The Age of the NanoSatellite

18th May 2014

Newton Launch Systems has recently undergone a study into payload mass trends which point to the majority of growth in the small satellite market originating in the sub 50kg and especially within the nano satellite mass range.

92 of these satellites were launched in 2013 (an increase of 269% over 2012 figures) driven by the emergence and continued growth of commercial players suggesting that this is an important growth area.

The market for these nano / micro satellites is diverse and targets a variety of niche applications including communication, earth observation, remote sensing, biological experiments, scientific research, academic training, space science and intelligence to name just a few. A new breed of applications that employ fractionated / modular architectures with swarms of small highly dedicated satellites benefiting from the latest commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware is also emerging that promises to change the way that missions are designed - helping to lower risk, cost and shorten development times. Most noticeable are organisations such as SkyBox Imaging, Planet Labs, SSTL & Clyde-Space who have not only attracted substantial investment, but have successfully launched missions and have ambitious plans for the future including the development of new nano / small microsat platforms and subsystems.

A high growth area that has been identified by companies such as SkyBox Imaging, Planet Labs is the high temporal resolution Earth Observation market. High temporal resolution EO is invaluable for the monitoring of dynamic environments that relate to a diverse range of downstream applications including military reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, geology, forestry, agriculture, mapping / land use, atmospheric analysis, environmental / disaster monitoring, coastal / ocean, land cover analysis and capacity planning for housing / commercial development. As a whole the Earth observation market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.34% from 2014 to 2018.

Growing interest in the use of nano /micro satellites for M2M (machine to machine network) communications is also emerging for markets that target applications involving accurate GPS tracking and data logging of vehicles, personnel and equipment on land, sea and air, covering areas of the world beyond the reach of traditional methods of communication. Promising M2M applications include Automatic Identification System (AIS) and Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) systems that are becoming increasingly important within the Marine and Aviation industries. M2M is also seen as a key player within the automotive, telecommunication, transportation, logistics, oil and gas, energy and utility, mining, agriculture, healthcare and public affairs. This market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.8% from 2014 to 2019.

Clearly it is time to take nano / micro satellites seriously and not underestimate their usefulness – The age of the nano satellite is upon us and its growth will only be restricted by the lack of cost effective commercial launch opportunities that offer a regular, flexible and affordable launch service.