The UK’s satellite technologies, applications and intelligent space
systems are exported across the world. This report focuses on
the UK’s leading expertise in the small satellite market1
, a growing
segment of the space sector, for which low cost access to space is
of significant importance. Small satellites are currently under-served
when it comes to dedicated and timely launch opportunities, and
addressing this issue is of particular relevance for the UK.
Defined as the infrastructure and services required to enable the next
generation of hardware to reach space at an affordable cost, low
cost access to space includes satellite payload (the brain that will
ensure the satellite does what it is meant to do) and spacecraft bus
(the spacecraft platform) manufacturing, test, integration and launch
The UK currently has world-leading capability in all parts of the satellite
industry value chain, except launch. This makes it vulnerable to launch
price and schedule changes from international partners and suppliers2
and poses an increasing risk to achieving the UK space sector’s
ambitious growth targets. Small satellite-based missions and services
are particularly at risk.
Launch is expensive, it can typically account for a third to one half
of the total cost of a small satellite mission. Uncertainty regarding
schedule and price can seriously impact a business case and can
be the deciding factor in concluding or losing an order.3
this uncertainty is particularly important for the UK’s small satellite
manufacturing industry, which aims to provide competitive, integrated
mission packages for satellite operators, together with the timely
testing of new technologies.
Debating the current lack of indigenous launch capability in 2015,
the UK Space Propulsion Working Group4
found that: “A UK launch
capability focused on small payloads will ensure small satellite
operators are given the ability to launch without reliance upon the ad-
hoc availability of spare capacity on large launch vehicles.”5
1 Defined here as those satellites with mass less than 500kg
2 Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (2013) “Towards a UK launch infrastructure”. Unpublished study, part of the Space
Collaborative Innovation Team Initiative (Space CITI) programme within the UK Space Agency’s National Space
Technology Programme (NSTP)
3 Interview, April 2015, Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd
4 UK Space Propulsion Working Group (UKSPWG), an industry/academic body that is considering the technology and
supply chain required for small satellite launch, in particular propulsion.
5 UK Space Propulsion Working Group (2015) “Increasing revenue growth is the UK space sector through
development of a small satellite launch capability” Multiple Industry Contributors
Low cost access to space creates a real opportunity for a complete
solution from the UK, spanning the entire satellite value chain -
strengthening the small satellite industry, supporting the growth of
manufacturers, propulsion providers enabling next generation of re-
usable launchers including new propulsion capability such as SABRE
from Reaction Engines, and advancing the downstream applications
sector (Fig. 1).
Additionally, indigenous capability upstream, including low cost launch,
enables increasing value creation downstream in space-enabled
applications and services. Applications and services are expected to
account for over 90% of UK space industry revenues by 2030.6
integration is therefore key.
FIG. 1. SATELLITE INDUSTRY VALUE CHAIN. SOURCE: SATELLITE APPLICATIONS CATAPULT
The importance of securing upstream resources - satellites and
ground supporting infrastructure - is evident in increasing commercial
enterprise activities in this sector. Google, along with others such as
Fidelity, invested almost $1 billion in launch vehicle provider SpaceX
Google also bought Skybox Imaging (renamed Terra Bella), a
commercial high-resolution satellite analytics provider, for $500 million
6 Space Innovation and Growth Strategy 2014-2030, Space Growth Action Plan
The number of small satellite constellations, which demand a cost-
effective launch solution, is growing and low cost access to space
allows new satellite companies to enter the market and to test new
business models. With competitive launch prices from small satellite
launch vehicles, a leading domestic satellite manufacturing industry
and access to polar orbits (to which most small satellite, low earth
orbit missions go), the UK is in prime position to capture a sizeable
share of this burgeoning global market.
To summarise, the key findings of this report are:
Low cost access to space is fundamental to a growing small
satellite industry: vertically integrated capability will complete the
satellite industry value chain and create a unique advantage point.
Low cost access to space is a key requirement for any major player
in this sector, leading to increased economic benefits through satellite
manufacturing, applications and services.
An operational spaceport to support orbital access is a top
priority: a spaceport will position the UK to take advantage of
emerging demand for small satellite launch, commercial human
spaceflight and microgravity research. Assuring timely and dedicated
access to space will create an opportunity not just for the UK, but for
Europe as a whole. As robust and resilient space assets and space
based capabilities become increasingly significant for national security
and defence, a UK launch site is likely to become a future strategic
This report focuses on low cost access to space, identified as a
priority market within the Space Innovation and Growth Strategy
(IGS), and has been produced by the Satellite Applications Catapult,
in partnership with the UK Space Agency. It is derived from a
combination of meetings, workshops and interviews with key
government and industry stakeholders and existing research.
Central to the IGS is the goal of capturing 10% of the global space
enabled market by 2030, taking the UK’s share of the revenue
to £40bn and creating 100,000 new jobs. With this in mind, the
subsequent Space Growth Action Plan identified forty growth markets
relying on space technology or services (Fig. 2) and fifteen of these
were judged to be priority markets for detailed review and subsequent
action by government, industry and other stakeholders.
FIG. 2. IGS PRIORITY MARKETS
The Space IGS 2013 report highlights current access to space as
a barrier to growth for UK companies, as well as a commercial
opportunity, and advocates short to medium term action if the UK is
to host commercial spaceflight and small satellite launch. A national
space launch infrastructure and domestic launch capability underpins
IGS growth targets and is central to capitalising on both existing UK
strengths in small satellite manufacturing and future demand for space
tourism and microgravity research. Market projections indicate that low
cost access to space from the UK would support and stimulate growth
in these sectors. A seamless supply chain, with low costs and faster
development cycles for satellite manufacturers, operators and launch
providers, would also offer opportunities for commercial companies
focusing on the downstream exploitation of satellite data.
