Three Trends Influencing Market Growth for Nano and Microsatellites

The global nano and microsatellite market is expected to grow at CAGRs of 22.87% and 25.48%, in terms of revenue and number of satellites, respectively, during the 2014-2019 forecast period.

What are nano and microsatellites?

Nano and microsatellites are miniaturized forms of satellites that weigh between 1-10 kg and 10-100 kg, respectively. They are the fastest growing segment in the satellite industry. ‘CubeSat’ is one of the most popular types of miniaturized satellites in this category.

Technavio analysts have identified three key trends helping to influence growth in the nano and microsatellite market:

All-electric propulsion system for satellites

Chemical propulsion systems such as solid rocket engines carry a substantial amount of fuel for the mission, which is not possible in the case of nano and microsatellite designs. Also, the propellant used in such solid propellant propulsion systems, once started cannot be stopped or restarted, and multiple stages have to be used if more than one burn is desired. It further increases the weight.

The advent of miniaturized electronics and MEMS has enabled the design of micro-electric propulsion technologies such as micro-thrusters. Micro-thrusters can be used for micro-propulsion of nano and microsatellites. The all-electric propulsion systems for satellites minimizes the launch mass and thus maximizes the available payload.

The MEMS-based thruster is minuscule but can fit highly sophisticated propulsion systems. Such propulsion systems consist of nozzles, heaters, valves, filters and controls, all put together into compact units. Such MEMS and electric-based miniaturized propulsion systems provide a whole new dimension for nano and microsatellite missions.

Development of reusable space launch vehicles

Satellite launches are mostly done using expendable launch vehicles that carry a payload to the orbit, and can be used only once. The majority of the satellite launch cost comes from building the rocket, which gets used for a single mission.

However, instead of an ELV, a reusable space launch vehicle can substantially reduce the cost of access to space, if the rockets could be effectively used for multiple missions, similar to that of airplanes.

Companies such as SpaceX have been working to develop such reusable space launch vehicles that can re-enter the earth without burning and return to the launch pad for a vertical landing.

Progression toward low-cost satellite-based internet services

At present, satellite-based internet services use satellites in GSO, which is 22,000 miles or more above the surface of the earth. However, the distance results in high latency and makes satellite internet a poor option for applications like gaming, video conferencing, and live streaming. In addition, manufacturing traditional large-sized satellites and launching them to GSO is expensive, thereby, increasing the cost for internet services based on these systems.

In comparison, nano and microsatellites can be put in LEO, which is around 680 miles from the earth’s surface. The latency of the internet service at this height would be 20ms to 30ms, which is comparable or even better than existing broadband internet solutions using fiber-optic cable networks. For developing nations, to establish a network of optical fibers for internet services is too expensive.

The nano and microsatellite-based infrastructure is thus a good alternative to provide low-cost satellite-based internet access with a broad coverage on the earth. Companies such as OneWeb and SpaceX are working in this direction. As a part of this plan, OneWeb and SpaceX aim to put thousands of microsatellites in space.