It’s an exciting time to be in the commercial space industry as so many new businesses are entering the market and driving innovation. It’s even more exciting for us as we provide smallsat launch services to an increasingly diverse business ecosystem. We’ve been keeping an eye on the evolution of smallsat applications and want to share some of the latest developments and trends we’re observing.
Once upon a time, the launch business was mostly focused on putting satellites that provided earth observation in the visible spectrum on orbit. While we still see many of these, there are many new payloads that are going on orbit –– and even more creative missions in the pipeline.
Here’s a list of just few of the missions we’ll see for smallsats in 2017 and beyond.
- Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR). In the past, clouds were an impenetrable barrier for small earth observation satellites. Not anymore. New technology allows small satellites to capture data through smog, fog, clouds and the like.
- The Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure. As the demand grows for connected devices on earth, the demand grows for connection in those places on the globe without fiber or cellular service.
- Propulsion. Reducing the launch vehicle propulsion needed to achieve a specialized or non-standard rideshare orbit is one way of keeping overall launch costs to a minimum. Multiple companies are looking to provide more efficient spacecraft deltaV solutions, using water or electric propulsion, which are often low mass and lower per kg cost than relying on booster relights or buying a dedicated launch vehicle.
- Astro-bionics. With plans for space exploration to Mars and other planets, there is the need for more research on the impacts of spaceflight on the human body, including effects of radiation and zero gravity for prolonged amounts of time. In addition, there is the need for research on how to grow food in space, treat illnesses, fight infections, and deal with bone density loss. The biological payloads in the works will be key to human space travel.
- Economic asset tracking. In today’s global economy, data is crucial. Governmental and private budgeting and spending requires eyes on all parts of the globe, particularly in the developing world. The ability to track tankers, cargo planes, and other goods delivery mechanisms as well as monitor energy infrastructure such as pipelines and oil wells is critical in the new economy.
- The new planetary exploration wave. While manned missions to Mars attract a lot of attention, there are other missions that also represent groundbreaking innovations and new applications for space technology. Missions to explore the moon and asteroids to mine rare minerals are examples of how space commerce is expanding.
- Non-traditional uses. Some of the new businesses entering the commercial space industry are truly outside-of-the-box thinkers. Space tourism, which seemed like something from science fiction just a few years ago, is developing quickly. You can also say goodbye to loved ones in a unique way with memorial services that launch their ashes into space or turn them into a shooting star.
We can’t wait to see what other payloads we’ll be launching in the future. As access to space becomes easier and more affordable, it fosters innovation and entrepreneurship that boosts our economy and inspires more to join the commercial space industry. We’re happy to be a part of it. The sky is no longer the limit.