Embracing Diversity and Uncertainty and Scalability, the Satellite Manufacturers’ Dilemma
Maxime Puteaux, Principal Advisor, Euroconsult
In an era where the demand for satellite demand is soaring to unprecedented heights satellite manufacturers are challenged to adapt their product offerings to cater to a diverse array of customer needs and market uncertainty. Satellite manufacturing market structure is at crossroad and faces multiple opportunities and challenge ahead.
Euroconsult forecast an average satellite demand of 2 800 satellites to be launched – equivalent to 8 satellites per day and totaling a mass of 4 tons – between 2023 and 2032. Demand is growing by a fourfold factor in both # of satellite and mass but only by a twofold factor in value giving a first glimpse on the new metrics that the industry will be required to match.
Legacy GEO comsat demand is back but most of the contract won by new vendors
Beyond the fuzz about the emerging commercial players, one shall repeat that legacy markets are still accounting for the lion share of this market jungle. After years of decline, Euroconsult forecasts moderate increase in GEO comsat demand, surpassing the levels of the past decade, with an average of 14 orders annually by 2032 compared to 12 in the past 10 years. This shift reflects the decline in broadcasting business and a transition toward the expanding broadband business, emphasizing the need for scalable solutions.
Orders placed in 2023 were mainly made to replace aging satellites that are reaching the end of their typical 15-year design lives, rather than for a significant expansion strategy. Astranis and other new players offering much smaller GEO satellites that are cheaper and more flexible, albeit with less capacity than their larger cousins, are also distorting the market for legacy manufacturers. Of the 10 orders announced so far this year for GEO commercial communications satellites, six are to be built by small satellite ventures, including three by Astranis. Intelsat, which has ordered large satellites from Airbus, Thales Alenia Space, and other established manufacturers, last year became 3D printing specialist Swissto12’s first customer for their one ton satellite which also received orders from Inmarsat.
Software defined satellite now account for the majority of this year’s orders
TV broadcasting used to be bread and butter of the industry but only left crumbs to manufacturers when satellites operators witnessed rapid changes in consumer’s habit from linear TV watching to on demand services better fitted for ground networks. Cumulated with the rise of new architectures such as NGSO constellations, GEO comsat orders collapsed but are now slowly recovering. Faced with uncertainty in the long-term outlook for video broadcasting, shifting/ variable demand patterns of mobility markets and the impending arrival of massive volumes of HTS capacity from NGSO constellations and GEO-VHTS systems, fully software-defined satellites have emerged as a major trend in the sector.
This is particularly true for GEO-HTS satellites which account for the bulk of recent GEO software-defined satellite orders. Overall, more than 50% of GEO-HTS satellite orders placed since 2019 have been fully software-defined platforms manufactured by Airbus (OneSat), Thales (Space Inspire) and Astranis (Micro-GEO), with this market share increasing to >3/4 for GEO-HTS orders placed since the beginning of 2021. This adoption is being driven by key operational advantages of software-defined satellites including the flexibility to change parameters such as coverage, power, frequency bands through on-board processing and active antennas with beam forming capability. Software-defined satellites carry other advantages such as manufacturability, wherein standardized design-to-manufacture approaches leveraging modular techniques result in reduced time to market and lower costs compared to the traditional approach to GEO system design/manufacturing.
Ultimately, this combination of advantages translates into a competitive cost per bit and the potentially higher fill rates (system utilization) by enabling supply to be adapted to capture specific demand opportunities in terms of regions/applications.
Legacy manufacturers put big hopes on government NGSO orders
Civil and defense government operators alone hold three quarters of the $58 billion manufacturing and launch market yearly average value. The six-leading space-faring governments or organizations alone (U.S, China, Russia, Japan, India, and European governments, EU and ESA) will account for two-third % of the total satellite manufacturing and launch demand in value by 2032.
Established satellite manufacturers, often with decades of experience in government business (for defense, GNSS, earth observation or exploration) remained preferred vendors when dealing with complex and state of the art satellite technology. Whilst large satellites manufacturing is their core business, they have gradually upgraded their capabilities to meet demand from U.S SDA and EU developing IRIS² which now account for a major part of their pipeline as these companies are the only capable to deliver such scalable system.
Collaboration and Innovation between legacy and emerging manufacturing
Beyond the rhetoric opposition between legacy and emerging vendors, the collaboration betwee both has proved to be a win-win situation in several deals where scalability and low cost structure were required. In this regard, this is not a surprise that most of the SDA layers contracts awards won by legacy manufacturers will use emerging vendors’ buses. This collaborative approach fosters a dynamic exchange of culture, market access which embodies the overall evolution of the satellite manufacturing segment of the value chain.
Vertical integration remain a challenging model
Traditionally, satellite operators outsourced the manufacturing of their satellite constellations to specialized manufacturers, fostering a vibrant ecosystem of suppliers and vendors. However, the rise of mega-constellations has prompted some operators to adopt a vertically integrated model, bringing satellite manufacturing in-house. SpaceX, with its Starlink project, is a prime example of this approach, controlling both the satellite manufacturing and the launch services.
