Nanosatellites and microsatellites are small satellites weighing between 1 to 10 kg and 10 to 100 kg, respectively. These satellites represent the third iteration of the space age, following the politically charged Space Race in the 1960s and the subsequent realization of the commercial possibilities of space-age technologies and their possible utility in achieving global communication. Nanosatellites and microsatellites represent the need of the present time, when satellites are expected to be not only effective, but also compact and cheap.
Making satellites smaller makes them cheaper to produce as well as to launch. Larger satellites require exponentially larger amounts of thrust, resulting in significantly higher costs. In contrast, nanosatellites and microsatellites need much less thrust, and can also be launched collectively instead of individually. Due to their relatively small size, they can also be accommodated on launch vehicles commissioned for launching larger satellites, as their extra weight can easily be incorporated in the launch vehicle. Nanosatellites and microsatellites have thus become a crucial asset for the space and aviation industry and are likely to receive increasing demand in the coming years.
According to Transparency Market Research, the global nanosatellites and microsatellites market was valued at US$529.1 mn in 2015. Exhibiting a robust 12.1% CAGR from 2016 to 2024, the market is expected to rise to a valuation of US$2.2 bn by the end of 2024.
Q. What are the key regional markets for nanosatellites and microsatellites?
Regionally, the global market for nanosatellites and microsatellites was dominated by North America in 2015. The advanced technological framework available in the U.S. and Canada has led to the development of several emerging space aviation companies such as SpaceX and Spaceflight Industries, whose recent successes have eclipsed even those of some national space programs.
Nevertheless, in the coming years, India is likely to play a key role in the development of the global nanosatellite and microsatellite market. On June 22, 2016, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launched 20 satellites with a total weight of close to 1.3 tons in a single flight–the highest number of satellites launched by ISRO in a single mission. Following this, ISRO set another historic landmark on September 26, 2016, when 8 satellites with a combined weight of 675 kg were placed in two orbits by a single launch vehicle. 7 of the 8 satellites in the latter mission and 19 of 20 in the former weighed less than or around 100 kg, making these launches significant for the global nanosatellites and microsatellites market.
Such achievements have made ISRO the prime space agency in Asia and allowed it to emerge as a major player in the global commercial space aviation market. The consistent success of ISRO in innovating low-cost solutions without compromising on reliability has been vital in its rise as a leading light in the market.
Q. What are the downsides to the growing use of microsatellites and nanosatellites?
Despite their immense benefit, the use of nanosatellites and microsatellites has been constrained by the risk of collisions in space, which would result in the generation of space debris. Nano- and microsatellites are usually launched and often operated collectively, which makes them more likely to set off a chain reaction if even one collision takes place.
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Limitations on the operation period of microsatellites and nanosatellites could help resolve this issue, but the utility of small satellites means their number is likely to keep increasing in the coming years. Nevertheless, the massive potential of nanosatellites and microsatellites in enabling better communication and satellite imaging is expected to ensure steady growth of the global market in the coming years.