Types of satellites based on mass, compared to Earth-bound objects.
Credit: CRS

A fact-filled new Congressional Research Service (CRS) report spotlights today’s status of the commercial space industry.

The report — Commercial Space Industry Launches a New Phase – is authored by Bill Canis, a CRS specialist in industrial organization and business.

Changing face

This document explains that the face of the U.S. space industry is changing with a government shift toward use of fixed price contracts for commercial services, new entrants with new launch products, and an increase in the use of smaller satellites.

NASA’s commercial cargo program and other federal contracts are supporting the growth of the commercial launch industry, with less expensive rockets, some of which are planned to be reusable. Many of the new space-related companies are attracting rising levels of venture capital.

Aggressive pricing by U.S. entrants is cutting into the international launch market once dominated by foreign providers.

A renewed interest in low-cost satellites, some of which are small enough to be held in one hand, is prompting a range of start-ups and providing new accessibility to space by educational institutions, small businesses, and individual researchers.


Flagged in the report are these factoids: At the end of June 2016, 1,419 satellites were in operation, with 55% in low Earth orbit, 36% in geosynchronous orbit, 7% in middle Earth orbit, and the remainder in high Earth orbit.

Credit: CRS

Of these, 576 are U.S. satellites, 140 Russian, 181 Chinese, and 522 from other countries.

Of the U.S. satellites, 286 are commercial, 146 military, 132 government, and 12 civil.

Policy issues

In terms of policy issues for Congress, the CRS report concludes that there are three overarching issues will affect the development of commercial space in the future.

  • how the industry is regulated by diverse federal agencies
  • the effects of new export control laws and regulations that seek to increase U.S. space industry competitiveness
  • the allocation of spectrum for satellite use


The CRS report — Commercial Space Industry Launches a New Phase – is available here:


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