Vertical integration offers satellite constellation operators several advantages. Firstly, it allows for greater control over the entire production process, leading to more streamlined operations and potentially lower costs. Secondly, in-house manufacturing facilitates rapid iteration and innovation, enabling operators to respond swiftly to evolving market demands and technological advancements. Finally, vertical integration provides a level of proprietary knowledge and confidentiality, as satellite operators can closely guard their technology and designs.
While vertical integration offers benefits to satellite operators, it raises concerns for traditional satellite manufacturers and vendors. With major players handling satellite manufacturing internally, the demand for external vendors is likely to decrease. This shift could potentially impact the revenue streams of manufacturers that have traditionally supplied satellites to operators. Commercial NGSO constellations dominate the industry by concentrating 65% of satellites demand yet contribute only 18% to the manufacturing and launch value, averaging $10.5 billion yearly meaning that addressing these customers puts significant pressure on suppliers’ margin.
Moreover, the trend of vertical integration may lead to a concentration of manufacturing capabilities within a few large companies. This concentration could create challenges for smaller manufacturers and suppliers, limiting their opportunities in the evolving satellite market. The potential reduction in demand for third-party satellite manufacturing services may force some vendors to diversify or adapt their business models to remain competitive.
Companies like SpaceX, OneWeb Satellites, Planet, Spire or Kuiper are opting for in-house satellite manufacturing, marking a departure from the traditional reliance on external vendors. This shift is not only altering the competitive landscape but also posing challenges for satellite manufacturers and suppliers.
As satellite operators increasingly pursue vertical integration, finding a balance between in-house manufacturing and collaboration with external vendors becomes crucial. While internal capabilities provide control and agility, collaboration with external partners can bring fresh perspectives, specialized expertise, and foster a more diverse and resilient industry.
In response to this shift, satellite manufacturers and vendors may explore new opportunities by offering specialized services, components, or expertise that complement the in-house capabilities of vertically integrated operators or focus on new markets like exploration or human spaceflight.
Standardization is key to mitigate market uncertainty
A common thread among both legacy leaders and emerging innovators is the emphasis on customization. Satellites are no longer one-size-fits-all; instead, manufacturers are designing platforms that can be tailored to meet the specific needs of individual customers. The push for diversity in satellite offerings reflects the ever-expanding range of applications for space-based technology. From supporting agriculture and monitoring climate change to enhancing global connectivity and national security, satellites are becoming indispensable tools in addressing a myriad of challenges. Recognizing the changing landscape of satellite applications, vendors are now focusing on the development of versatile and modular satellite systems. From Earth observation and telecommunications to scientific research and national security, the rise of satellite platforms that can be easily customized to serve a multitude of purposes / orbits helps manufacturers to ensure that their products are adaptable to a wide range of applications.
Commoditization of hardware: should satellite become a commodity, will they be made abroad?
Should satellite become a commodity one may ask whether low cost mass manufactured hardware could follow their same path than consumer electronics appliance manufacturers in emerging countries with lower labor cost. As such recent partnership between Satellogic and Tata Advanced Systems is intriguing in many ways. The possibility of future satellite manufacturing activities being moved abroad to countries with cheaper labor costs is certainly plausible, and similar considerations to those for consumer electronic appliances apply. However, there are specific factors and potential barriers in the aerospace and satellite industry that may impact the extent to which outsourcing is feasible. To date satellite manufacturing activities being moved abroad to countries with cheaper labor costs is certainly plausible, and similar considerations to those for consumer electronic appliances apply.
Given that satellite manufacturing is often be closely tied to national security and strategic interests governments may place restrictions on outsourcing certain aspects of satellite production to maintain control over critical technologies. While cost considerations are always a factor, the aerospace industry’s unique characteristics mean that outsourcing satellite manufacturing is not a straightforward decision. Companies need to balance cost savings with technical requirements, security concerns, and regulatory compliance. Additionally, advancements in automation and robotics may influence the landscape of satellite manufacturing, potentially reducing the reliance on labor cost differentials in the future.
Wait and see attitude towards super heavy launchers until they’re real
Super heavy launchers like Starship, they are paving the way for ambitious future space missions with a focus on delivering crew landers to the Moon as part of NASA Artemis program. K2 Space aside, most of satellite manufacturers are taking a cautious approach towards this new launch supply. One key advantage of super heavy launchers like Starship is their ability to accommodate larger payloads in a single launch. This prompts satellite manufacturers to reconsider the dimensions and configurations of their satellites, enabling them to take full advantage of the increased payload capacity. This, in turn, can lead to cost efficiencies and enhanced capabilities for satellite missions. Adapting satellite designs to leverage the capabilities of Starship involves rethinking traditional size constraints, maximizing payload capacity, and exploring new technologies to enhance satellite performance whilst the launcher has yet to be successful. Commercial space station projects like Starlab or Gravitics are likely early customers of these launchers by leveraging on the 9 m diameter payload fairing to provide vast volume to their crews and may triggers appetite for new design in other manufacturing activities.
