An estimated 263 nano/microsatellites will be launched in 2018, slightly lower than the record set in 2017, according to the new 2018 Nano/Microsatellite Market Forecast, 8th Edition that has been released from SpaceWorks. In 2017, there was a 205% increase in nano/microsatellites launched compared to 2016, according to the report. The global launch market demonstrated broader acceptance of small satellite rideshares and traditional launch vehicles accommodated a record number of small satellites awaiting launch, significantly reduced the backlog that has been building since 2015.
The report’s 2018 projections have been increased to reflect an increase in small satellite launch opportunities, the continued maturation of emerging small satellite operators, and a strong influx of venture capital financing into the space sector.
Some of the key findings in the report include that an estimated 2,600 nano/microsatellites will require launch over the next five years.
Of this, communications satellites are expected to make up over 20% of the nano/microsatellite market during the five-year period. Much of the activity in this space is centered around serving the rapidly growing Internet-of-things (IOT) and Machine-to-Machine (M2M) market. Communications operators are still in the technology demonstration phase and will need to secure additional capital to execute on their deployment plans. SpaceWorks estimates that as many as 700 communications nano/microsatellites will require launch over the next five years.
The overall sizes in the nanosatellite market are increasing to accommodate demand for additional payload capabilities. The 3U form factor is still expected to remain the standard in the market over the next five years.
The report states that the 1 – 10 kg segment of the nanosatellite segment is still the most favoured by operators, but the 11 – 50 kg and higher range is increasing in popularity.
The PSLV is rapidly positioning itself as the go-to rideshare launch vehicle and delivered a record setting 104 satellites in a single launch this year.
One company that is showing huge promise is Planet, which has launched more than 300 nano/ microsatellites since its inception in 2010. The nano/microsatellite market shows substantially less exponential growth when Planet is omitted, highlighting just how much a single company can raise market expectations. If Planet were to increase its satellite size outside the nano/microsatellite range, it would have a dramatic impact on expected market growth in the 1 – 50 kg segment.
In conclusion, SpaceWorks projects that 2018 will be a strong year for nano/microsatellite launches, with 263 satellites expected to launch, a 15% decrease from 2017, but an overall increase of 160% from 2016. Commercial Earth observation and remote sensing constellations are expected to make up 50% of the market over the next five years; rapidly growing communications constellations are expected to account for an additional 20% of the market. The future of the nano/microsatellite market will depend largely on the ability of operators to secure capital in the near term and create sustainable customer relationships in the long term.