The twenty-first century has seen a real boom in the space services industry. The entry of private commercial companies into the space market has opened a wide range of new opportunities for recreation, business, and even environmental protection.
Today, the space services industry is one of the most far-reaching areas of the new space economy. Suborbital tourism, the market of streaming services and high-speed data transfer, satellite monitoring and exploration of new deposits of natural resources – all this is the result of the activity of companies providing commercial services in space.
We have prepared a material about the most dynamically developing space services, about the companies that provide such services, as well as about the nearest financial perspectives of the space services market.
Satellite services and their purpose
Satellite as a service (Satellite-as-a-Service, SaaS) – is the trend of space services market providing their clients with the access to satellite data exchange technologies, which is performed mainly by subscription. The customers of the satellite services market are telecommunications companies and DTH (Direct-to-home) operators providing streaming services.
The main advantage of SaaS promotion is that there is no need for the customer to invest money in the creation and launch of satellites, because they are already in orbit, and the customer only rents their production facilities.
The satellite services market can be divided into five main types:
- Consumer services – satellite television and radio broadcasting and broadband.
- Fixed Satellite Services (FSS) – companies that provide access to services to operate terrestrial equipment for receiving and transmitting data.
- Mobile Satellite Communications – provides the necessary level of network coverage to cellular carriers.
- Remote sensing and Earth monitoring – main areas of activity: disaster forecasting, weather observation and natural resource exploration.
- Space mission control services – “space dispatch”, in which companies involved in space and suborbital transportation are primarily interested, but do not have the appropriate equipment for launching and maintaining spacecraft in their arsenal.
We will probably devote a separate article to consumer services and mobile communications, but for the time being we will focus on the other three directions of the space services market.
Ground-based terminals for satellite control
The information received from the satellites is processed in the ground-based monitoring and data management terminals (Ground Stations). Ground Stations are capable of programming the satellite by giving it the necessary list of parameters and commands. After collecting data, the satellite sends it to the receiving antenna of the ground station, after which the operators begin processing the information. For example, ground stations from Amazon Web Services (AWS) operate according to this principle.
The availability of a sufficient number of satellite data terminals directly affects the volume of data received and the speed of its processing. That is why Amazon has recently been only increasing the construction of ground stations. Two new stations have recently been launched, located in Ohio and Oregon. AWS’ most notable customers are Capella Space, Digital Globe, D-Orbit and Thales Alenia Space.
Amazon’s closest competitor on the market for satellite ground receiving equipment is the American company Kymeta, headquartered in Washington state. Kymeta bet on the mobility and lightness of its terminals, which resulted in the appearance of compact electronically steered antennas (Electronically Steered Antenna, ESA) – U8. Portable terminals U8 can receive data on the entire Ku-band (12-18 GHz), and in the future will be able to work with the frequencies of satellites in LEO (low earth orbit). The company was able to more than double the gain of the antenna compared to past models, resulting in an extremely low level of interference when scanning. The U8 ground station from Kymeta does not need to be pointed to a satellite to receive the signal, and also has a more compact and transportable version of the antennas in its lineup – the U8 Go.
Kymeta’s financial approach to promoting the scope of its services is also impressive. The company provides access to all necessary ground station equipment through its Kymeta Connect subscription. Using this strategy adds a fairly large pool of customers every year who need ground station data services, but are not ready to buy ground equipment.
Satellite monitoring: from exploration of natural resources to localization of cataclysms
Another field of SaaS-companies is the provision of services for satellite monitoring – a system of regular observations from orbit over the Earth’s surface. Satellite monitoring aims to collect and collate data on the state of the Earth’s surface for subsequent analysis and prediction of climate change, harmful emissions into the atmosphere or mineral exploration.
One of the most ambitious approaches in this regard is the analysis of the earth’s surface by satellite GIS maps (Geographic Information Systems, GIS). Landscape analysis from GIS maps opens up a wide range of possibilities in activities such as agriculture and forestry.
High resolution of satellite images (30 cm per pixel) allows tracking the dynamics of ecosystem changes and predicting the level of danger of natural disasters to ensure timely response in case of emergencies. Satellite monitoring makes it possible to carry out geological analysis of soil to search for new mineral deposits.
Currently, GIS mapping services are provided by such companies as EOS Data Analytics and Satellite Imaging Corporation.
Another niche for companies specializing in satellite monitoring services is environmental activities. Spectral cameras of such tracking satellites are sharpened to scan and search for carbon dioxide and methane emissions in industrial areas of the Earth.
Montreal-based GHGSat, which uses spectroscopic sensing technology to search for oil and methane leaks, is rightfully taking the lead in this area.
GHGSat operates its own satellites, which has a positive impact on the pricing process for surface sensing services. ABB’s sensors, which equip the new GHGSat satellites, can detect even the smallest leaks, and GHGSat’s 2020 Oil and Methane Leak Risk Index was included in Bloomberg terminals.
