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The Space Economy: Look Up! It’s the Emerging Small Satellite Market!

The era of space “clunkers” and manufacturing companies producing big, bulky satellites is ending, with smaller, sleeker satellites taking to the skies. The small satellite market is booming, and a handful of companies are set to make a significant impact on global communications. Estimates suggest that the small satellite market will soon reach $37 billion in revenue. When it comes to the Space Economy, it’s clear the small satellite sector can’t be ignored.

Compared to larger satellites, these smaller versions offer many advantages with relatively few disadvantages. Also, advances in both space and technological fields are propelling satellite manufacturing companies to develop remarkably innovative and compact devices. Still, most importantly, the small satellite market is being driven by population needs. Roughly 3 billion people lack adequate internet access—a case which this emerging sector hopes to resolve.

a photo quote of Bill Gattle in relation to the rapidly emerging Small Satellite Market
Bill Gattle weighs in on the big picture of the emerging small satellite market.

Defining the Small Satellite Market

Historically, the small satellite market has been enjoying 3 percent year-on-year growth. But what exactly is the small satellite market? By definition, a small satellite is one that is 500 kilograms or less. However, numerous subcategories of these miniature spacecraft exist. Specifically, those between 100 and 500 kilograms are called mini-satellites while those between 10 and 100 kilograms are termed micro-satellites. And nano-satellites weigh between 1 and 10 kilograms. The number of satellite manufacturing companies has been rising in these areas in particular.

In addition to these specifications, other standards are also relevant to the small satellite market. Most small satellite manufacturing companies abide by CubeSat Design Specifications and refer to these spacecraft as CubeSats. The most common size of most small satellites is therefore 10 cm by 10 cm by 11.35 cm. Today, these small satellites are attracting attention because of their ability to orbit the earth in a “low-orbit”. And at the same time, their technological capacities are offering new solutions for global communications that were not available previously.

a photo quote of Christopher Baker in relation to the rapidly emerging Small Satellite Market
Startups in the scope of the small satellite market seem to have a bright (and profitable!) future in front of them!

The Field of Satellite Manufacturing Companies

Clearly, SpaceX has received significant attention among satellite manufacturing companies based on the recent launches of its Falcon Rockets. In 2019 alone, SpaceX launched 60 Starlink small satellites that are supposed to help create a global broadband internet network. Over the next decade, SpaceX is expected to launch another 12,000 of these to complete its $10-billion project. However, SpaceX is undoubtedly not alone in these endeavors. The following is a list of some of the other small satellite manufacturing companies currently in the industry.

  • SES – Among satellite manufacturing companies, SES is one of the largest in the world. While it has longstanding expertise in Geostationary Equatorial Orbit (GEO) satellites, SES recently purchased O3b. This purchase allows SES to also offer medium orbit satellites to expand its prominence in the small satellite market.
  • Astranis – This San Francisco startup is rapidly making waves in the small satellite market. Rather than approaching a low earth orbit like other small satellite manufacturing companies, it is focused on GEO satellites. The company has now developed a lightweight 300-kilogram small satellite in this regard. Astranis plans to use its innovative device to bridge the global digital divide.
  • OneWeb – Greg Wyler is well known in the small satellite market after founding O3b. The name of O3b refers to the “other 3 billion”—which pertains to those lacking reasonable Internet access. After SES bought O3b, Wyler founded OneWeb. Markedly, OneWeb intends to launch 650 low earth orbit small satellites by 2027. OneWeb also plans to provide global broadband internet access using its satellites.
  • AAC Microtec – In terms of small satellite manufacturing companies, AAC Microtec is the world leader in CubeSats. That has been the case since it acquired Clyde Space in 2017. It is well-recognized as a high-end producer within the small satellite market. Likewise, AAC Microtec is known for its quality satellite subsystems and components. Recently, the company signed a collaborative agreement with the U.K. Government’s Innovation Agency.
  • Pumpkin Space Systems – This company provides nanosatellites and CubeSats to a variety of sectors including government, private industries, and educational organizations. In addition, it is the world’s largest supplier of CubeSat kits. As a result, many industry innovators have selected Pumpkin Space Systems as their partner for their satellite projects. These innovators include Fleet Space technologies and SpaceVR, which are both interested in high-quality nanosatellite construction.
a photo quote of Bruce Yost in relation to the rapidly emerging Small Satellite Market
Bruce Yost points out a valid case on the topic of the booming small satellite market.