The UK is home to world-leading small satellite manufacturers,
including Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL), and Clyde Space, as
well as larger satellite producers including Airbus Defence and Space
and Thales Alenia Space. The UK is thus well positioned to build on
an established competitive advantage in the satellite manufacturing
market and UK domestic satellite manufacturing stands to benefit from
global growth in the sector.
This upstream sector accounted for approximately 11%, or £1.2bn, of
the total £11.3bn space industry turnover in 2012/13, according to the
report, Size and Health of the UK’s Space Industry. The IGS expects
this segment’s revenue to almost triple to £3bn by 2030.
Recent multi-million dollar investments in ventures including
Planet Labs, Spire, SpaceX and OneWeb9
, demonstrate continued
commercial interest in the nano, micro and mini satellite sectors (Fig.
3). The adoption of constellations by new businesses, involved in
activities including remote sensing and satellite communications, gives
rise to optimistic growth forecasts, described later in this report.
9 SpaceX announced in early 2015 a constellation of approximately 4,000 small telecommunications satellites to be
launched into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) (date unspecified) and in June 2015 OneWeb announced a contract with Airbus
Defence and Space to build up to 900 satellites (including spares) for a similar concept of a LEO constellation of
broadband satellites, with launches starting in 2019.
FIG. 3. SMALL SATELLITE SEGMENTATION SOURCE: SATELLITE APPLICATIONS CATAPULT (2015)
Satellite Market Trends
1) Spacecraft mass
Satellites are getting smaller. Miniaturisation of technology and
standardisation are driving performance and efficiency increases in
a trend similar to that experienced by technology as a whole. The
smallest satellites are employed in both the civil and commercial
sectors (Table 1) and their relative size can be seen in Fig. 4.
TABLE 1: SATELLITES LAUNCHED IN 2014, BY MASS CATEGORY
SOURCE: SERADATA, SPACETRAK BRIEFING, 2014 LAUNCHES
FIG. 4. SATELLITE SIZE AND IMAGING CAPABILITIES OF EARTH OBSERVATION (EO) DATA
PROVIDERS, SOURCE: NATURE INTERNATIONAL WEEKLY JOURNAL OF SCIENCE (2014)
2) Satellite Orbits
The vast majority of small satellites are launched into the low Earth
orbit (LEO), although its inclination depends on what it is monitoring.
SpaceWorks, a market intelligence provider, suggests that by 2018
over 70% of nano or micro-satellites will be used for Earth Observation
Among their many applications are monitoring the air,
seas and land; providing the basis for accurate weather reports; and
supplying national and international relief agencies with timely data
when disasters strike.
EO, atmospheric and weather satellites tend to be launched into a
sun-synchronous or polar orbit, defined as having an inclination of
approximately 90 degrees to the equator. Up to now, the Civil Aviation
Authority has claimed that the UK’s northerly latitude means that it is
only suitable for launching satellites into polar orbit.11
It is generally
accepted that the UK is not suitable for launches into low/medium
inclination orbits, however, industry sources consulted for this report
suggest that launching into inclined orbits around the UK’s latitude
(50-60 degrees) is also possible. This provides much greater scope for
launch as these are the orbits commonly used by small communication
satellites operating in LEO. This is an increasing market from which
the UK could benefit, if it can encourage launch vehicle providers to
operate at competitive rates.
10 SpaceWorks Enterprises, Inc., (2016), “2016 Nano/Microsatellite Market Forecast”
11 Civil Aviation Authority (2014), UK Government review of commercial spaceplane certification and operations, p.28
3) The launch market
According to Frost & Sullivan, global launch market revenues were
approximately $7bn in 2013, and are expected to grow to around
$8.4bn by 2025. The breakdown by country can be seen in Fig 5.
FIG. 5. LAUNCH REVENUE BY COUNTRY, 2013 SOURCE: FROST & SULLIVAN12
While commercial satellite launch revenues are currently dominated by
the US and Russia, with approximately 35% of launches taking place
in the US, a large proportion of these orders are derived from European
In 2014, Europeans placed the second largest share of
commercial launch orders (45%).14
As can be seen in Fig. 6, there is a currently a gap in the market for
an orbital launch site15
in conterminous European territory (Kourou,
not located on the European Continent geographically, is duly noted
as a European owned launch site). However, there are other potential
competitors for European launch sites: Andøya in Norway and Kiruna
On account of geographical proximity and lower logistical costs,16
UK launch facility would thus have a good chance of gaining European
12 Frost & Sullivan (2014), Global Launch Systems and Satellites: Demand for Space Capabilities Will Increase as
Competition Drives Prices Down
13 Civil Aviation Authority (2014), UK Government review of commercial spaceplane certification and operations, p.29
14 Satellite Industry Association (2015), “State of the Satellite Industry Report”, available from www.sia.org/wp-
content/uploads/2015/05/Mktg15-SSIR-2015-FINAL-Compressed.pdf (accessed 1st June 2015)
15 The terms launch site and spaceport are used interchangeably.
16 Civil Aviation Authority (2014), “UK Government review of commercial spaceplane certification and operations”,
FIG. 6. MAJOR GLOBAL SPACE LAUNCH FACILITIES. SOURCE: VARIOUS (2014)
4) Export potential and inward investment
The UK space sector, as a whole, is export-intensive. Exports
are estimated to make up around two thirds (66%) of turnover for
companies in the UK space economy (excluding BSkyB).17
constitute a large proportion of revenues for satellite manufacturing.
