Credit: SpaceWorks Enterprises, Inc. (SEI)

Credit: SpaceWorks Enterprises, Inc. (SEI)

Small is beautiful…and in space, nano along with micro is big news.

SpaceWorks Enterprises, Inc. (SEI) in Atlanta, Georgia has issued its annual assessment of markets for nano/microsatellites. The appraisal spotlights this sector and notes its growth in recent years, led by large constellation plans from the commercial industry.

SEI projections indicate more than 400 nano/microsatellites will need launches annually in the year 2022 and beyond.

Limited launch opportunities in 2015 meant that there is a growing backlog of small satellites looking to launch in 2016 and beyond.

News for the masses

The group is currently tracking 780 future (2016 – 2018) nano/microsatellites with masses between 1 kilogram and 50 kilograms in various stages of planning or development.

SpaceWorks Enterprises, Inc. (SEI)

SpaceWorks Enterprises, Inc. (SEI)

Historical launches and publicly announced plans for future launches, as well as estimated market growth, explains SEI serve as a basis for projection of the quantity of nano/microsatellites that will launch between 2016 and 2022.

This report bounds the upper range of interest in microsatellites at 50 kg given the relative large amount of satellite development activity in the 1-50 kg range by comparison to the 50-100 kg range.

Study messages

A few takeaway messages from the study:

  • The commercial sector will increase its proportional representation over the next three years, to the extent that it will soon account for the majority of spacecraft launched in the 1 – 50 kg class.
  • More than 70% of future nano/microsatellites will be used for Earth observation and remote sensing purposes (compared to 37% from 2009 to 2015).
  • As key companies move toward operations, a smaller proportion of technology development/demonstration nano/microsatellites will be built in the next few years.
  • While still widely used by academia, 1 – 3 kg CubeSats will comprise less than 30% of the market in the future (compared to 71% from 2009 to 2013).
  • Over 60% of future nanosatellites (1 – 10 kg) will be in the increasingly popular 4 – 6 kg mass class (compared to only 23% from 2009 to 2013).
  • Low cost piggy-back opportunities on medium and heavy-lift launch vehicles have attracted small satellite payloads; Many small dedicated launchers under development could change this trend.
SpaceWorks Enterprises, Inc. (SEI)

SpaceWorks Enterprises, Inc. (SEI)



Good space citizens

Given this projected growth of small satellites, what’s the worry regarding the potential for adding to space debris woes, and is there need for more regulation of the nano/microsatellite community?

Bill Doncaster, SEI senior systems engineer who helped develop the 2016 Nano/Microsatellite Market Forecast, told Inside Outer Space:

“At SpaceWorks we’re very bullish on the potential for sustained growth in this segment,” Doncaster said. He explains that SEI views the small satellite operators and their launch providers as being proactive at managing the orbital life for these programs.

“A majority of small satellites are currently going to low earth orbits, deploying off the International Space Station, for example, where their orbit decays within a year, maybe three at most, and so the number of active objects tracks with launches,” Doncaster explained. “Generally, as long as the operators continue to be good space citizens we don’t see the need for additional regulations.”

SpaceWorks Enterprises, Inc. specializes in independent technical concept development, economic analysis, market research, technology impact assessment, and systems analyses for future space systems and projects.

The study summary is available in presentation form as a free download on the website:


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