The Pros and Cons of the Small Satellite Market

Based on the rising number of small satellite manufacturing companies, it is evident that opportunities exist. Indeed, small satellites offer many advantages over their larger counterparts. For one, small satellites have a lower cost of manufacturing and can be mass-produced more easily. Likewise, because they can be launched in groups called “swarms,” they have a lower launch cost as well. And with lower manufacturing costs, their financial risk for damage or malfunction is reduced as well.

While these advantages are notable, small satellites also nevertheless have some downsides. For one, small satellites tend to have a shorter lifespan and experience more rapid orbital decay in space. Their size also limits the amount of hardware they can carry, and they have a lower transmitter output signal. And while they have solar and lithium battery power, they lack large power sources or major propulsion systems. Such downsides continue to represent challenges for the small satellite market.

cartoon of small satellites emerging beside big satellites orbiting around the earth
Without a doubt, the small satellite market is booming! It’s safe to say that significant advances in global communications await us!

The Benefits of Small Satellites for the Future Abound!

While concerns exist about the space debris that small satellites may bring, many tout the potential benefits they will provide. Among the most notable is an enhanced capacity to allow the entire globe to access the internet. Such a case will notably have positive impacts on global communication systems in many other ways. If their disadvantages can be eliminated or resolved, then small satellites have the potential to replace many ground systems already in place. Therefore, advances in this remarkable sector should be quite intriguing over the next decade, given that progress has already been made—and is still being made today.

Revolving To A New Orbit: Small Satellite Market Cartoon

cartoon of small satellites emerging beside big satellites orbiting around the earth
Without a doubt, the small satellite market is booming! It’s safe to say that significant advances in global communications await us!

Bold Leader Spotlight: Cornelius Vanderbilt, Tycoon and Captain of Industry

The first tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt was a key figure in the 1800s who helped propel the United States as a prominent force in the 21st-century economy. Perhaps the significance of his contribution is best depicted through the grandeur and magnificence of the Grand Central Terminal in New York City – an edifice Vanderbilt himself built in 1871. His nickname was “The Commodore” – a title he earned as a sharp and astute young trader. He first tried his hand in water transportation business at the age of 16. By the age of 23, Vanderbilt began easing into the steamboat business as an apprentice for Thomas Gibbons. In addition, Vanderbilt helped usher in an era of rapid economic growth known as the “Gilded Age” at 70 years old.

Bold Business looks back in history and shines the spotlight on the colorful life and journey of the first tycoon Vanderbilt.

the first tycoon speaks of his vision
Vanderbilt had a vision and he acted upon it.

Laying the Foundations of an Empire: The Early Years of the First Tycoon 

Vanderbilt was born on May 27, 1794 to parents Cornelius Vanderbilt and Phebe Hand. Born and raised amidst the busy harbor of Staten Island, New York, Vanderbilt was introduced to the transportation trade at an early age. He began working on his father’s ferry boat at eleven-years old. By 16, Vanderbilt decided to start his own ferry service. With his vigor and energy, captains of other boats within the area nicknamed him as the Commodore.  Recognizing another trading opportunity, the young Vanderbilt, partnered with his father, bought a schooner and engaged in food and merchandise business.

In 1817, a steamboat entrepreneur by the name of Thomas Gibbons took Vanderbilt under his wing. While running his own business on the side, Vanderbilt was offered a post to be Gibbons’ business manager. The position will prove to be of critical significance down the road. At the time when Vanderbilt joined the company, Gibbons was going through a legal battle fighting a steamboat monopoly. Working with Gibbons, Vanderbilt was given a chance to understand the underpinnings and complexities of running a larger business.