There is thus significant opportunity for export of UK built satellite
manufacturing components and finished goods. Approximately 90% of
SSTL’s earnings result from export orders18
and other export-intensive
examples include: the provision of power systems for Luxembourg-
based space company, Lux Space, by Glasgow-based Clyde Space
in a deal valued at £1.2m; a second deal, worth nearly £1m, involving
US-based Spire Inc.19
and an international partnership deal funded
by the UK Space Agency to build three CubeSats for American global
broadcast company, Outernet Inc. for £1m.20
An end-to-end supply chain would encourage more small satellite
companies, like Spire,21
to set up in the UK and take advantage of a
17 Source: Case for Space 2015
18 SSTL website (2013), UK’s Space Innovation and Growth Strategy 2014-2030 is good for business, Available from:
www.sstl.co.uk/Press/UK-s-Space-Innovation-and-Growth-Strategy-2014-203 (accessed 28th February 2015)
19 BBC website (2014) retrieved from www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-29743958
20 Clyde Space website (2015), “Clyde Space wins £1m Outernet contract”, Available from: www.clyde-space.com/
news/417_clyde-space-wins-1m-outernet-contract (accessed 15th March 2015)
21 In June 2015 Spire announced the creation of 50 new jobs at its office in Glasgow. Spire’s satellite manufacturing
partner in Glasgow is Clyde Space. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-33066479
New geographical markets present further opportunities. The Size and
Health of the UK Space Sector survey has reported increased export
intensity in sales to foreign customers which are growing in most
regions at sustained rates. The composition of customer location is
also changing with Asian turnover doubling since 2010/11, sales in
Europe (outside the UK) growing by 50% and sales to the Americas by
11% (Fig. 7).22
FIG. 7. REAL GROWTH RATE OF TURNOVER BY CUSTOMER LOCATION. SOURCE: UK SPACE
AGENCY & LONDON ECONOMICS (2014)
22 UK Space Agency (2014), The Size and Health of the UK Space Industry, Available from: www.gov.uk/government/
uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/363903/SandH2014final2.pdf (accessed 28th February 2015)
Current Launch Scenario
Currently, the only way small satellites can get into space is through
rideshare opportunities. Launched as “piggyback” payloads (Fig. 8),
they use the excess launch capacity on a rocket travelling into orbit or
to the ISS.
FIG. 8. PIGGYBACK PAYLOAD TO SPACE COPYRIGHT: FORBES
There are multiple drawbacks to this approach:
AA The requirement of the primary payload might change, putting
the small satellite’s mission in jeopardy and creating long delays.
Delays in launch can amount to a year or more.
AA The primary payload may be going to a crowded orbit, or an
inclination or altitude that’s not desirable for the small satellite, so
the satellite operator often has to make do with a second best or
worse solution. The ability to nominate an exact orbit is essential
when building a constellation over several launches and is key to
closing a business case for small satellite operators.
AA The certainty of a fixed launch price is a vital requirement for
winning on-orbit delivery work contract. However, this is difficult
for small satellites to achieve, particularly in the negotiation or early
stages of a launch.
AA Transporting satellites and team members to international launch
locations, negotiating customs and other export regulations, incurs
AA The decision about if and when to launch lies with the launch
provider. Additional payloads from another nation may be
jeopardized by politically motivated decisions or instability.
Thus, launch is a key dependency for satellite manufacturers, to the
extent that a business partner can delay a product or service or dictate
when it begins. Such reliance on partnerships represents a risk to
a business model and it’s likely to be unsustainable, according to a
“As traditional (established) launch vehicles focus on serving the
growing spacecraft masses with geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO)
destinations, the challenges of rideshare opportunities will increase and
may be unable to keep up with the growing demand in the emerging
small payload sector.”23
A number of launch companies are developing solutions to these
problems and we outline some of these in the section on small satellite
launch providers; they are enabling small satellites to meet their
specific mission requirements, at an affordable cost.24
Science in space
Microgravity platforms are used by the science community largely for
research, particularly in:
AA Biosciences: for product development and research, especially
in disease modelling, tissue engineering, biopharmaceuticals,
vaccine development, cell biology and drug testing and delivery.
Changes in the human body and crystal structures are also of
AA Physical and materials science: opportunities include energy,
nanotechnology, advanced manufacturing, aerospace and IT.
Areas of specific focus include nanomaterials, analytical devices,
energy source generation, propulsion and combustion.
Most highly prized and offering the longest exposure to microgravity
is a slot secured on the International Space Station (ISS) but it’s also
expensive and subject to competition. Other microgravity platforms
include parabolic flights, drop towers and sounding rockets.
23 SpaceWorks (2014), Trends in Average Spacecraft Launch Mass, see www.spaceworksforecast.com/docs/
SpaceWorks_Spacecraft_Mass_Trends_2014.pdf (accessed 28th February 2015)
24 SpaceWorks (2014), Trends in Average Earth-Orbiting Spacecraft Launch Mass: Exploring market potential for
a dedicated nano/microsatellite launch vehicle, Available from: www.spaceworksforecast.com/docs/SpaceWorks_
Spacecraft_Mass_Trends_2014.pdf (accessed 28th February 2015)
Exposure to microgravity through sub-orbital, re-usable vehicles
(SRVs), or spaceplanes, can increase the frequency of experiments
and act as a precursor to the ISS, at an affordable cost. They also have
advantages over sounding rockets and parabolic flights in duration of
microgravity and lead time for experiments to start. A comparison of
the different platforms is seen in Table 2.
