The “new space age” is finally here, thanks to the burgeoning global nanosatellite industry. Startups at this fast-expanding industry are now churning out tons of new, futuristic, yet affordable nanosats for various uses. In fact, with as little as a few thousand dollars, many universities, research groups, tech firms, and individuals own these gadgets today.
These toaster-size satellites, despite weighing as little as a kilogram, function quite as effectively as the expensive ones. They are at the heart of several space exploration expeditions, global air traffic surveillance, IoT services on such roles as asset tracking and monitoring as well as military surveillance.
Increase in NanoSat usage is attributed to the slashed production costs
The cost of building one has drastically reduced even as the demand for them keeps increasing. Unlike decades ago, when making one required over millions of dollars, one can have a nanosat for as little as $300,000 today. Startups dealing in these containerized satellites have also increased over the recent past, although the market is still in its infancy.
According to SpaceWorks Enterprises, a private watchdog that monitors the demand for satellites, the number of nanosats on the space has been increasing by about 40% per year since 2011. See, the today’s world no longer relies on the billion dollars, school bus-sized satellites weighing tens of thousands.
But even though the use of these nanosats is growing, Euroconsult projects that over 6,200 of them will have been sent to space by 2028. Also, the entire nanosatellite industry could cumulatively be worth $30.1 billion by then. Of course, a more significant chunk of it will be US-based, going by the number of American companies at the forefront of it right now.
Let’s look at some of the small nanosatellite startups which could potentially change the American satellite industry:
Previously known as Planet Labs, this nanosat company is single-handedly taking the industry by storm. Planet, a startup known for the small breadbox-sized, Dove-like nanosats, has already helped launch over 180 of them to space. It also runs a fleet of private firms; the biggest in this fast-expanding industry.
Planet doesn’t design and launch satellites by outsourcing the tasks. It does everything at their premises, including testing the nanosats. This company’s reputation has been growing, thanks to their attention to customer needs and their focus on innovation.
In 2017, Planet reportedly succeeded in its quest to finally monitor the planet 24/7. And today, even as it keeps sending more satellites to space, this startup is one of the most significant sources of daily imagery and fresh insights regarding the Earth.
Planet, founded in 2010, is headed by Will Marshall, its founder. It is headquartered in San Francisco, California and by 2015, it had so far raised over 196.1 million in investor funding.
- Spaceflight Industries
It is a top-ranking nanosatellite making company based in Seattle, Washington. Spaceflight Industries prides itself as the next-generation satellite maker, given its unique style in the industry. Basically, it strives to redefine how nanosats are developed, doing this using Spaceflight and BlackSky.
Spaceflight Industries started as Space & Technology, Inc, way back in 1999, founded by its current CEO, Jason Andrews. Today though, at the heart of its state-of-the-art satellite development process, are lots of other technologies, including geospatial intelligence and rideshare launch. It employs all these so that each satellite launched can provide credible and reliable information about the Earth.
This satellite making company doesn’t engage in every aspect of the development process. It instead liaises with other small companies, helping them to launch their nanosats while managing their routes in space. Spaceflight has already ensured that over 112 satellites are successfully operating.
At the moment, this nanosatellite company has ten launch vehicles located in 32 countries. Their global intelligence arm, BlackSky, uses its diverse array of sensors to receive constant feeds sent from the space. Going forward, it aims to operate 60 dedicated earth-imaging nanosats which will ideally form a constellation.
- Spire Global
Yet another top nanosat company from the US, Spire Global boasts of over 48 satellites providing a constant view of about 97% of the entire surface of the Earth. Spire, a San Francisco, California-based company, was founded in 2012 by Peter Platzer who still serves as its CEO.
Spire which focuses on GPS radio occultation CubeSats in their nanosats is relied upon alongside geostationary weather satellites. This company offers credible information regarding the atmospheric temperature and moisture, data sourced from its satellites. However, even as it targets to have at least 150 constellations in space, Spire aims to develop a more accurate global weather prediction pattern.
Away from that, Spire’s cube satellites serve another vital purpose. They carry out ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast), a role that critically helps in tracking and identifying aircraft and ships in the maritime world. Being able to do this, especially in industries that are notoriously difficult to manage is commendable.
Away from having its main base in the US, however, Spire’s Glasgow-based station forms the backbone of the UK Space Agency. It is strategic to the region and has even earned Spire over £4 million in funding, meant at helping enhance its state-of-the-art space technology.
- Vector Launch Inc
You probably know this space tech company because of its two popular rockets: the smaller Vector-R, and the bigger Vector-H. Vector Launch, previously known as Vector Space Systems, is a satellite launch services firm founded by its current CEO, Jim Cantrell, in 2016.
It is a Tucson, Arizona-headquartered nanosat company with an engineering and research facility in Huntington Beach, California. Despite being younger than other well-known firms, this company has been growing in leaps and bounds. It has amassed quite a lot in investor funding and even took over Garvey Spacecraft.
Aside from making rockets based on Garvey’s designs, Vector Launch majors in software-defined satellites for startup nanosats. Furthermore, just like any other ambitious nano sat company, this firm has lots of exciting projects, including sending more rockets to space.
It is another nanosats company that mainly focuses on creating products and services that could help in space commercialization. Basically, it helps to review space payloads and ensure they meet NASA’s safety requirements.
NanoRacks was co-founded by Jeffrey Manber and Charles Miller in 2009, but has tremendously grown in the industry. It currently has 64 satellites orbiting in space and a further 16 yet to be deployed. It also provides business development services to the Blue Shepard’s ‘New Shepard’ Suborbital Vehicle.