The Journey from Steamboats to Railroads

Gibbons passed away in 1826, but Vanderbilt continued to work for the Gibbons through 1829. He took over the Gibbons’ ferry business in 1831. Since then, Vanderbilt was unstoppable. He upended competitions left and right, dismantled monopolies, and grown his reach by taking over connecting railroads. By the end of the 1830s, Vanderbilt has dominated the steamboat business.

In 1849, the year when the frenzy of California Gold Rush began, Vanderbilt saw another opportunity. From inland water and regional steamboat, he ventured to ocean-going steamships. Vanderbilt founded the Accessory Transit Company while transporting migrants to the west coast and carrying gold back to the east via the Lake Nicaragua. Of course, business is never easy. Disputes with partners and rivalries with competitors erupted which compelled Vanderbilt to change course. Vanderbilt founded another company when his own company kicked him out. He opened a new route by way of Panama. Like water, nothing could stop Vanderbilt from finding a new way.

While Vanderbilt was growing his steamship business, he took an interest in the railroad business. He also served as one of the board of directors of various railway lines including the Erie Railway, the Central Railroad of New Jersey, the Hartford and New Haven, and the New York and Harlem. Moreover, working with his eldest son, William (“Billy”), Vanderbilt bolstered his railroad business. In 1864, at the age of 70, the elder Vanderbilt sold his ships and focused on the railroad business.

the first tycoon described by t.j. stiles
Innovation was a significant part of Vanderbilt’s formula.

The Bold Leadership of Cornelius Vanderbilt

  • A Bold Leader of composure and focus.

The media often depicted him as an unrefined and ruthless businessman. In fact, the title Robber Baron was a commentary on Vanderbilt and his business practices. In the early 1860s, Vanderbilt fought overpriced monopolies and companies heavily-subsidized by taxpayers’ money. Determined to create an open market, Vanderbilt’s strategy was to offer better services at a fraction of the price. Unfazed by criticisms, the tycoon pressed on with eyes focused on the goal.

  • A Bold Leader recognizes opportunities from afar.

Opportunities often come disguised as challenges, and he has confirmed this reality many times in his life. One notable instance was the acquisition of the New York and Harlem Railroad in 1864. The railroad we famously know as “The Harlem” was almost worthless when Vanderbilt took over the track. But the entrepreneur knew the Harlem had potential. It was the only railroad that cut through the center of Manhattan. Five years later, Vanderbilt put the Harlem together with the Hudson River Railroad to form the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad. This merging of two railroads was a precursor to the much larger New York Central Railroad.

  • A Bold Leader who wished to unite a divided nation.

After the Civil War in 1865, Vanderbilt took on the idea of helping to reconcile a divided nation. At the start of the American Civil War, Vanderbilt donated his largest steamship “the Vanderbilt”, to the Union Navy (North). After the war, the damage to the Confederate South was severe. To help restore national unity and rebuild the South, Vanderbilt provided a substantial gift to construct the Vanderbilt University. He also vouched for Jefferson Davis – the only President of the Confederate States of America – as a bondsman to get him out of prison.

cornelius vanderbilt quoted
The man knew what he wanted, did what he wanted. 

The Legacy of Cornelius Vanderbilt

Having lived long enough, Vanderbilt has passed through numerous labyrinths and has left indelible impressions. Though admiration was never part of his intention, the distinction was a result of his efforts to give the public options and the best possible service. He once declared, “I have always served the public to the best of my ability. Why? Because, like every other man, it is to my interest to do so.”

At the South facade of Grand Central Terminal, an 8.5-foot tall bronze statue of Vanderbilt stands as a reminder. He was a tycoon, a philanthropist, and an industrialist. His contributions to the field of commerce and transportation have been significant. Without a doubt, the life of Cornelius Vanderbilt is tightly woven into the fabric of American history.