TABLE 2: MICROGRAVITY PLATFORM COMPARISON25
*BASED ON XCOR LYNX SRV
If a new a platform (an SRV, for example) with complementary
properties to existing options becomes available, scientists will find a
use for it. However, this only becomes viable if sufficient funding is in
place, for hardware, flight and ground based preparation. The cost also
needs to compete favourably with existing platforms.
Low cost access to space via SRVs like Virgin Galactic’s
SpaceShipTwo and XCOR’s Lynx could result in increased interest
from commercial players, especially in the Biotech and Aerospace
Expanding the platforms on which experiments are performed26
will also help. NASA, for instance, has selected Virgin Galactic’s
SpaceShipTwo for payload experiments in their Flight Opportunities
Programme. NASA has, to date, announced 12 different experiments
for SpaceShipTwo’s first research flight, including in-space 3D printing,
on-orbit propellant depots, asteroid formation and biological gene
While microgravity experiments from the scientific community could
be subject to research councils and universities’ budget constraints,
demand from commercial players is unlikely to diminish and shows
every sign of increasing. A total of 818 microgravity-related patents
were filed between 1980-2005 but the past decade has seen many
25 Suborbital Research Association, see www.suborbital-research.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/SRA-and-Lynx-
Mission-Eng.pdf (accessed 23rd June 2015))
26 NASA website (2014), NASA, Virgin Galactic Announce Payloads for SpaceShipTwo Flight, see www.nasa.gov/
ames/nasa-virgin-galactic-announce-payloads-for-spaceshiptwo-flight/#.VPItV_msWSp (accessed 28th February
more, with a further 580 applications28
. This suggests a growing trend
in microgravity research by industry, with applications in biotech,
materials, instrumentation and aerospace sectors being the most
popular (Fig 9).
FIG. 9. TOP 20 PATENT CATEGORIES. SOURCE: UHRAN, M. (2012), MICROGRAVITY RELATED
Microgravity research in the Aerospace, Defence, Pharmaceuticals and
Biotechnology sectors is also likely to increase interest through the UK
academic community’s participation in the European programme for
Life and Physical Sciences (ELIPS), which is funded by the European
Space Agency (ESA).
28 Uhran, M. (2012), Microgravity Related Patent History, Available from: www.isscasis.org/portals/0/docs/2012%20
patent%20history.pdf (accessed 28th February 2015)
Aside from supporting the small satellite market and science
research, low cost access to space could encourage an increasing
interest in space travel from the general public. Launch revenues
can be generated from opening up the space market, allowing non-
professional enthusiasts to experience a journey that has, up to now,
been possible only for trained astronauts.
This is the aim of commercial spaceplane companies, like Virgin
Galactic and XCOR Aerospace, who are conducting tests to make
this a reality in the coming years.30
Publicly available data for current
spaceflight experience bookings on Virgin Galactic and XCOR is seen
in Table 3.
TABLE 3: SPACEFLIGHT EXPERIENCE BOOKINGS
SOURCE: VARIOUS PUBLICLY AVAILABLE WEBSITES (APPROXIMATIONS)
More high net worth individuals live in London than any other city in
and this is an important source of demand for spaceplane
and spaceport operators. A 2014 report on the business case for a
spaceport in the UK estimates that, in the first ten years of operation,
the number of spaceflight tourists using such a facility could number
around 5,000. This would generate a revenue of £500m for spaceplane
operators with corresponding benefits for the spaceport operator.32
It is likely that manned spaceflight from the UK will also increase
awareness of the UK’s space programme and stimulate, to some
extent, STEM engagement, as has occurred in the US.33
30 Publicly available data and company websites
31 Knight Frank (2014), The Wealth Report, Available from: www.thewealthreport.net/resources/thewealthreport2014.
pdf (accessed 28th February 2015)
32 Satellite Applications Catapult (2014), Spaceport UK: Forging Ahead With Commercial Confidence, Available from:
www.sa.catapult.org.uk/market-reports (accessed 28th February 2015)
33 Interview, Dale Ketcham, August 2014
Heavy lift focus
Rather than small satellite secondary payloads, the biggest margins for
existing, launch providers, are in heavy satellites. According to Mark
Albrecht, President of launch service provider ILS:
“There was a potential advantage in the past [in gaining market
share] that is no longer there. In this congested market, you need to
find where your sweet spot is. Ours is launching satellites weighing
between 4,500 and 6,500 kilograms to geostationary transfer orbit,”34
Most competition among existing key players is still currently in the
heavier side of the satellite market, as can be seen in Figure 10.
FIG. 10. SELECTED HEAVY LIFT LAUNCH PROVIDERS SOURCE: VARIOUS
The expected growth in the small satellite market, which we address
later in this section, is unlikely to be satisfied by existing “piggyback”
launch options on such rockets. Instead, the gap in the market
to provide competitive services for small satellites stands to be
addressed by new launch vehicle entrants, from spaceplane operators
to vertical vehicles, with SpaceWorks reporting:
“Though no clear winner has emerged, compelling evidence suggests
the industry has a need for small launch vehicles.”35
34 Space News website (2004), Available from: www.spacenews.com/ils-abandoning-lower-end-launch-market/
(accessed 28th February 2015)
35 SpaceWorks Enterprises, Inc (2015), “2015 Nano/Microsatellite Market Forecast”
Small satellite market
Small satellite constellations enable new types of mission to be
delivered cost effectively and are a growing trend. Over time, small,
low-cost, highly efficient satellites will enable new customer markets
and applications. The IGS estimates that downstream revenues from
user equipment, space-enabled applications and services will grow
from £8bn to £37bn by 2030. This will in turn stimulate demand
for new and improved space infrastructure, including satellites and
supporting ground infrastructure.