Maxime Puteaux leads Euroconsult’ space industry consulting practice from end to end consulting assignments related to upstream activities in the satellite value chain such as access to space, manufacturing and in-orbit operations. He joined Euroconsult in 2012. Maxime created Euroconsult’s Space Logistics Markets reports and he is in charge of Satellites to be Built & Launched in the Next Ten Years, one Euroconsult’s flagship research reports since 2019. He also led the growth of Prospects for the Small Satellite market, a trusted market analysis on the segment. More recently he focused on new entrants and innovative services and supported the diversification of the company towards the so called New Space or space 4.0 through various products and services. He manages FinSpace, a startup pitch competition featuring the most disruptive startups and high level jury during Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business Week since 2017. Maxime is a recognized expert and is regularly invited as a panelist or speaker in various professional events. He is also regularly interviewed by national newspaper or TV to comment the evolution of the industry.
The Asian Satellite Manufacturing and Launch Market to Grow in Volume and Scale
Dafni Christodoulopoulou, Research Analyst, NSR | an Analysys Mason company
The satellite manufacturing and launch market is growing, as more satellites are launched every year. However, it is also facing many challenges; supply-chain issues and in-house production are limiting the manufacturing revenue opportunity, while delays and failures are hindering launches. So far in 2023, the industry has launched 188 times, with 11 failures; a failure rate of nearly 6%, which is 1% higher than last year. To understand the direction of manufacturing and launch markets, three key verticals need to be analysed: communications, Earth observation, and crew and cargo.
NSR’s recent report, Satellite manufacturing and launch markets, 13th edition, forecasts more than USD598 billion in cumulative satellite manufacturing and launch revenue, with over 32 500 mission orders and launches between 2022 and 2032 (Figure 1). Satellite manufacturing is expected to continue to expand via new facilities, production lines and architecture, driven by large-scale non-GEO constellations, and higher-volume, more flexible MEO and GEO systems. The launch market is facing delays and failures, but it is expected to become very competitive as new vehicles come online and players expand their services in LEO and lunar, alongside more in-orbit service capabilities.
Figure 1: Satellite manufacturing and launch markets, worldwide, 2022–2032
The supply and demand picture is changing
Constellations are driving production volume, enabling innovation in the GEO and non-GEO segments and the strong support of constellations is boosting manufacturing activity. Commercial non-GEO communications constellations account for most of the missions (81%) because two of the key players, Starlink and OneWeb, have almost fully deployed their first-generation satellites. At the same time, many key players are working on their next-generation satellites which often feature higher-mass, and more flexible satellites, to meet the demand for more capacity. Moreover, in-house manufacturing has become popular with key players such as Amazon, Planet, Starlink and more, which is disrupting the market.
Figure 2: Satellite orders by orbit, worldwide, 2022–2032
Government and military organisations have demonstrated their interest in commercially manufactured platforms and constellations, adding to investments in the communications and situational awareness verticals, in particular. As an example, the Space Development Agency (SDA)has placed multiple orders with commercial players such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and York Space Systems to develop its Tranche layers, demonstrating confidence in the commercial approach, and a growing focus on flexible constellations and economies of scale.
Mergers and acquisitions are expected to continue, and even accelerate. The industry is entering a period of consolidation as emerging players look to compete with the technology giants. While the constellation bubble will continue, second movers will find challenges competing in downstream, service markets, and thus consolidation is expected both up and downstream to ensure sustainable activity.
In the GEO market, supply and demand will push the market towards fully flexible, software-driven architecture, with lower masses and satellite/infrastructure-as-a-service models emerging, but not getting full market traction yet. The transition to smaller satellites will be enabled by the use of light-weight materials and processes, such as 3D-printing, and standardized platforms, resulting in smaller launch payloads. This trend is supported by the government and military sector, for example in the form of investments from the U.S. Department of Defense, and commercial players such as Astranis and Saturn Satellite. In the long term, NSR expects hardware standardization and subsidization for new platforms to lead to cost reduction, balanced against software complexity costs.
Even though constellation order activity will increase, NSR expects funding and supply chain shortages to continue, especially for commercial players. Additionally, as operators shift to lower mass, the price per satellite is expected to decrease, reducing the total amount of revenue.
The launch bottleneck will continue
The launch market will continue to be highly competitive and dominated by a few players. The established players, such as ISRO and SpaceX, are hard to compete with on account of their abilities to launch both GEO and non-GEO satellites, and their heavy launch and competitive rideshare programs. Virgin Orbit’s bankruptcy and Astra Space’s recent workforce reductions are examples of how challenging launch can be. However, established and emerging players are raising funds and preparing the next generation of launch vehicles.
