Nanosatellite and microsatellite refer to miniaturized satellites in terms of size and weight, in the range of 1-10 Kg and 10-100 kg, respectively. ‘CubeSat’ is one of the most popular types of miniaturized satellites. These are the fastest growing segments in the satellite industry. One of the major advantages of nano and microsatellites is the low cost of building and operating these satellites. The growth in small satellites is driven by miniaturization of electronics and sensors and the availability of high performance commercial off the shelf components, significantly reducing the cost of hardware development.
The other rationale for miniaturizing satellites is to reduce the launch cost; heavier satellites require larger rockets with greater thrust that also have greater cost to finance. In contrast, smaller and lighter satellites require smaller and cheaper launch vehicles and can sometimes be launched in multiples. The access-to-orbit and economy of these spacecraft is also improved through availability of secondary launch payload opportunities, especially for small satellites which conform to standardized form factors. They can be launched ‘piggyback’, using excess capacity on larger launch vehicles.
In 2019, 95% of the estimated $366 billion in revenue earned in the space sector was from the space-for-earth economy: that is, goods or services produced in space for use on earth. The space-for-earth economy includes telecommunications and internet infrastructure, earth observation capabilities, national security satellites, and more. This economy is booming, and though research shows that it faces the challenges of overcrowding and monopolization that tend to arise whenever companies compete for a scarce natural resource, projections for its future are optimistic. Decreasing costs for launch and space hardware in general have enticed new entrants into this market, and companies in a variety of industries have already begun leveraging satellite technology and access to space to drive innovation and efficiency in their earthbound products and services.
In contrast, the space-for-space economy — that is, goods and services produced in space for use in space, such as mining the Moon or asteroids for material with which to construct in-space habitats or supply refueling depots — has struggled to get off the ground. Today, however, there is reason to think that we may finally be reaching the first stages of a true space-for-space economy. SpaceX’s recent achievements (in cooperation with NASA), as well as upcoming efforts by Boeing, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic to put people in space sustainably and at scale, mark the opening of a new chapter of spaceflight led by private firms. These firms have both the intention and capability to bring private citizens to space as passengers, tourists, and — eventually — settlers, opening the door for businesses to start meeting the demand those people create over the next several decades with an array of space-for-space goods and services.
Microsatellite and nanosatellite applications
Nanosatellites and microsatellites find application in scientific research, communication, navigation and mapping, power, reconnaissance, and others including Earth observation, biological experiments, and remote sensing. Technical challenges in the construction of small satellites may include the lack of sufficient power storage or of room for a propulsion system.
Earth and Space Observation
Nanosatellites usually operate in low orbits (LEO). The current technology makes it possible to have latest-generation cameras for capturing high-resolution images. We are talking about tools with dimensions that fit perfectly to the size of small satellites. In this type of project, the payload of the nanosatellites is usually the camera.
- Capturing images of the Earth. One of the most widespread uses of small satellite constellations. There are several companies working on obtaining high quality images of our planet. This is the case of a number of giants in the New Space sector, such as Planet Labs, which has put more than 330 satellites in orbit since 2013.
- Earth mapping. Satellites have also revolutionized the field of cartography. From the most remote to the most populated areas on Earth, small satellites provide accurate and up-to-date maps of the entire planet.
- Astronomy. It’s the other side of the coin when it comes to observation projects. We have already seen that high resolution images of the Earth can be captured, but there are also services that point in the opposite direction: the use of small satellites to obtain information and images of outer space. A few months ago, for example, the CubeSat ASTERIA successfully completed its mission of measuring the transit of an exoplanet known as 55 Cancri e. Another proposal underway in this field involves the use of small satellites as “guide stars” for latest generation telescopes, which require stable references to investigate and obtain quality images of distant planets and celestial bodies.