“This analysis highlights a ‘virtuous circle’ of increased demand from
customer sectors pulling through improved technology and greater
infrastructure capacity. The evidence suggests that much of this activity
can be space sector led, with improved reliability, lower cost and better
availability of space services and applications needed to drive take up
by other sectors.” (Space IGS 2014-2030, Space Growth Action Plan)
A number of world-leading companies engaged in this sector are
based in the UK, including SSTL and Clyde Space. Their next
generations of spacecraft will have even shorter schedules from order
to orbit, reduced fixed-price cost and enhanced systems’ capabilities
Other small satellite players include US based Planet Labs, who, at
the time of writing, has had 133 satellites successfully launched into
space. The company is aiming to provide continuous global coverage
of the Earth from its constellation of CubeSats and deliver actionable
insights to customers across a range of different industries.
Another American company, Spire, maintains an office in Glasgow
where it’s partnering with Clyde Space on a CubeSat constellation.
Spire plans to operate a constellation of satellites to monitor the
oceans and provide five times more weather data profiles than was
Perhaps the most high-profile manufacturer in the sector is
SpaceX which plans to build, launch, and operate over 4,000 small
communications satellites and thus provide internet access to
unconnected or underserved parts of the world. At the time of writing,
the timeframe of when this constellation will be operational, was
OneWeb Ltd., a start-up founded by Greg Wyler and backed by
Airbus, Intelsat, Virgin Group and Qualcomm, amongst others, shares a
similar vision and plans to launch 648 satellites (900 including spares),
each weighing around 150kg into 18 orbital planes, with 36 satellites
in each plane, at an altitude of around 1200 km. The first satellites are
expected to be launched in 2019.
Small satellite market forecasts
Although launch demand exists for a range of satellite masses,
analysis by Airbus Defence & Space suggests that, those satellites
with a mass of less than 200 kg are underserved by existing space
access solutions (Fig. 11).
FIG. 11. PERCENTAGE OF SMALL LAUNCH MARKET VALUE 2010-2014
SOURCE: AIRBUS DEFENCE AND SPACE (2015)
Other industry experts appear to agree as is apparent from a comment
made by Arianespace’s CEO:
“We may need micro-launcher for growing 50-300kg SmallSat market.
No formal proposal yet, but need to consider it.#IAC2015’36
To maximise the chance of being commercially viable, the UK’s small
launcher capability must target the market segment of highest revenue
per launch (considering total launch payload mass and orbit attained).
It’s difficult to precisely determine this optimum segment as satellite
market forecasts are not wholly reliable; they focus on volume and
do not include launch price points. Additionally, recent market
developments indicate that the small launcher performance at which
revenue is maximised will evolve and should therefore be left open for
the market to decide.
Satellites below 100kg are an increasingly important segment of
activity within the small satellite (smallsat) sector but not the sole area
of market focus for a small launcher.
The most conservative figures are from Euroconsult, which estimates
that a total of 510 smallsats (nanosats, microsats and minisats) will be
launched in the next five years, approximating 100 smallsats per year.
The market value of these smallsats is estimated at $7.4bn, to develop
and launch the satellites. Euroconsult reports that market growth will
36 Peter B. de Selding, Space News, Twitter, 13 October 2015.
remain strong (+17%) as the small decrease over time in prices and
in launch masses (for satellites greater than 50 kg) is offset by larger
numbers being launched.37
Northern Sky Research (NSR) forecasts the launch of over 2,500
sub-100kg satellites during the next decade, approximating 250
per year. Its latest report, Nano and Microsatellite Markets, 2nd
Edition, forecasts that activity in the segment will generate cumulative
revenues exceeding €4.2bn for manufacturing and €1.1bn for launch
services by 2024. NSR believes that, in the coming years, more than
half of all launches will be fuelled by constellation deployment and
The most optimistic forecast is by SpaceWorks, which has covered
the use and launch of nano and microsatellites (1-50 kg) for a number
of years. The 2016 forecast is for the launch of as many as 3,000
nano/microsatellites between 2016-2022, approximately 400 per
According to this report: “In terms of quantity, the eruption of
commercial companies and start-up activities will continue to drive the
The commercial potential of small satellites is evident in the success
of US-based Planet Labs and Spire who have, to date, raised $183mn
and $66.5mn, respectively,40
in private capital. Prior to its acquisition
by Google in June 2014 for $500mn, SkyBox Imaging (recently
renamed, Terra Bella), a commercial high-resolution satellite imagery
provider, had already raised over $90m in three rounds of private
Other companies planning to use nano/microsatellites to provide a
wide range of commercial services include Dauria Aerospace, Deep
Space Industries, GeoOptics, Tyvak, Outernet, Planetary Resources
While not all of the currently announced constellations will be fully
realised, the many in development and lower deployment costs will
enable several to become operational. Whether the increased number
of satellites will equate to significantly more dedicated launches is
difficult to forecast. The number of satellites launched (volume) and
launch market value (revenues) are not necessarily correlated.
37 Euroconsult (2015), “Prospects for the Small Satellite Market,” see www.euroconsult-ec.com/shop/space-
industry/64-prospects-for-the-small-satellite-market.html accessed 25th September 2015
38 Northern Sky Research (2015), “Nano and Microsatellite Markets, 2nd Edition,” see www.nsr.com/news-resources/
21st June 2015
39 SpaceWorks Enterprises, Inc., (2015), “2015 Nano/Microsatellite Market Forecast”
40 CrunchBase website, see www.crunchbase.com/organization/planet-labs and www.crunchbase.com/organization/
nanosatisfi accessed 1st June 2015
Smallsat launch providers
There are at least 20 launch vehicles in development around the world
that are designed for small satellite payloads (weighing up to 1,000 kg),
according to a recent Orbital ATK survey42
. A number of new providers
are attempting to address the opportunity offered by the current gap
in the market for dedicated small satellite launch. These systems allow
smaller payloads to launch when they want, to their orbit of choice.