Figure 3: Satellite launch services market cumulative revenue by region, 2022–2032
On the bright side for launchers and satellite operators, new regulations aim to limit the launch industry’s monopoly and allow fair opportunities to emerging players. The U.S. Space Force and other government organizations continue to award new contracts for small launchers and have allocated launch pads to emerging players to support them.
Geopolitical conflicts, like the Russia/Ukraine war, have increased tensions, forcing nations to pick sides in various projects. China plans to cooperate with Russia, South Africa and Venezuela on the International Lunar Research Station project, while competing with North America, Europe and their partners (India, Mexico, etc.) via the Artemis Accords. Moreover, the U.S. is not allowing its allies to use components and services from China and Russia, forcing them to look for new partnerships.
Missions in the crew and cargo vertical have gained attention, influenced by the Artemis program and ISRO’s landing on the Moon, which will create opportunities for government and commercial players in an emerging lunar economy. This vertical is dominated by government and space agencies now, but many commercial players are developing their own space stations and getting private investments to support NASA’s activities and provide alternative facilities to International Space Station (ISS) partners.
As a result of these emerging activities, NSR expects revenue in the launch market to grow as more vehicles come online. However, will take time and prices will fluctuate in the middle years of the forecast period for that reason, then stabilize as launch service providers reach lower limits to gain market share.
What is Asia’s part in this?
NSR forecasts nearly 9000 satellites to be manufactured and launched in the Asia region, generating cumulative revenue of USD139.2 billion over the next 10 years or 23% of the overall market. Most of these satellites are in the non-GEO communications and Earth observation verticals and are expected to serve emerging constellation operators in Asia such as Chang Guang Satellite Technology, ISRO, Pixxel, and so on. China is expanding its footprint, for both government and commercial opportunities, across all verticals, dominating the Asian market. For instance, China’s SatNet, a nearly 12,000 satellite constellation cited as “similar to Starlink” has a high likelihood of being fully built, given recently-opened manufacturing facilities. However, most of the Chinese opportunity will remain closed to the wider commercial market due to challenging political situations and strong national programs.
Figure 4: Satellite manufacturing and launch markets cumulative revenue by revenue, 2022–2032
Missions relating to the crew and cargo, and science and technology verticals are popular in Asia, and will generate most of the revenue in that region. China is pushing growth in the LEO segment with more consistent launches of the Tianzhou (cargo) and Shenzhou (crewed) modules for its Tiangong space station. Similarly, lunar activity has recently increased, via India’s Chandrayaan-3 and Japan’s SLIM missions. The crew and cargo vertical will generate over 52% of the global launch and manufacturing revenue during 2022–2032, with Asia accounting for a cumulative USD77 billion during this period.
Figure 5: Satellite manufacturing and launch services cumulative revenue by vertical, worldwide, 2022–2032
National security and space sovereignty play also influence the satellite manufacturing and launch markets in Asia. U.S.–China competition for space dominance is increasing activity in the communications, Earth observation and situational awareness verticals. China continues to pursue space technologies to gain military superiority across all verticals. The Guowang and Jilin-1 constellation plans, supported by CAST’s manufacturing facilities and partnerships with the private sector, put China at the forefront of satcom and Earth observation competition on an international level. NSR forecasts that a lot of one-off demand will come from this, mostly for Earth observation satellites, and a similar trend is expected for communications. Additionally, China hopes to create strategic partnerships with other countries, such as Russia, and involve more private equity organisations to bolster investment in other regions.
Many countries in Asia promote commercialisation of space and are slowly shifting from an agency-driven approach to agencies enabling commercial companies. In India, ISRO has adopted the government-owned, commercially-operated (GOCO) model for launch and manufacturing and has increased its launch frequency. In Japan, JAXA supports numerous commercial players such as Axelspace, IHI Aerospace and SkyPerfect JSAT.
Component manufacturers are scaling up production to build satellite buses that adhere to standardized requirements such as those of the U.S. SDA, which often offer price advantages. However, some of these markets do have domestic prioritisation for applications like defense and monitoring of natural disasters. Standardization also has its downsides, as regional emerging players will struggle to compete with global leaders that offer worldwide services at low prices. For example, in the EO market, leaders like BlackSky and Planet resell data at a global scale limiting opportunities for regional players.
The bottom line
Satellite manufacturing and launch markets are growing in terms of revenue and orders to accommodate the high demand constellations create, as reliability increases in the industry. Manufacturing is growing in scale, cutting costs, and expanding as software-driven architecture and production facilities increase to meet demand. However, in-house production reduces the commercial opportunity.
The launch market will continue to be competitive, but government efforts for fair competition, and high demand will eventually lead to more launch availability, in LEO, GEO, and even lunar.
Finally, Asia should not be underestimated. It remains a greenfield opportunity and is strongly supporting emerging players. Revenue in the communications, Earth observation and science verticals is expected to grow and become more globally competitive over the decade.
Dafni Christodoulopoulou is a member of Analysys Mason’s Satellite and Space research team and is based in London. Her research focuses on satellite manufacturing and launches, space travel and tourism and Earth observation markets. She has a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering with Aerospace from the University of Southampton in the UK. During her studies, she specialised in aero-thermodynamics and high-temperature gas dynamics.
