavya Lal, a researcher at the IDA Science and Technology Policy Institute, a federally funded think tank. “But over the last five years, almost all the smallsat companies we talked to are eager for government contracts” to make up for lackluster commercial demand, she said. “It’s something they didn’t anticipate.”
IDA last year published a wide-ranging study of the small satellite industry. There is a “growing realization that there aren’t as many business customers as originally hoped,” Lal said. “Maybe that will change as broadband mega constellations come on line.” Companies like SpaceX and OneWeb are projected to build huge constellations of small satellites but projects have taken longer to materialize than predicted.
Advocates of small satellites say government agencies have little economic incentive to experiment with unfamiliar technology. They can afford to buy large satellites and have yet to be convinced that lower cost smallsats can provide comparable services. [emphasis mine]
I think the conclusion highlighted in the quote above is faulty, based on past data and not likely future events. They are looking at the customers that exist before the new smallsat rockets come on line. Once cheap access for smallsats is assured, from multiple launchers, I expect the number of business customers will rise quickly.
Nonetheless, there is no harm in lobbying our government for more business, as long as this new industry doesn’t become dependent on it. If that happens, expect costs to rise and innovation to slow.