Op-ed | Assessment + Forecast: The Small Satellite Market

SatMagazine l May, 2021

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[Excerpt] Mega-constellations, resilient to the COVID-19 pandemic, are set to increasingly concentrate smallsat market shares. In fact, Euroconsult anticipates that about 13,910 satellites of less than 500 kg will be launched in the next ten years, according to the company’s latest smallsat analysis and report.

This total represents a 38 percent increase over the 10,100 satellites that were expected in the previous edition of this report. Growth is driven by several factors and must be contextualized, as a few mega-constellations concentrate very large shares of the market and of growth compared to the previous edition:

Growth occurs despite the COVID-19 situation. Its negative effects were overestimated in the past edition as the availability of large amounts of capital throughout the pandemic was not anticipated. OneWeb’s re-inclusion to our forecasts following its Chapter 11, subsequent acquisition and on-going revival illustrates this situation.

Investor interest for the space sector is growing tremendously as demonstrated by the growth in the number of IPOs and SPAC listings inthe United States, including many smallsat players such as Astra, BlackSky, Momentus, and Rocket Lab, among others. The availability of capital combined with the low cost of smallsats is a key growth driver.

ATCOM mega- constellations concentrate increasingly large shares of the market as they prove to be resilient to the pandemic, led by Starlink which in 2020 became the world’s largest operator (over 1,000 units in orbit), and launched an operational service. Most of the growth compared to the previous edition consists of Starlink alone, for which we have added replacement/expansion satellites, as the system grows in maturity and capacity.

Significant growth is expected in China, as it consolidates its various plans for LEO broadband under the GuoWang ITU filings, seemingly a priority of China’s 14th 5-year plan, published in early 2021. China also witnesses growth in commercial constellations.

The smallsat industry is gearing up for significant expansion in terms of capabilities and demand, with the number of satellites to be launched growing more than four-fold over 2021-2030. Numerous companies have developed and keep developing satellite solutions, largely based on constellation projects, to deliver better services and reach out to new users.