Innovating and Scaling for Success: Shaping the Future of Satellite Communications
Dr. Michelle Parker, Vice President, Boeing Space Mission Systems
The global satellite communications sector is experiencing rapid growth by expanding beyond traditional market segments through continued improvement in cost-per-bit economics and the adoption of new capabilities. The global satellite communications market was valued at more than $77 billion in 2022, and according to Grand View Research, is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 9.7% from 2023 to 2030. Economic improvements have enabled satellite connectivity to be accessible to remote regions, such as rural communities, where terrestrial fiber is not yet viable. Capability enhancements are enabling new market segments, like military communications, that were previously unaddressable by the commercial sector. As legacy operators – globally and locally – adapt to this changing landscape, satellite manufacturers such as Boeing are presented with new and increased demands for technology development, production efficiency, and product diversity.
The Imperative to Innovate
Boeing’s 60+ year history in the satellite industry began in 1963 when Boeing heritage company Hughes Space and Communications launched the first geosynchronous communications satellite into orbit – a 78-pound satellite called Syncom. Since then, significant contributions to satellite capabilities include building the first Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite, delivering the first digital direct-to-home television (Direct TV) broadcasting to North America and building the first satellite system to connect to a hand-held mobile phone. With a proven track record of innovation, the company continues to invest in next-generation products across orbits and mission-sets, offering increased flexibility and performance.
Syncom started as a 1961 NASA program for active geosynchronous communication satellites, all of which were developed and manufactured by Boeing heritage company Hughes Space and Communications. Syncom 2, launched in 1963, was the world’s first geosynchronous communications satellite.
The demand for space data and related products and services is rapidly growing with a desire for high throughput – more capacity to enable faster and more efficient communication. There’s an increased need for flexibility to meet the demands wherever they arise, and quickly adapt to evolving market conditions. In the short term, this may mean better serving demand over a typical day’s traffic patterns. Over longer time periods, the need is to service more customers as demands rapidly change due to economic, political, or environmental conditions around the world.
Boeing’s 702X technology, now on orbit, offers first-of-its-kind capability delivered on commercial and government programs with increased connectivity, flexibility and performance. Leveraging this technology, satellites can be re-programmed from the ground to allocate power wherever it is needed to meet changing demands. Instead of relying on fewer, larger, fixed beams, each satellite can generate thousands of steerable flexible beams with the ability to fulfill high-density demand and position customers to deliver greater capability to end users. With this unprecedented capability, operators can build on emergent and innovative use cases to better serve their customers – for example, by tracking hundreds of aircraft at peak-of-beam performance, changing coverage patterns to meet daily fluctuations in customer usage, or optimizing satellite resources within complex geographic and regulatory boundaries.
Boeing’s 702X technology offers first-of-its-kind capability delivered on commercial and government programs with increased connectivity, flexibility and performance.
The economics of space have become increasingly compelling, as growth in the space sector opens doors for innovative business applications and revenue opportunities across various industries. The manufacturing and operation of satellites have become more cost-effective, thanks to more compact and efficient satellite subsystems and reusable rockets. These advancements, coupled with increased private sector investment, have created a favorable environment for new players to enter the market and for heritage companies to expand their offerings.
Boeing has reduced cost and assembly time by applying more digital engineering tools, 3D additive manufacturing, automation in satellite control electronics architectures, and built-in self-test capabilities to quickly and securely deliver qualified satellite mission systems to customers. Lessons from the terrestrial telecommunications market, coupled with internal investment, have inspired the innovative payload technologies now part of both commercial and government constellations.
The Convergence of Commercial and Government SATCOM
While governments frequently desire dedicated, sovereign assets, the commercial satellite sector remains a critical source of bandwidth, products and services for government missions. As nations look to build satellite networks or replace decommissioned satellites, new programs provide the opportunity to adopt the latest satellite and ground segment technologies and find the right mix of capacity types to give them the operational advantage needed for successful missions. Building coverage and network diversity while guaranteeing the latest military-grade security standards offers nations a high level of redundancy, flexibility and security to meet the needs of a multi-layered, secure and resilient next generation defense network.
As one of few companies in the world that offers satellite products to both the Government and Commercial customers, Boeing has the ability to draw across a wide portfolio of technologies to benefit our customers and meet changing market needs globally, leveraging innovations from commercial and government space programs to provide cost-effective solutions and tailor its satellite products to meet unique customer requirements and missions.
Boeing’s Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) 11+ program for the U.S. Space Force, offering a game-changing solution for the U.S. Department of Defense and empowering the U.S. warfighter, is based upon the commercially-derived 702X technology. WGS 11+, the latest version of the Wideband Global SATCOM satellite system, offers more than double the capability of its predecessors, and mission flexibility never seen before in a Government SATCOM system.