IoT and Communications
The Internet of Things (IoT), machine-to-machine communication (M2M), telephony and Internet access have become some of the most common small satellites applications. Space has become an ideal solution to improve the efficiency of existing terrestrial communication networks, which have obvious limitations in their coverage. In these projects, the satellite payload would be a device capable of receiving, storing and processing information. For example, an SDR platform (Software Defined Radio).
- IoT and M2M communications. By 2025 it is estimated that there will be more than 25.2 billion IoT connections worldwide and that the global market for this sector will reach 950 billion euros. IoT-based business models require real-time information on all types of sensors and connected devices, a terrain where small satellite constellations can be key, especially in isolated or difficult-to-access areas. From space you can receive, store and forward information to any point in real time.
- Remote management. Through sensors, it is possible to remotely control the correct operation of all types of devices. It’s not just about receiving the information, but also sending commands for certain settings or configurations remotely, virtually in real time and anywhere on the planet, no matter how isolated. Think of projects in hard-to-reach areas such as Antarctica, the Amazon basin or offshore platforms, or critical infrastructure such as nuclear power plants, where land-based communications are supported by satellite communications.
- Communication in isolated areas. In the 21st century, there are still places on the planet that are virtually uncommunicated: large rural areas, frozen areas, desert territories, jungle areas, the high seas… In this field, small satellites offer very interesting solutions to guarantee communication in all circumstances.
- Mobile telephony. Unlike the previous section, we are already talking about the whole planet, not just remote areas. At a time when we can say that smartphones have transformed our lives, there are mobile phone projects from companies such as Sky and Space Global, to ensure stable and secure communication, with global voice, data and instant messaging services.
- Repeaters for radio amateurs. Small satellites have also demonstrated their ability to function as communications repeaters for the three million registered amateur radio operators worldwide.
- Internet access. According to data from a year ago, only 55.1 percent of the world’s population has access to the Internet. There is a significant technology gap, favouring richer countries and urban areas. Today, several projects have already been launched to provide universal access to the Internet, even in remote locations. Once again, small satellites are playing a key role in that revolution.
Geolocation and space have been closely related for years. There are systems such as GPS, Galileo, GLONASS or BeiDou. In the case of nanosatellites, asset tracking, as we saw a few days ago in this blog, is also one of its main fields of action.
As in IoT and communications applications, the payload in asset tracking projects has to be a device capable of collecting the information sent from the Earth, storing it and transmitting it back to Earth stations. Small satellites are an ideal solution to guarantee a stable, precise service with total coverage anywhere on the planet. What are the main practical applications of small satellites in this field? Let’s see the most important ones.
- Fleet management. Satellite tracking of all types of vehicles (cars, trucks, buses, industrial machinery…) has been a reality for years. Nanosatellite constellations also have the ability to reinforce traditional networks and provide solutions for precise control of vehicles and mobile resources, even in isolated areas.
- Logistics. From products with a value of just a few cents to others that can cost several million euros, logistics companies move an enormous amount of goods every day. Today we are used to knowing the location in real time and the estimated time of arrival of any product, no matter its price. All the more so if we are talking about logistics containers, luxury goods, machinery or very valuable or delicate goods, which may require controlled transport conditions (temperature, movement…) and various means of transport to reach their destination (road, rail, airplane, ship…), from one side of the planet to the other. Small satellite constellations are also an effective solution to improve security, control and traceability in the logistics sector.
- Ship tracking (AIS). The use of small satellites is a solution that helps to improve the safety of all types of vessels and to control some problems that often affect maritime traffic. S-AIS systems (Satellite-Based Automatic Identification Systems) are available for alerting about illegal fishing or piracy. With the help of nanosatellites, it is possible to compensate for the limitations of terrestrial networks, especially in areas of low coverage, and to ensure at all times the location and control of vessels.
- Aircraft tracking (ADS-B). ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast) terrestrial systems provide accurate information in seconds in very well communicated areas. It’s not the same in remote areas. Some of the biggest air tragedies of recent years have to do with the disappearance of planes in shaded areas. There are already nanosatellite-based solutions for ADS-B systems that make it possible to increase safety, improve air traffic control, receive certain information provided by flight sensors in real time and know at all times the exact location of the aircraft.
