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FEATURE: Small Satellites – Is Europe Leading? Posted on Nov 11, 2015

Small Satellites – Is Europe Leading?

Over the last 10-15 years there has been a significant resurgence and growth in the small-satellite industry. Indeed, entire conferences have been held in its honor. Although there are a number of organizations and events that could be identified as seeding this now viable industry, two leading institutions that helped foster its creation are located in Europe and the USA.

Long after the industry has surpassed the “$B” mark, there are sure to be arguments about who was first; as with many industries that have grown into business juggernauts, two of the more publicly recognized organizations that helped seed the small-sat industry came from universities. The University of Surrey-Guildford, UK, and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, USA, truly were pioneering in the development of small sats.

For its part, the University of Surrey developed its Surrey Space Centre over the course of several decades, prompted by the UK Government’s investment in early-stage faculty/student work to create UK space capability. Surrey parlayed this into a business model at the university to train other countries over the course of many years, building up its internal infrastructure and expertise and proliferating the construction of small satellites in other countries. This growth eventually resulted in the formation of a new company, which is now one of the largest small-satellite manufacturers on the European continent: Surrey Satellite Technology.

Cal Poly created what has become a de facto standard in “small”, i.e. the cubesat architecture. In turn, a number of new companies in the USA and Europe sprang up around the integration of cubesats as a satellite platform, and technologies that could support something this small and low cost for space. Long dominated by very large, high-cost components, cubesats have lowered the barrier of entry to space for hundreds of thousands of individuals.

Although these are not the only organizations to have helped create growth in the industry, they are examples of how quickly access to space has been democratized through small satellites. Who will lead the next wave of innovation and business applications? There is no doubt that Silicon Valley has grasped the baton early on, with investments in companies such as SkyBox, Planet Labs, Spire and others. Moreover, the lower capital entry costs and potential for business disruption on remote sensing and information delivery from small satellites has captured the imagination of various financing houses.

But what about Europe? Having spawned one of the first companies to come from the technology (via Surrey), Europe is also seeing a surge in the use of small satellites to formulate new businesses and models. From Clean Space One out of Sweden to the Scottish Space Company, a number of business models and new technologies are being explored within Europe that have the potential to reopen a lead in this exciting industry. And this is exactly what will be explored in Bremen in November at Space Tech Expo.
 

Don't miss David Barnhart on the Small Sats day at Space Tech Expo Europe - Thursday 19th November 

Register now for the two-track education programme and hear David Barnhart plus many others at the free-to-attend Industry and Technology Forums.

Taking place on the show floor at Space Tech Expo Europe alongside over 180 exhibiting suppliers, your expo hall pass includes free access to all sessions - just register online for your free pass today.

Sep 30, 2015

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