Boeing’s 702X technology in the WGS system delivers a generational leap in interoperability, connectivity and agility to address modern warfare challenges while enabling scalable, resilient and sovereign capabilities. These robust and resilient satellite architectures can enable combined space operations by sharing information across multiple classification levels, from strategic to operational and tactical levels, at an operationally relevant pace. The 702X technology enables real-time flexibility enabling optimum performance to meet mission demand; once a mission is completed the system can be reoptimized to meet future operations. WGS offers seamless interoperability with U.S. systems, and the opportunity for U.S. allies to leverage U.S. Government-invested anti-jam capabilities and resilience enhancements with assured access to sovereignly owned and controlled SATCOM.
Boeing’s WGS 11+, the latest version of the Wideband Global SATCOM satellite system, offers more than double the capability of its predecessors, and mission flexibility never seen before in a Government SATCOM system.
Resiliency through Multi-Orbit Systems
In the vast expanse of space, different orbits play a crucial role in satellite communications. Low Earth orbit (LEO), medium Earth orbit (MEO) or geosynchronous orbit (GEO) each have distinct characteristics that cater to specific requirements such as size, quantity of spacecraft, technology and services.
LEO constellations can provide low latency services that typically require hundreds of satellites to provide geographic coverage, and require complex user terminals to connect to the system. MEO satellites can provide low latency services, requiring tens of satellites for coverage and can utilize relatively simple tracking user terminals. GEO satellites, historically dominant in SATCOM services, will have the highest latency but can start service with a single satellite, and require very simple low-cost terminals. All these factors need to be traded when considering future systems.
Governments rely on these satellite communications systems for various critical applications. LEO, with its ability to rapidly collect and transmit data, is valuable for Earth observation, climate monitoring, and disaster management. MEO’s global coverage is crucial for navigation and surveillance systems, and enhancing national security. GEO’s wide coverage area makes it indispensable for military communications, weather forecasting, and surveillance.
Relying solely on one orbit for satellite communications may not provide sufficient coverage or capacity to meet the growing demands of users and governments. It can also lead to potential service disruptions in case of satellite failures or natural disasters. Therefore, the co-existence of highly capable and highly proliferated satellites and multiplicity across orbital regimes can ensure resilience, reliability and expanded capabilities. This requires not only focusing on near-term imperatives to quickly field state-of-the-world capabilities, but investing in the state-of-the-art capabilities that will ensure our advantages extend into the future. As commercial customers migrate to mixed-orbit architectures, and government customers define their resiliency strategy underpinned by proliferated constellations, Boeing is positioned to meet their needs.
To support communications missions in any orbit with constellations of any class and size, Boeing has acquired small satellite provider Millennium Space Systems. This acquisition allows for high-volume, high-performance satellite production, fulfilling customers’ multi-orbit constellation vision. Millennium Space Systems has proven its ability to rapidly design, build, test, and deploy capabilities in all orbits, meeting performance and cost objectives on faster timelines.
As the demand for connectivity continues to grow, Boeing remains committed to advancing satellite capabilities and meeting the evolving needs of its customers. With its history of innovation and investment in next-generation products, the company is well-positioned to drive the future of the satellite industry.
Dr. Michelle Parker is vice president for the Space Missions Systems organization within Boeing Defense, Space & Security (BDS). She is responsible for program execution, strategic direction, and profit and loss for a portfolio that includes government and commercial satellites, space systems architecture, national security space programs, ground systems, and subsidiaries Millennium Space Systems and Spectrolab. Dr. Parker’s experience leading high-profile space programs spans more than 25 years serving in roles of increasing responsibility within Boeing. Prior to her current role, she served as vice president and deputy general manager for the Space & Launch division, where she oversaw the successful Operational Flight Test of the CST-100 Starliner and delivery of the Boeing-built Space Launch System that powered NASA’s Artemis I mission. Dr. Parker is a member of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC). She earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Lehigh University, as well as a master’s degree and a doctorate in mechanical engineering and applied mathematics from the University of Pennsylvania. She is also a graduate of Harvard Business School’s general management program.
SatDevOps: A Software-centric Approach to Satellite Operations at Scale
Leon Stepan, Vice President, Ground Product and Brunston Poon, Satellite Ground Software Engineer. Loft Orbital
Even though we have satellites flying in space today, Loft does not have a satellite operations team. Instead, we have a culture that we call “SatDevOps”. If you recognize the DevOps part of that word, you’re onto something! Our approach to scaling our space infrastructure is influenced by how the software industry has scaled through the proliferation of cloud computing. For us, the scaling journey comes down to a single thing – culture.
The space industry has evolved both processes and best practices to accommodate large, expensive one-off missions. Companies have to build, produce and operate their own satellites, which take years or even decades to execute. Each satellite is designed around a specific concept of operations (CONOPS), which is difficult to scale.
We see the future differently. As the number of applications for capturing data about our planet increases, every company has the opportunity to become a space company. To make this future a reality, we need to redefine what a “mission” is and the operational paradigms around it.