Science and Environment
This is a very broad category. From a radar to a micro-laboratory for experiments in space, in these applications the payload of satellites depends on the objectives of each project.
- Meteorology. Small satellites are called upon to play an important role in storm detection and in the development of climate and weather models that help improve weather forecasts. For example, NASA has already entered the testing phase of the RainCube project (Radar in a CubeSat), for the location, tracking and analysis of rain and snow storms all over the planet.
- Protection of the environment. This is a type of practical application that affects us closely, due to the participation of the Alén Space team in the development of the nanosatellite Lume-1 within the European project FireRS. In this case, the objective is the early detection and monitoring of forest fires, but there are many other solutions based on small satellites related to the environment. Whether with optical instruments or sensors (IoT), we are talking about projects for the fight against ocean pollution, the detection of oil spills and spills, the monitoring of marine life, the control of desertification, the study of the progress of melting ice or the protection of areas of special environmental importance (such as the Serpens project, in the Amazon basin), among other initiatives.
- Agriculture. As in many other sectors, technology has also transformed the traditional concept of agriculture. Crop yield monitoring is another possible use of small satellites. Among the benefits, a better control of harvests, the improvement of the quality of agricultural products, the detection of diseases in crops, the evaluation by insurance companies of damage caused to harvests by certain meteorological events (storms, hail, floods…), or analysis of the repercussions derived from the periods of drought.
- In-Orbit Demonstration. IOD (In-Orbit Demonstration) missions allow low-cost testing of space components. This practical application of small satellites fits perfectly with R&D projects, as a last step and guarantee before the commercialization of technology destined to be used later in space. We must not forget the enormous growth potential of the aerospace sector and the constant appearance of technological innovations. No element can be left to chance, so all that technology has to be tested in real conditions… or as real as possible. And what better way to make sure they will work in space than to test them in orbit?
- Scientific projects. Small satellites have opened up space to companies and organizations that until recently could not dream of such an opportunity. The development of scientific experiments outside the Earth has become another common application of small satellites. Think, for example, of a research team that wants to develop a project related to the behaviour in space of certain technological or biochemical materials. The possibilities are enormous.
- Space exploration. Within NASA’s InSight mission, the MarCO A and B nanosatellites became in November 2018 the first two CubeSats to travel into deep space, with the mission to provide real-time telemetry of InSight’s landing on Mars. This milestone has marked a starting point for small satellites to gradually gain prominence in the field of space exploration.
Other small satellite applications
We should not forget that the possible practical applications of small satellites are very extensive. All you have to do is have an idea… and get it up and running. In fact, there are projects for the development of business in space related to certain market niches, which do not fit into any of the previous sections.
- Space mining. Some private companies have already begun to consider the exploitation of water, mineral and energy resources located in outer space. Last year, for example, a CubeSat was launched as part of a mission to locate and collect water in asteroids, with the aim of promoting future human expansion in space.
- Space debris clean-up. The most modern small satellites are designed to enter the Earth’s atmosphere once their mission is over, so that they disintegrate without leaving a trace, but this has not always been the case. Space debris can become a threat to satellites and space vehicles, but there are already projects with small satellites studying how this debris can be removed, such as the RemoveDebris mission.
- Projection of advertising from space. You may have thought of the famous Batman warning sign, but this is not a comic or a movie. We are talking about a reality with several projects already underway for the projection of commercial messages in the night sky with the help of CubeSats.
- Putting into orbit any object you can imagine. This application groups together all those business ideas that are based on the putting into orbit of anything that may pass through our mind. There is already a space funerals project that allows us to take our ashes or those of a loved one into space with the help of small satellites. Let’s not forget the evocative power of space. Therefore, other business ideas also raise the orbit of more spiritual or romantic messages. Imagination is the limit.
