Innovation has been the insignia of the aerospace and defense sector since the launch of Sputnik into the low Earth orbit in 1957. Soon after, within a span of 10 years, humans were sent to the moon. The sector has prided itself in taking a novel approach towards problems and focusing on consistent technological enhancements. Today, we find that the ability of satellites to transform businesses is only matched by the pace at which the technology is growing.
Technology has ushered in a new era where space is being democratized, as satellites are being used for various services, including communication. The convergence of several factors like the miniaturization of enabling technologies, the need for rapid-response platforms for various applications, such as disaster mitigation and crisis management, launching of a personal satellite into the orbit, and the changing dynamics of space has helped to lower the cost of space launch services.
In addition, the space market of Korea, Japan, and India has been competitive. The foray of private players like Space X into the space launch services market has further intensified the competition. This has spurred innovation in launch services with the manufacturing of disruptive technologies, which has helped to minimize the total satellite cost. Today, unlike in the past, certain components of the space shuttle or the satellite can be used twice or thrice, as done by companies like Space X.
Due to the reduced development time and launch cost of newer platforms as compared to the conventional large satellites, these platforms are being used in applications ranging from technology demonstrations and biological experiments to space weather research. Numerous academic, government, and commercial entities and pre-college age hobbyists are undertaking small/Nano satellite projects around the world. It is expected that in the near future, India, too, will send student satellites into space.
Moreover, new space companies are deploying various smaller, less complex, and cheaper satellites than a few large, complex, and costly satellites, which has led to an unexpected increase in the number of satellites being launched.
According to MarketsandMarkets, it is expected that more than 400 satellites will be launched by 2022, a significant increase from a mere 200 launches in 2016. Additionally, small satellite constellations will be launched on large launch vehicles that can deploy several satellites at a time into space for specific applications.
The short development cycle and low development cost are some of the benefits offered by small satellites. It is expected that small satellite manufacturers will drive the satellite market in the near future. Ergo, with the entry of private players into the space launch industry, it is now possible to have global coverage using constellations consisting of a few dozen small satellites.