First, let’s start with our notion of a “mission”. We blend terminology from aerospace and software to describe the successful execution of a customer flow.
- The focal point of the mission is the objectives executed by the payload. The payload can be anything from a camera to a software application running an algorithm in space.
- Missions can be long, over the course of years, or short, over the course of months (or days!). When we decouple them from the platform (satellite) we’re flying, we can have many missions running on a single satellite, as well as single missions running on many satellites. We often compare our service to the software applications running on a cloud computing cluster.
- You get the idea – we’re building a platform and, in our case, missions are deployed and executed on the platform.
So, what is SatDevOps?
We define SatDevOps as a set of practices, philosophies and tools aimed at shortening the systems development life cycle and providing continuous delivery with high-quality software within our space infrastructure ecosystem.
To create the fastest ride to space, we must be creative about removing any friction associated with getting there. We borrowed a few concepts from the world of DevOps, as we saw similarities in the frustrations from which it was born – namely, inefficiency between software developers and the guardians of production software environments (operators).
The DevOps model has been tried, tested and refined, and in the book Accelerate the authors provide an excellent appraisal and recommendation for technology companies looking to create high performing teams. We’ve embraced the fundamental tenets to build our SatDevOps culture, such as collaboration, automation, observability and metrics, and continuous integration and deployment. However, there are differences between satellites in space and terrestrial servers in a rack. We address those differences with detailed training to bridge any knowledge gaps.
Building a SatDevOps Culture
- Be careful of the walls you build. We have never had a satellite operations team. Instead, we foster collaboration and accountability through cross-functional participation and training. Everyone, from our executive team to our developers, is bought in on this cultural decision.
- Be deliberate in what you incentivize. We intentionally started building automation into every process to ensure we were ready to scale from the beginning. While this took more time up front, it was better than trying to apply it retroactively.
- Be willing to try new things. Without night shifts or long hours in front of a console, our team was able to think bigger than the next pass over a ground station. We got comfortable with the fact that this was different from the “normal” way to do satellite operations, because it would allow us to scale.
SatDevOps in Action
We’ve flown over 10 missions (and counting!) and our SatDevOps culture enables us to focus on the mission, while still reliably operating satellites. Whether we were flying an imaging payload for NASA to increase technology readiness level, an unnamed IoT customer that wanted to conduct a RF spectrum survey across the globe, or Ball Aerospace evaluating software using Loft satellites and our Cockpit interface, we’ve scaled our ability to support each of these missions from the same satellite (YAM-5).
In future blogs we’ll dive deeper into our software-centric approach to satellite operations, including infrastructure-as-code, CI/CD tooling, test automation, and the work we’re doing to support “virtual missions”. It’s time we treat our satellites as cattle, and not as pets 😉.
More to come!
Leon Stepan, currently serving as the VP of Engineering at Loft Orbital, has had the privilege to learn from and contribute to some of the trailblazers in the NewSpace sector. His journey took him through roles at Planet Labs and Iceye, where he was part of teams exploring fresh perspectives on earth observation and synthetic aperture radar satellites. Now at Loft Orbital, Leon brings his experiences and a collaborative spirit, hoping to add value to the ongoing efforts in making space technology more inclusive and relevant for today’s challenges.
Brunston Poon, Space Infrastructure Software Engineer Brunston Poon is a Space Infrastructure Software Engineer at Loft Orbital, where he works on sustainably scaling and evolving its satellite operations. Through stewardship and continuous improvement of Loft’s SatDevOps philosophy of satellite operations and judicious use of software automation, he and his colleagues strive to make space simple for Loft’s customers. His prior experience includes stints at SpaceX—building automated hardware verification capabilities for Cargo/Crew Dragon and Falcon 9—and Google, where he worked on features currently serving more than 2 billion monthly active users.
Interview with Stéphane Vesval, Senior Vice President & Head of Sales Space Systems, Airbus Defence and Space
The year is drawing to a close, what have been the highlights for Airbus in space?
In 2023, we continued accompanying the transformation of our customers, adapting to new market demands in a variety of domains, illustrating the diversity of our business.
For GEO we have been active with both Eurostar NEO and OneSat, with new contracts in the Middle East and the APAC. In September, Thaicom joined the expanding club of OneSat users, bringing total orders for our new Software Defined Satellites to 9.
Image 1: OneSat is based on a standard, modular and design-to-manufacture approach. © Airbus
Low-Earth Orbit is getting more and more active. We expanded our partnership with Loft Orbital for whom we are now supplying more than 30 satellites. Earth Observation is also an important business for Airbus. After the first export contract with Poland for our S-950 very high resolution optical satellites just before the new year, we have been active in promoting our very agile S-250 optical satellites with announcements in Angola and Bangladesh.
Multi-orbit infrastructure is also just around the corner, as demonstrated by the European Union’s ambitious IRIS2 secure connectivity constellation, for which Airbus and its partners of the SpaceRise consortium have submitted an Initial Proposal to the European Commission and the bid process is now moving forward.