Suborbital tourism and transportation
Let us divert our attention away from satellite services and look at the suborbital tourism segment, which has been actively developing in recent years. Flying into orbit is still an extremely expensive endeavor, and at the moment is regarded more as an attraction than as a practical way of traveling. However, companies are doing their best to make such flights more affordable for the average person on Earth.
The year 2021 was a landmark year for commercial space tourism and was remembered for a number of successful suborbital missions:
- On May 22, Virgin Galactic flew its first SpaceShipTwo-class mission, the VSS Unity. The ship was piloted by David Mackay and co-piloted by Frederick Sturkow. The crew reached the altitude of 89.24, but never crossed the Carman Line (over 100 kilometers above sea level), which is internationally recognized as the boundary of the beginning of space.
- On July 11, Virgin Galactic again launched its VSS Unity spacecraft, but this time with a crew on board: two pilots and four onboard specialists, including the head of Virgin Galactic – billionaire Richard Branson.
The main purpose of the mission was to demonstrate the comfort of commercial flights: the passenger cabin of SpaceShipTwo was equipped with comfortable seats and provided everything necessary for conducting research activities.
- On July 20, Blue Origin successfully launched its New Shepard passenger spacecraft as part of the NS-16 mission. The launch put four crew members into orbit, including Blue Origin CEO Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, Mercury 13 mission member Mary Wallace Funk and Dutch student Oliver Damien. The spacecraft was able to cross the Carman Line and its peak altitude was 107 kilometers above sea level.
- Ilon Musk’s SpaceX also confirmed its space tourism ambitions on September 15. Its mission, called Inspiration 4, was the first fully civilian mission of humans to orbit. Four non-professional astronauts spent three days in orbit in the Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft. The spacecraft was launched using a Falcon 9 reusable launch vehicle. The main goals of the mission were to study how the human body functions in weightlessness and to raise $200 million in investment for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
- On October 5, a crew of three went to the ISS aboard the manned Soyuz spacecraft. The mission, dubbed MS-19, was intended to shoot the first-ever full-length feature film “The Challenge,” filmed entirely in weightlessness. The pilot of the ship was Anton Shkaplerov, an experienced Russian cosmonaut. The other two crew members, actress Yulia Peresild and director Klim Shippenko, were not professional cosmonauts. The crew filmed on the ISS for 12 days and then returned safely to Earth.
- On October 13, William Shatner, known to viewers for his role as Captain Kirk from the TV series “Star Trek,” was on orbit as part of the NS-18 mission from Blue Origin. William became the oldest person ever to travel to orbit (he was 90 years old at the time of launch).
It is assumed that in the future suborbital flights will replace long-range air travel. For this purpose, SpaceX plans to use a super-heavy rocket Starship, which will be able to carry up to 100 passengers. The company says the flight from New York to Shanghai on the Starship will be reduced in time by 23 times and will last only 39 minutes – instead of 15 hours by plane.
It is worth noting that suborbital flights are currently the only industry in the suborbital tourism market. In future this market will definitely cover planetary tourism as well (in the long term – the Moon and Mars), with possible landing of potential tourists on the surface of satellites and planets.
Space Services Market Forecasts
According to a recent study by Allied Market Research, the satellite services market is projected to reach $144.5 billion by 2026 – assuming its current compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2.2% is maintained.
User services are forecasted to remain the most promising direction of the space services market. As for the provision of space flight control services, most likely, they will not move from their current positions. There are reasons for this: most major players prefer to develop and launch their own spacecraft and satellites.
If we talk about end users to whom satellite services are provided, we can see forecasted growth in the media and entertainment industry, defense industry and retail trade.
In 2020, the fixed satellite services market (FSS) was valued at $22.46 billion, and by 2026, its capitalization could be as high as $27.15 billion (at a compound annual growth rate of 5.48%). The growth of this market segment is primarily influenced by an increase in the level of implementation of 5G technologies.The most impressive growth rate is demonstrated by the market for suborbital flights. According to the October report from Emergen Research, in 2020 the average annual growth of investments in this area was 16.5%, and the market itself was estimated at $423.7 million. If the growth rate is maintained, by 2028 this area can be estimated at $1.45 billion. The most active players in the market remain Blue Origin, Orbspace, PD AeroSpace, LTD, SpaceX, Space Perspective and Virgin Galactic.
The development of this market is restrained by the decreasing public interest to suborbital flights due to their high cost.
Undoubtedly, the main factor influencing the growth of space services market now is the increased demand for Earth monitoring services and geological exploration of natural resources from industrial companies and nature protection organizations. At the same time, the key market driver is still the media and entertainment segment, which ensures stable demand for satellite services on the part of satellite TV and radio broadcasting providers and cellular operators.