The massive growth in the small satellite and nanosatellite market over the last decade has created a new sector with a lower cost of entry, which has enabled far greater participation in the space industry to a wider customer base. Companies still face substantial hurdles, however, including government regulations, satellite manufacturing, mission planning, launch and data acquisition. In response, the space industry is increasingly adopting the ‘as-a-service’ platform mentality that has shaped the computer industry. By building on something that already exists, small companies and organisations can participate in space without significant pain and on an accelerated time scale, and the model has potential cost and schedule benefits even for large companies, governments and space agencies.
The growth of the smallsat market has parallels with the emergence of the personal computer in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the expansion of the home computer market began to grow at a very rapid rate. There are also similarities with the World Wide Web, which grew from hundreds to millions of websites within the space of a few years in the 1990s and subsequently, the growth of cloud computing in the following decade. These developments revolutionised the information technology industry and created the modern digital world as we know it.
In a similar manner, the small satellite industry is experiencing its ‘faster, better, cheaper’ moment. Unlike the IT industry, however, the journey of any company planning to enter the small satellite market or develop operations will include extensive regulation and cost barriers, which can act as an obstacle to potential growth. One might wonder if there are any solutions that can help new ventures embark on space exploration, surmounting all those barriers and using lessons learned from the evolution of terrestrial computers.