Some, but not all, can be seen in Fig. 12.
FIG. 12. PLANNED, DEDICATED SMALL SATELLITE LAUNCHERS (N.B. FIGURES ARE ESTIMATES)
SOURCE: LAUNCH COMPANY WEBSITES, ADDITIONAL SOURCES (2015)43
42 See www.parabolicarc.com/2015/09/23/multiple-small-satellite-launch-vehicles-development/?utm_
content=bufferb31ee&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer accessed 25th
43 See also www.parabolicarc.com/2015/09/23/multiple-small-satellite-launch-vehicles-development/?utm_
content=bufferb31ee&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer and www.eucass2015.eu/
wp-content/uploads/Philippe_ADELL_JPL.pdf accessed 25th September 2015
At first glance, using a basic cost/kg measure, none of these launch
vehicles are as economical as the piggyback rideshare option on
a heavy lift rocket. Whether or not small satellite manufacturers or
operators will consider paying a premium for dedicated launch will be
largely dependent on the pricing schedules emerging small satellite
launch providers can offer. Spaceport launch rates will be a key factor
in determining those pricing schedules. However, the indications are
that a modest premium may be justified if it comes with greater control
over the choice of orbit and time of launch. “To know you are to go on
a certain date…that is quite powerful,” says Rob Staples, Business
Manager of Launch at SSTL. “The small satellite market currently
struggles with the timeliness of a mission.”
The previous examples show that dedicated launch providers differ
between those that launch in the air (from a carrier aircraft) and those
focussed on vertical launch from the ground. Offering UK launch
capabilities to accommodate both is the preferred option, in order
to stimulate more than one type of provider. According to the Civil
Aviation Authority’s report on spaceplane operations from the UK,
several studies have indicated that the only suitable location in the UK
for a vertical launch site would be the north coast of Scotland.
Therefore, separate spaceport sites for spaceplane operations and
vertical launch could be established, assuming strong commercial
business cases are developed by these site operators.
Given the trends towards lower satellite mass and constellations,
there’s a possibility of dedicated secondary payload missions being
offered by existing heavy launch providers. For example, Jonathan
Hofeller, Director of Business Development at SpaceX, says the
company is considering “dedicated rideshare” launches, with its
Falcon 9 rocket carrying a collection of smallsats that would ordinarily
fly as secondary payloads on other launches. “We’re trying to push a
new normal, in some sense,” he says, “where we can foster missions
that are dedicated to secondary payloads.”44
It’s likely that SpaceX
would work with a third party to aggregate the individual satellites for
launch on those missions.
Whether increased numbers of satellites will also equate to significantly
more new dedicated launch vehicles, is difficult to forecast.
If the UK is not prepared to address the opportunity in the growth of
the launch market over the next decade, further consolidation by the
US and Russia is the likely result, with competition emerging from India
and China. If this is the case, then relying on other nations for launch
capabilities, brings with it uncertainty around schedules, pricing and,
ultimately, access to space.
44 Spacenews.com (2015), “Smallsat Developers Enjoy Growth In Launch Options”, see www.spacenews.com/
smallsat-developers-enjoy-growth-in-launch-options/ accessed 21st June 2015
Opportunities for the UK
The two most compelling reasons for investment in low cost access to
space are gains through:
First mover advantage. Industry welcomes the UK government’s
current pace and momentum towards establishing a launch capability
to take advantage of the growing market opportunity. Adhering to a
stringent timeline is crucial to maximise the overall growth potential of
UK based space launch services and to gain advantage over possible
competition from other planned spaceports, such as in Sweden or the
Predicted growth in satellite constellations. The number of EO
satellite constellations creating images of the Earth with higher
temporal resolution is increasing, and the preference is for sun-
synchronous and polar orbits, achievable from the UK. In addition,
small communication satellite constellations, such as OneWeb, are
planned to operate in near-polar orbits. However, forecasting launch
market revenues is difficult given the range of variables in play,
AA the number of small satellites that could be launched in any single
AA whether or not announced commercial satellite constellations are
As an illustrative estimate of potential UK revenue, if we assume five
launches per annum and an approximate cost of £5m per launch,
baseline figures could be in the order of £25m per annum.45
annual revenues of £50m from human spaceflight46
increases this to
£75m per annum. Applying the space sector’s gross value-added
multiplier of 2.248
(which implies that each £1 generates £1.20
worth of GVA in the supply chain and supporting sectors) gives a
rough estimate of direct economic impact of £165 million.
However, this assessment does not include the long term benefits that
UK launch capability would bring - new opportunities and the chance
to develop skills (further work is required to investigate the direct and
indirect economic impact of low cost access to space from the UK).
Further non-calculable benefits include: greater flexibility for satellite
operators, enabling the downstream applications market and providing
a European, dedicated small satellite launch location.
45 Estimates by Satellite Applications Catapult
46 Satellite Applications Catapult (2014), Spaceport UK: Forging Ahead With Commercial Confidence, p.14 Available
from: www.sa.catapult.org.uk/market-reports (accessed 28th February 2015)
47 Estimating indirect contribution of the sector, beyond the boundaries of the industry itself
48 UK Space Agency (2014), The Size and Health of the UK Space Industry, Available from: www.gov.uk/government/
uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/363903/SandH2014final2.pdf (accessed 28th February 2015). A
multiplier of 2.2. implies that each £1 of space economy GVA generates £1.20 worth of GVA in the supply chain and
Geopolitical reasons are a further consideration. Current launch
options are concentrated and vulnerable to geo-politics. Russian
launch providers experienced a drop in orders as a result of doubts
over reliability and the conflict in Ukraine. Given sanctions imposed on
Russia by western governments, there is a continuing risk of retaliatory
sanctions which could impact on the supply of Russian launch vehicles
to non-Russian friendly payloads.