Defense and Security
There is also growing utilization of miniaturized satellites for military and defense applications. Defense organizations have been launching communication nanosatellites and microsatellites to provide communication signals to soldiers stationed in remote locations or in dense forests. The military needs more data bandwidth and reliable communications infrastructure for its UAVs, which can be fulfilled using constellations of nano and microsatellites.
According to US army, there are many benefits of Smallsats in LEO: the first is low per-unit cost that enables affordable satellite constellations with minimal personnel and logistics tail and opportunity of frequent technology refresh. The second is high survivability as they fly far above common threats and crowded airspace. The constellations also degrade gracefully and lost capability can be rapidly augmented and reconstituted. The ASAT attack is also difficult as microsatellites provide very very small target. ASAT attack also becomes less economical with ASAT engagement cost ratio in our favor. The Responsiveness is also enhanced due to rapid design and built, can be tasked from theater and also better adapt to the threat.
- Signals Intelligence (SIGINT). If we are talking about monitoring the radioelectric and electromagnetic spectrum, the practical applications of nanosatellites are very varied. Think of identifying signals from the Earth and space, monitoring communication traffic patterns, detecting interference and locating its origin, preventing the illegal use of radio bands and unauthorized emissions, etc.
- Prevention, disaster management and humanitarian aid. In crisis situations, such as earthquakes, tsunamis or hurricanes, small satellites make it possible to act quickly, to immediately know the extent of the damage (even in isolated areas) and to manage relief and rescue teams. Preventive work is also possible. For example, a system of sensors and buoys in the ocean can detect in advance the arrival of a tsunami or a sensor in a reservoir can automatically generate a warning message in the event that the water reaches a dangerous level. With the support of nanosatellites, it is also possible to collect information and data from certain areas of the planet (not only in the case of natural disasters or specific emergency situations), which allow the planning of humanitarian aid.
- Control of potential threats from outer space. If you’ve thought of asteroids and movies like ‘Armageddon’ have come to mind, you’ll be surprised to learn that you’re not too far off the mark. The applications of small satellites in this field have so far focused on the study and possible diversion of potentially dangerous asteroids for our planet, such as the Hera project of the European Space Agency (ESA). Science fiction comes true.
Canadian M3MSat for Maritime Security
The Canadian Maritime Monitoring and Messaging Microsatellite (M3MSat) mission aims to improve Canada’s space-based capabilities to detect ships and manage marine traffic. It is also testing a device that could change the way we monitor the health and safety of satellites.
Automatic Identification System (AIS) technology transmits important information on ships’ identity, heading and speed. Ships use AIS signals to detect other ships and avoid collisions at sea, and coastal authorities use them to enhance marine safety and monitor maritime traffic.
The placement of AIS technology on satellites in recent years has revolutionized how we monitor and manage marine safety by providing a more complete view of maritime traffic. One of the main objectives of M3MSat is to build on and improve Canada’s space-based AIS capabilities.
Part of M3MSat’s mission is to test an AIS antenna with advanced capabilities that promises higher performance for identification and conflict resolution of the signals. The compact antenna was designed by the University of Waterloo and is the first and only one of its kind. Another objective of the mission, is to test a device, the Low Data Rate Service (LDRS), to ensure surveillance and data continuity when AIS receivers cannot provide real-time coverage. The LDRS receives transmissions collected by stations in remote areas such as the Arctic. Then it passes the information on to Canadian marine traffic control centres.
ESA CubeSat for global aircraft monitoring system
Since its launch six months ago, a satellite as small as of 10x10x30 cm, has been tracking aircraft in flight across the entire globe. The satellite can point its distinctive helical antenna to Earth and has a navigation receiver onboard to detect Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast, or ADS-B, signals from aircraft. These signals are regularly broadcast from aircraft, giving flight information such as speed, position and altitude.
ESA launched its first technology-testing CubeSat in October 2015, on its six-month mission. GomX-3 was designed and built for ESA by Denmark’s Gomspace Company in only one year. GomX-3 also carries a miniaturised X-band transmitter, developed by Syrlinks in France that allows CubeSat to download data to X-band ground stations in the CNES network.
