Where Are We Headed? A Brief Look at Space Industry Developments

The FAA estimates that the sheer size of the global space transportation industry is a staggering $324 billion. With $125 billion, the United States takes up over a third of the market. The majority of this is the $87 billion generated by the satellite industry, which includes satellite services, satellite manufacturing, satellite ground equipment and launch services. A further $38 billion are accounted for by U.S. government space programs, and U.S. launch service providers accounted for about $2.4 billion in total revenues. And the space industry has barely gotten started with potential collaborations with other industries. At the 2015 SpaceCom Expo, several panels were dedicated to how a variety of industries can collaborate with the commercial space industry for mutual profits and benefits.

Industry experts pointed out this year that there are several positive trends currently happening in the commercial space industry. The commercial geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) has seen a “reversal of the foreign dominance” in the past few years. According to the FAA, “The demand for commercial NGSO [non-geosynchronous orbit] launches is expected to be at a comparably high level,” plus, there is a recent trend in dedicated small satellite launches. We’ve also seen exciting trends in the market for new launch vehicles, undoubtedly, one of the most exciting areas of the entire industry. Just over the past years we’ve seen a number of new vehicles in development, and those already being used continuously see enhancements and new technological advancements and increased backlogs of flights on their manifests.

satellite-1030779_1920_public domainWe currently have a latent demand among small satellite operators and new vehicles are being developed specifically to address this upcoming need. Global satellite industry revenues were up 3% from 2014 and have more than doubled in the past 10 years. Satellites are getting smaller and smaller and in return require smaller launch vehicles. The trend affects vehicles designed to launch payloads under 1,000 kg (approx. 2,200 lbs.) into low Earth orbits.

Smaller vehicles are not necessarily always cheaper on a per-pound to orbit basis; the opposite is often the case. But their advantage lies in more flexible scheduling, orbital inclination placement and therefore, their ability to meet the operator’s business goals. Previously, small satellites would often ride as secondary payloads on larger vehicles but would in return be dependent on that schedule, the previously defined orbital inclination of the primary payload, and therefore much less flexible. “Dedicated small launch capability being developed by multiple U.S. companies are scheduled to come online in the next two years, with many companies already manifesting flights,” said Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation to Congress recently.

According to Orbital ATK and its Small Launch Vehicles A 2015 State of the Industry Survey, there are currently more than 20 such vehicles in development around the world, 15 of which are being developed right here in the United States. Several of the vehicles are expected to make their first voyage in 2016 or 2017. For examples of these vehicles, check out the full report here: http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?filename=0&article=3176&context=smallsat&type=additional.

Another trend of the industry has been reusability as it offers significant cost savings over traditional methods. Thousands of people have been glued to SpaceX’s livestreams of their successful Falcon9 barge and land landings this year and Blue Origin successfully used its New Shepard vehicle twice in 2015 and again in 2016. If we can routinely reuse launch vehicles or major pieces of launch vehicles, it will dramatically decrease the cost of a launch. So called suborbital reusable vehicles (SRVs) are an emerging industry of their own and can potentially support new markets. Hardly a month has gone by this past year without some form of notable success in this area of the space transportation industry –  a testament to the lightning fast progress that’s happening every day.

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In addition to the progress in the small and reusable launch vehicle sector, crewed and on-orbit vehicles are also seeing exciting new developments. Boeing is developing the CST-100 Starliner, which will be able to accommodate up to seven passengers to low-earth orbit destinations such as the ISS. It is expected to make its inaugural launch in 2017.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is another interesting one to watch. The original “Dragon made history in 2012 when it became the first commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to the space station, a feat previously achieved only by governments. But Dragon was also designed from the beginning to carry people, and today SpaceX is finalizing the necessary refinements to make that a reality.”

Eric Stallmer testified to Congress: “These new and existing markets are driving substantial private capital investment into the U.S. space sector. In 2015, the commercial space industry saw historic levels of private capital investment and market growth.”

These are exciting times to be alive, and we at Spaceport Camden are looking forward to our future in this innovative and ambitious industry.



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