Political factors can also affect launch vehicles irrespective of location.
For instance, one of the most popular rockets, the Atlas V, is reliant on
Russian-built RD-180 engines. In 2015, in response to Russian threats
to ban exports of these engines, US Congress prohibited the future
use of Russian engines for national security launches.49
ban has since been effectively overturned, it underscores the danger of
reliance on another nation’s technology and launch capabilities.
AA Pursuing a low cost access to space agenda will enable a vertically
integrated small satellite industry that is more competitive in the
global marketplace; a complete mission package.
AA Whilst revenues from launch services are not expected to be
as significant as other parts of the value chain, the strategic
importance of a low cost, domestic launch capability cannot
be underestimated. It will support both the established and
developing UK satellite manufacturing industry and help facilitate
human spaceflight and science research. If no indigenous small
launcher is developed, short term requirements could be met
through international collaboration. A number of international
launch options are currently being built or planned, but regulatory
agreement will be key to successful collaboration.
AA Launch from the UK offers an alternative solution to the continued
consolidation of small launch market power by non-European
nations. It presents an opportunity for the European space sector
as a whole.
AA There is growing demand for small satellite constellations: in
earth observation and satellite communications. With its leading
capability in small satellite manufacturing, the UK is ready to take
advantage of this and can win a larger percentage of orders than
its overall share in the global space industry might suggest.
AA A spaceport is the key infrastructure for low cost access to space
capability. Considering both horizontal and vertical launch sites is
vital to attracting the broadest range of launch options.
As has been demonstrated, there is considerable opportunity for the
UK in the area of low cost access to space. To ensure this opportunity
is realised, a number of actions are recommended for industry,
Government, Catapult and academia.
1. Co-ordination across the value chain
A one-stop shop solution for small satellite customers requires the
development of vertically integrated capability.
To achieve this, the primary action for industry is to offer competitive
solutions and services. There are three main ways it can do this:
AA Define the UK’s unique selling points (USPs) for small satellite
launch, by working with Government to clarify and quantify value
and commercial benefits to customers.
AA Assist in securing a pipeline of customers through dialogue with
emerging small satellite launch providers, brokers and satellite
operators to promote launch demand from the UK. Committed
customers are essential to support business case development for
launch vehicle providers and spaceport operators.
AA Continue to develop a case for indigenous launcher development.
The UK Space Propulsion Working Group, for example, should
actively monitor the fast growing market for small satellite launch
services and potential sources of investment.
Industry should also support Government in its action items to ensure
a successful outcome. Additionally, a regular ‘Access to Space’
event would harness the expertise of UK commercial, research and
institutional bodies and act as a vehicle to review progress on the low
cost access to space agenda.
The primary action for Government is to create a regulatory
environment that promotes growth. This can be achieved through:
AA Clearly setting out the regulatory requirements for every stage of
launch and assessing the associated delay factors and costs to
industry. Regulatory processes will be necessary at several stages
of each launch - from procurement, licensing and safety controls
to post-launch confirmation of orbit achieved and upper stage
disposal. There are concerns similar to the International Traffic in
Arms Regulations (ITAR), in respect of blocking or delaying factors
and potentially high costs.
AA Creation of a favourable regulatory environment to launch and
operate small satellites from the UK with the aid of a study
benchmarking UK licensing competitiveness against other major
Three courses of action are recommended for the Satellite
AA Business case development for vertically integrated capability
across the UK satellite industry value chain. The Catapult should
also help the UK Space Agency and industry qualify the USPs for
small satellite launch from the UK.
AA Development of an In-Orbit Demonstration (IOD) programme
to: help de-risk new small satellite technologies; showcase UK
capability in space applications and act as a potential anchor
customer for smallsat launch providers.
AA Support the development and demonstration of downstream
applications through public and private sector collaboration to
deliver on growth targets.
AA In partnership with the UK Space Agency, commission a survey to
establish demand for microgravity research if lower cost platforms
(e.g. spaceplanes) with greater microgravity exposure were
AA Focus on commercialising world-class academic research in
upstream and downstream markets and exploit opportunities
through international partnerships.
AA Develop the skills base to support world-class expertise across the
satellite industry value chain.
2. Establishing an operational
A UK spaceport would be a pillar of growth for the UK and European
space industry, enabling lower cost access to space and creating
economic benefit far beyond its perimeter. To achieve this, the
following actions from industry, Government, Catapult and academia
AA Advise and work with Government for progress on ITAR and other
regulatory discussions, including liability indemnification.
AA Investigate the benefits of co-locating manufacturing facilities with
a spaceport site (build, assembly, and test).
AA Develop a cost efficient solution to ITAR, through dialogue with
the US Government and launch industry, to establish spaceplane
and orbital operations in the UK. An agreement should ensure
that additional cost burdens are not placed on launch operators’
suppliers, as this could render a UK launch service uncompetitive
in the global market.