The nanosatellite precisely controls its orientation by spinning miniaturised ‘reaction wheels’ at varying speeds. This allows GomX-3 to points its antenna accurately towards satellites in geostationary orbit to detect radio signals for assessing their overall transmission efficiency. ESA’s 2013-launched Proba-V first confirmed the feasibility of ADS-B detection from orbit, opening up the prospect of a global aircraft monitoring system incorporating remote regions not covered by ground-based air traffic control.
“This is the first of many ESA nanosatellite missions,” notes Roger Walker, overseeing ESA’s technology CubeSat effort. “Our aim is to test new technologies and techniques or fly promising payloads in a more rapid affordable way, with more CubeSat launches next year.”
The global nanosatellite and microsatellite market size is expected to reach USD 7.13 billion in 2028, and register a revenue CAGR of 19.8% during the forecast period.
The space sector was severely affected due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and had to undergo many challenges such as delayed launches and uncertainty in supply networks. Government sponsored space survey programs have been directly affected as funding has been transferred to essential services.
The demand for nanosatellites and microsatellites stems from various industry sectors, including military and defense, education and scientific research, commercial, and navigation and mapping. As it is a more feasible option compared to large satellites and also of lower expenditure, nanosatellites and microsatellites are preferred more for scientific research and in the military and defense sector other than various commercial purposes which are resulting in an overall growth in the nanosatellites and microsatellites market.
A number of companies in the telecom sector are taking various initiatives to launch constellations of nanosatellites and microsatellites to offer their users faster internet services and additional bandwidth.
Applications such as remote sensing and Earth observation are likely to gain momentum in the coming years. Upsurge in earth observation missions, along with development of Small Satellite Launch Vehicles (SSLV), is expected to propel market growth. Moreover, the increased utilization of COTS component is one of the key factors that may propel the market growth in the coming years. Rising demand for upgraded communications and services and growing popularity of IoT-enabled devices are some major factors boosting revenue growth of the global nanosatellite and microsatellite market.
The emerging role of small satellites in the telecom sector has enabled telecom providers to accelerate 5G deployment globally, along with creating market opportunities for satellite communication (satcom) industry stakeholders. Deploying small satellites for 5G deployment can particularly benefit in the form of wide area coverage, cost-effectiveness, and reliability. At the same time, latest technologies, such as new solar panel cell technology and star tracker technology, are also allowing small satellites to strengthen their position in the broader satellite industry.
The growth of the communications sector, coupled with the continued adoption of Internet of Things (IoT), is expected to open opportunities in the global market. The continued adoption of IoT will particularly encourage start-ups to launch their small satellites. For instance, Hiber is expected to launch its first nanosatellite in 2019 to deliver internet connectivity to remote locations using Hiberband modem and support potential IoT projects globally.
The global nanosatellite and microsatellite market is gaining widespread importance owing to the rising demand for the IoT and M2M small satellite networks. Presently, small satellites are being increasingly used for applications such as weather forecast, surveillance, earth observation, navigation, communication, meteorology, and other purposes. Of late, there has been an increased demand for efficient small satellite constellations for providing better connectivity for smart devices, Internet of Things (IoT), increased data analytics, and migration to streaming broadband.
Government support is a key factor encouraging companies to launch nanosatellites and microsatellites for communication and navigation, earth observation, and remote sensing applications. Several governments are developing means to utilize the information obtained from such satellites in a more efficient manner for the public sector. For instance, the UK Space Agency’s Space for Smarter Government Program (SSGP) allows departments to share expertise, data, and services related to nanosatellites and microsatellites as well as information obtained from these satellites.
Small satellites are witnessing constant technological developments considering simple design and fast construction requirements. Constant advancements in miniaturization of technologies to enable success of low mission budgets and electronics and increasing usage of satellite constellations are factors boosting growth of the nanosatellites and microsatellites market.