Image 2: Perfect solution for constellation operations designed for optimised revisit cycles © Airbus
We also announced in August our Joint Venture with Voyager Space to build and operate Starlab to serve as a successor for the International Space Station. This was followed by the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding with the European Space Agency during the European Space Summit held in Seville in November.
Image 3: Starlab © Airbus
What are the overall market trends / could you tell us which market seems to offer the most interesting prospects?
In one word: Complementarity.
Complementarity of orbits: we see a majority of global satellite operators engaging in multi orbit strategies where GEO assets are complemented with extra satellite layers in LEO and / or MEO. Airbus has led the way in LEO constellations which come with a new industrial model and we are now developing the next generation which will be even more powerful and efficient.
Complementarity with terrestrial networks: the frontier between ground and space connectivity is blurring as we target ultimately ubiquitous connectivity leveraging all systems available to a given user. Airbus is fully engaged in this major transformation of the ecosystem, notably in the 5G Non Terrestrial Networks roadmap and technology development.
Complementarity between different businesses: we see customers diversifying and expanding their business models to create more value for their customers. We expect growing synergies between telecoms and earth observation.
Finally, security is a growing priority.
How are you adapting your strategies to these developments?
Every day, Airbus demonstrates its commitment to the transformation of the space business by bringing new products and solutions for our customers.
In the Space sector, we foster an entrepreneurial mindset, strengthen excellence and refine our operating model accordingly.
We are also expanding our partnerships with New Space players and the private sector. We federate the space ecosystem as we take a partnership approach alongside more than 1,000 players, to deliver the best space technology and services possible. Our partners range from institutions to governments, commercial operators and startups.
Are those trends also being felt in the APAC region?
More than that: they are stronger in the APAC region, if not coming from APAC.
Globally speaking, more than half of our telecoms customers are from Asia Pacific. Moreover, as we speak, half of our orders for OneSats come from the Asia-Pacific.
Our business is about long term commitment as illustrated by our story with Thailand. The most recent contract for OneSat with Thaicom came just after we successfully launched the THEOS-2 observation satellite from Guiana Space Center. THEOS-2 follows the Airbus-built THEOS-1 satellite launched in 2008, which still continues to deliver imagery well beyond its 10 year operational lifetime. The partnership between Airbus and GISTDA confirms the Kingdom of Thailand’s ambition to develop a global geo-information system.
Image 4: THEOS-2 satellite in anechoic chamber © Airbus
Sustainability is our biggest challenge: to evolve towards clean space, so as to keep getting the benefits of space in a sustainable way. We are deeply aware of our responsibility to society and future generations.
This is why we are working with players across the international community to push for responsible and sustainable use of space – as with aircraft, we need to manage space traffic, as well as the debris left in space.
Our industry has already made some technological advances (in space traffic management, debris removal, or deorbiting – such as the Airbus Detumbler that is now in orbit for testing in the New Year), but there is still a huge amount of work to be done. The Space journey is about seeing how far we can all go, not just how far any individual, organisation or even country can go.
Also, we are delighted with the finalisation of the “Zero debris charter” by ESA during the Space Summit in Seville in November this year. Airbus is playing its part in this European effort to look after the space environment, actively engaging in the open and collaborative development of the Charter. The objective is to shape the global response to the space debris problem and to define ambitious and measurable space debris mitigation and remediation targets for 2030.
But also, Space images are used in times of crisis (wildfires, earthquakes, floods, etc) and improve humanity’s use of natural resources (e.g. water consumption for agriculture). For example, Earth observation satellites help our customers to understand complex deforestation patterns, monitor plastic in the sea, or fertiliser used in fields…We believe that Space has a major role to play in the Asian area because the landscapes are highly diversified and we anticipate significant sustainable growth, powered by Space.
Space matters to protect life on Earth – so let’s make sure we also protect Space itself.
Image 5 : Starling, a game changer service : digital solution leveraging Cloud technology, machine learning and satellite technology that combines high-resolution satellite images, to access unbiased monitoring of forest cover changes. © Airbus
In 1998, Stéphane Vesval joined Astrium, renamed Airbus Defence and Space in 2012. He has held various senior leadership positions in industrial operations, project management and sales for the Defence and Space business. He started his career in the UK, then in France on Telecommunications satellite projects. In 2005 he initiated a cooperation with the Indian Space Agency (ISRO) and moved to Bangalore (India) to lead the first joint project. From 2009 to 2018, he was based in various countries in Asia heading sales for Telecom Satellites, then Airbus Defence and Space’ overall portfolio covering Space Systems, Military Aircraft and Services. In October 2018 he returned to Toulouse as Vice President Sales for Commercial Satellites Business. On 1st November 2020, he was appointed Senior Vice President Head of Sales Space Systems addressing Institutional, Defence, Governmental Export and Commercial businesses. Born in 1973, Stéphane obtained an engineering degree from the advanced school for aerospace SUPAERO in 1996.