By Arun Kumar Sampathkumar, Industry Manager, Aerospace & Defence, Frost & Sullivan
With the Falcon 9 launching the first 60 of SpaceX’s Starlink constellation on Thursday, 23rd May, the space industry is now officially observing the initiation of a significant commercial space program in space history- a constellation of 12,000 satellites- envisioned to deliver global seamless connectivity. Frost & Sullivan’s assessment indicates that between 2019 and 2030, an estimated 15000 small-satellites are expected to be launched of which 4000+ are expected to be from the Starlink constellation.
SpaceX (and Elon Musk) and innovation have become synonyms in the Space sector, and the Starlink constellation adds another milestone towards SpaceX implementation on an (previously thought) ambitious objective. The significance of this milestone cannot be underplayed. Firstly, the fact that such a constellation directly, by design supports deep space travel along with downstream connectivity services. With the connectivity solution being optimized on-board small-satellites, SpaceX has taken its ambitiousness to another level making this massive space program a part of the small-satellite market. The market, although very fast growing, has historically attracted strong criticisms on the feasibility and sustainability grounds.
SpaceX, an established incumbent in the launch industry is now officially a small-satellite constellation operator adding weight to a fairly new yet fast growing market globally. This launch will have caught the attention of other government and commercial space industry participants and everyone will have something to think about, be it an opportunity to collaborate or the assessment of a fast approaching competition.
The space market will now be waiting for the Starlink system to go live and when it does, the space industry will be rapidly transformed with the new system impacting the entire space industry value chain.
On a different yet relevant note, the space analyst’s ultimate fear is being put to test. From a forecasting perspective, ambitious announcements especially those claiming huge numbers in volume or cost is often kept under the ‘High’ scenario so the analysis on the ‘absolute available demand’ is not skewed too much [to support robust financial decision making]. However, when such announcements start taking shape, the consequence is a revision of the forecast and the reclassification of the same numbers under the probable/possible scenarios. This is one such example and a great one to comment on.
SpaceX has historically announced the crazily impossible scenarios as their objectives and have achieved them one by one. With this launch, they have now started contradicting popular opinions on ‘feasibility’ again. Guess what: This development also involves SMALL-SATELLITES and the demand for dedicated launch for small-satellites just went up by a significantly large margin [Remember, absolute available demand is still a very different story]. Many excel files and back-end databases will now have to be updated and revised.
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