Due to the small size and low mass, the risk rates associated with launching nanosatellites and microsatellites are low. Launches are more cost-effective and success rates are high as independent launch vehicles being developed
The global nanosatellites and microsatellites market can be segmented into its solution, mass, band, application, end-user, and geography. On the basis of the solution, the global market is divided into hardware, software and data processing, services such as professional and engineering services and launch services.
The nanosatellites segment is expected to grow at a significant rate over the forecast period. The progression toward low-cost satellite-based internet services is enabling a transition towards the adoption of these satellites
Based on application, the market is classified into communication, earth observation and remote sensing, scientific research, biological experiment, technology demonstration and verification, academic training, reconnaissance and mapping, and navigation. Apart from this, the market is also segmented into defense, academic, commercial, government and non-profit on the basis of end user.
The communication segment accounted for largest revenue share in the global nanosatellite and microsatellite market in 2020, which is expected to increase rapidly throughout the forecast period. Rising implementation of nanoscience technology, increasing usage of Internet, and increasing awareness regarding remote sensing technology are expected to support market growth during the forecast period.
The earth observation/remote sensing segment is poised to grow at a steady rate over the forecast period as the development of low-mass and low-power navigation sensors in small satellites provides impetus to new remote sensing and earth observation missions.
The civil segment is expected to grow at a CAGR of close to 25% over the forecast period as commercialization of small satellites introduces academic institutions and research organizations to space technology
On the basis of the band, the global market gets divided into X-band, K-band, and Ka-band. The mass segment is segmented into 0-10 kg (nanosatellite) and 11-200 kg (microsatellite). Also, the orbit segment is segmented into LEO (Non-Polar Inclined), LEO (Sun-Synchronous Orbit) and LEO (Polar Orbit). On the basis of component, the market is segmented into payload, structure, tele-communication, on-board computer, power system, attitude control system, and propulsion system.
On the basis of end-user, the segregation is seen into government, civil, commercial, defense, energy and infrastructure, energy and utilities and maritime and transportation.
Diversification of the global nanosatellites and microsatellites market on the basis of the region is seen as North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa and Latin America
North America accounted for largest revenue share in the global nanosatellite and microsatellite market in 2020, which is expected to continue throughout the forecast period due to factors such as increasingly favorable policies and initiatives by governments and evolving requirements for digital services.
Many major companies are keen on expanding their operations in the U.S. to capitalize on the increasing demand. Other regions following the growth in North America are Europe, Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Middle East and Africa.
The U.K., Germany, France, Spain, and Italy are the countries contributing towards the market share in Europe. Countries in Asia Pacific include Japan, China, India and Indonesia that contribute towards the global market growth. In the Middle East and Africa, the countries involved in the nanosatellites and microsatellites market are the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa. Brazil provides its ample share in the nanosatellites and microsatellites market in Latin America
Asia Pacific revenue is expected to expand at a CAGR of 21.9% over the forecast period. Asia Pacific is expected to be the fastest-growing regional market over the forecast period, owing to increased nanosatellite launches by various academic institutions and increased government support for developing space programs
The key market players in the global nanosatellite and microsatellite market include Axelspace Corporation (Japan), Astrocast (Switzerland), BlackSky Global (U.S.), Capella Space (U.S.), GomSpace (Denmark), ICEYE (Finland), Kepler Communication (Canada), Lockheed Martin (U.S.), Nano Avionics (U.S.), OneWeb (UK), Planet Labs (U.S.), Planet IQ (U.S.), Satellogic (Argentina), Spire Global (U.S.), and Tyvak Nano Satellite (U.S.).
One of the main player for secondary payload launch is the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), that set a new record in space mission achievements on 15 Feb 2017, after it successfully launched 104 satellites in one go from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, . The PSLV-C37/Cartosat2 Series satellite mission included the primary satellite (Cartosat-2) and 101 international nano satellites. It also launched two of its own nano satellites, INS-1A and INS-1B