What are nanosatellites?
Like your mobiles, satellites are also getting smaller and better. Nanosatellites are those satellites that are just about the size of your shoe box. But, they can do almost everything a conventional satellite does, and that too at a fraction of the cost. Which is why everybody — from government organizations and start-ups to educational institutes — is scrambling to get a piece of the small-sat pie.
The big bang theory of small sats can be attributed to fast-changing technology trends cutting down gestation periods. The industry is responding to the subsequent profit vulnerability by making smaller spacecrafts quickly, deploying them even more swiftly and getting data from them rapidly.
Basically, the exciting era of small satellites began only a couple of years ago. On November 19th, 2013, Orbital Sciences (now Orbital ATK) launched a rocket from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. It carried 29 satellites and released them into low-Earth orbit, a record for a single mission. Thirty hours later, Kosmotras, a Russian joint-venture, carried 32 satellites into a similar orbit. Then, in January 2014, Orbital Sciences carried 33 satellites up to the International Space Station where they were cast off a month later.
To be clear, not all small satellites are, well, small satellites. A spacecraft that weighs between 100 to 500 kgs is called a mini-satellite. If it weighs between ten to 100 kgs, you would call it a microsatellite. A nanosatellite’s mass range is between 1 and 10 kgs. And if your spacecraft weighs between 100 grams and 1 kg, it would be called a picosatellite. That’s not all! We even have a name for satellites that weigh less than 100 grams. They are known as femtosatellites.
Research firm, Markets and Markets has predicted a bullish future for the small satellite industry. The nano and microsatellite market is estimated to grow from $702.4 million in 2014 to $1,887.1 million in 2019. A study by Northern Sky Research predicts earth observation as the primary driver behind this growth. This is because earth observation market suffers from data poverty in many industry verticals, like agriculture, disaster management, forestry and wildlife. The research firm believes that a staggering 40 percent of the nano and microsatellites, which are to be launched by the end of year 2024, will be for earth observation applications.
It’s safe to say, in the future, small satellites are going to play a big role.