AA Attract initial anchor tenants to a UK spaceport via flight
demonstrations on small satellite launch vehicles. A government
anchor customer has been critical for all space launch systems to
date, including commercial ones, and is even more important for
the emerging small satellite launch market. NASA, for example,
recently announced $17m worth of agreements, with Virgin
Galactic, Rocket Lab and Firefly, to launch experimental satellites
through its Venture Class Launch Services programme.50
AA Accommodate launcher diversity by building on existing industry
and commissioning a full report into the feasibility of
a vertical launch site in the UK, thereby increasing the range of
51 Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (2013) “Towards a UK launch infrastructure”. Unpublished study, part of the Space
Collaborative Innovation Team Initiative (Space CITI) programme within the UK Space Agency’s National Space
Technology Programme (NSTP)
AA Define the business environment for the UK’s small launch service
with the establishment of a tariff for spaceport infrastructure. This
would clarify issues of ownership, actions allowed and payments
between the site and spaceport builders, operators, launch and
payload providers, as well as regulators. Given that there are
uncertainties, candidate business model matrices could be set out
a. The infrastructure that will be available at the spaceport/launch
b. How the cost of infrastructure to support launch will initially be paid
c. Whether the cost will be fully amortised through charges or
discounted to take into account net economic impact.
Satellite Applications Catapult should:
AA Further promote the benefits and business case for a UK
AA Work with licensed UK spaceport/s to ensure a complete business
package including regulation, licensing, integration, launch and
satellite data exploitation.
AA Investigate the benefits and costs of co-locating research facilities
with a spaceport site.
AA Work with small satellite launch providers and Government to
ensure UK science payloads have reliable and low cost access to
Risks to smallsat market opportunity
AA New launch providers not as price competitive – If SpaceX can
offer a cost of approximately $5,000/kg to LEO (with the ambition
to get that cost down further to $1,000/kg), new entrants may not
be able to benefit from the economies of scale that larger launch
vehicle providers can take advantage of. New market entrants, to
recover the cost of vehicle development, may be forced to charge
higher prices than rideshare/piggyback opportunities in the short
to medium term of the life of their dedicated small satellite launch
vehicle. If these dedicated launch options are not price competitive
(particularly due to launch rates), satellite manufacturers/operators/
brokers may continue to choose the piggyback option on a pure
cost comparison basis.
AA Regulatory concerns – Whilst “buying-in” launch capability to the
UK can be attractive because non-recurring costs are already met
in the development of the vehicle by non-UK players, this poses a
risk to operation from the UK if regulatory agreements are changed
or adjusted based on factors outside of the control of the launch
vehicle manufacturer or operator.
AA Spaceplane launch focus – by only seeking to enable spaceplane
operations in the near to medium term, and not vertical small
satellite launch vehicles, launch options are then limited.
AA Launch decision disintermediated – Domestic satellite
manufacturers like SSTL and Clyde Space do not necessarily buy
the launch capacity/decide where the satellite is launched from.
This is usually the decision of the satellite operator, or a decision
disseminated to a launch broker – in which case there may be
multiple non-UK options available for the operator to choose from.
However, if there is a competitive service being offered from the
UK, then most operators would likely consider it.
AA Liability indemnification - The Outer Space Act 1986 was
established to ensure that the UK maintains compliance with
international obligations under the UN Outer Space Treaty 1967.
The licensing regime under the UN Outer Space Act (OSA) enables
the UK Government to pass its liability to its licensees. Following
a consultation process and the Deregulation Act 2015 made law
(March 2015), the UK Government has accepted to set a maximum
amount of a licensee’s in-orbit liability on a per mission basis;
which is progress since the original unlimited liability requirement.52
Whilst the reform is a step in the right direction, the insurance
premiums required for satellite operators to self-insure and
52 UK Parliament (2015), Deregulation Act 2015, Available from: www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2015/20/section/12/
enacted (accessed 7th April 2015)
indemnify the Government against in-orbit risk still represent a
significant cost and are burdensome for entrepreneurs looking to
create new small satellite businesses in the sector. This additional
cost reduces UK satellite operators’ global competitiveness in
the space industry. In the same consultation, the UK Government
decided to defer a decision on waiving the capped liability and
insurance requirement for the in-orbit operation of CubeSats and
AA License fees - Each spacecraft is required to obtain a separate
license from the UK Space Agency, the application fee for which
is currently £6,500. UK Space Agency has stated that it is willing
to consider licensing constellations of identical satellites under
the same license, but there is no standard process in place,
creating uncertainty. The issue is compounded for constellations
comprising a number of satellites that are becoming increasingly
AA Two years of audited financial statements is a very difficult
requirement to meet for new business start-ups. This effectively
prevents new companies from obtaining a license and starting
new satellite businesses in the UK, moreover the licensing process
needs to start 6 months prior to the launch and it takes as long to
build the satellite. UK Space Agency has stated that exceptions
can be made with guarantees, but this lacks a consistent and
predictable process for businesses.
AA Lack of transparency and clear procedure - a license requires
approval from UK Space Agency, BIS (Department for Business,
Innovation & Skills) and Ofcom. The existing procedures in the UK
are unclear and lack transparency as to the technical, financial,
and legal assessments required for the Management of Satellite
Filings. The lack of certainty regarding the weighting of the
licensee responses to all the questions that need to be answered
is discouraging and blocking for applicants, but is also a problem
for large established businesses, making it difficult for companies
to attract funding and growth capital.
All stakeholders should work together to address these risks and
challenges to implementing the low cost access to space agenda from
53 UK Space Agency (2013), Reform of the Outer Space Act 1986: Summary of responses and Government response
to consultation, Available from: www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/295769/gov-
response-osa-consultation.pdf (accessed 15th March 2015)
Published by the Space Growth Partnership
“Working together to develop and deliver the UK’s Space Innovation & Growth Strategy”
Report edited by Adriana Hamacher firstname.lastname@example.org
Design by Helen Boosey www.helenboosey.co.uk