The satellite industry for the next decade, through the lens of changing industry dynamics and Covid-19 impact, will see the launch of over 12,000 satellites of all mass ranges, according to a report by NSR.
The report titled Global Satellite Manufacturing and Launch Markets, 10th Edition also forecasts that the satellite launches will generate a cumulative opportunity of $131.2bn in launch revenues alone. The demand for satellites and their services continues its growth, leading to further market expansion.
There have been six launch failures so far in 2020 – three from China, two from the US and one from Iran. This is already a high number of failures for the year, compared to that of previous years: five failures in 2019 and three failures in 2018. However, four of the six failures have been the result of inaugural launches of new rockets, including the failure of Virgin Orbit’s maiden flight, and one failure was from a vehicle that had failed multiple times previously (Iran’s Simorgh).
Perhaps most of the 2020 launch failures can be associated with a higher risk of failure due to new technology and maiden orbital launches, but established actors are also seeing effects on their schedules due to strained supply chains and logistics issues.
Rocket Lab’s first failure of a commercial flight came after a pause in launch operations due to the pandemic crisis; curiously, the company’s intended focus for their recent launches was on decreasing turnaround time between missions. Other players like SpaceX and Arianespace have seen delays due to a mix of factors like weather conditions, with Arianespace opting to reshuffle its launch schedule and push the debut of Ariane 6 off to next year.
Additionally, there are other, less direct factors contributing to the overall situation. Space projects rely heavily on the ability to raise funding from a variety of sources. Because the global recession has caused major investment pullback, financial resources are even more scarce than before, and companies that are hit the hardest are those in early, pre-revenue generating stages or ones engaged in verticals with high risk and long development runways.
These include players worldwide pursuing cash-intensive and highly competitive business cases like rocket development. Even prior to the economic crisis, the business case for developing new rockets was difficult to make, and pressure on those already involved in the competition fell on the method of differentiation from other competitors.
Now, as investors are taking a harder look at the overcrowded playing field, funding yet another new rocket comes at the expense of other space projects, putting significant pressure on timeliness and proof of concept missions to justify their existence and attempt to ensure the future possibility of receiving further funding.
Launch failures and delays will certainly occur as par for the course, and various added pressure in the face of economic uncertainty will undoubtedly continue to have some effect on all players involved in 2020 and beyond. Exits and market consolidation are to be expected as market resources grow more constrained over time. However, compounding all setbacks that 2020 has brought does not yield a reliable picture of the industry’s current situation and should not be used to assess our trajectory moving forward.
The pandemic is not the culprit to blame for all of the industry’s hardships – we have to keep in mind that competitive uncertainty was high in 2019 even before the economic crisis. A more tempered approach is to keep calm and continue on the projected path of growth and resilience.