What it Means for the Satellite Industry to Shift to the Private Sector

What it Means for the Satellite Industry to Shift to the Private Sector

By Heidi Reidel

With satellite television, satellite broadband, and Earth observations services, the satellite industry is growing so rapidly one might expect another space race. In the past, the only formidable space programs were in Russia or the United States. That is quickly changing. The satellite industry is shifting to the private sector. According to a recent report by Asia Pacific Aerospace Consultants, globally commercial space activities are continuing to outpace government space activities, growing by 9.7% in 2014 and now representing 76% of the global space economy.

The State of the Satellite Industry

According to the 2016 Satellite Industry Report, satellite services revenues increased by 4% globally from 2014 to 2015 to reach $127.4 billion. Satellite manufacturing revenues also grew by 4% globally, reaching $16.6 billion. The total number of commercial GEO satellite orders was 17. Eleven of these orders were won by U.S. manufacturers, for a domestic market share of 65 percent as opposed to 57 percent in 2014.

Setbacks in Shifting to the Private Sector

The number of commercial satellite launches conducted globally has decreased from 73 in 2014 to 65. This seems contradictory with the expansion seen in the satellite industry in the last few years, largely due to the commercial space industry. The possible reason behind this rough patch is the explosion of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket which was meant to deliver supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). This was the third private spacecraft in a year to meet with disaster.

Big Players in the Private Sector

SpaceX has had their fair share of setbacks, yet their founder, Elon Musk, former PayPal CEO and founder of Tesla, presses on. Musk founded SpaceX in 2002, and within only eight years, they were the first private company to put a spacecraft into orbit and land it back on Earth. Musk bigger plans in mind that include developing reusable rockets and capsules, providing satellite Internet to the world, and finding a new home for humans on Mars.

A Lockheed Martin and Boeing partnership, called United Launch Alliance, conducts most U.S. military launches. Boeing is also the second company after SpaceX that NASA contracted to develop space taxis to ferry American astronauts to the ISS. Orbital ATK is the other private firm aside from SpaceX that resupplies the ISS. Blue Origin, created by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and Virgin Galactic, owned by British airline magnate Sir Richard Branson, are also involved in the commercial endeavor. They are mostly focused on creating affordable space tourism. Two companies, SpaceX in collaboration with Google, and OneWeb, a startup with investors like Virgin Galactic, Airbus, Intelsat, and Coca-Cola, are in a race to offer satellite broadband Internet to every corner of the world.

Satellite technology is the biggest driver of the shift into the private sector. It is the biggest single revenue engine of the private space economy. Innovative developments such as low-cost nanosatellites are spurring the race for worldwide Internet. Like the expansion into any new frontier, the race is no longer between countries but between companies to dominate.

Image courtesy of pixabay.com

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