NSR: Smaller, Cheaper Optical Satellites to Become Industry Standard

[Satellite TODAY Insider 01-26-12] A growing number of satellite manufacturers are exploring smaller spacecraft that target expanding markets in optical and Synthetic-Aperture Radar (SAR) markets, according to analysis firm NSR, which believes that the effect is likely to be a reduction of data costs on the end-user side. 

   The NSR report, published Jan. 24 cited the U.K. government’s dedicated support to finance half of manufacturer Surrey Satellite Technology’s (SSTL) newest SAR satellite as confirmation of a trend that manufacturers are looking to address this market with finer ground resolution and smaller satellites at a lower cost.
   “In the optical realm, small satellites weighing 300 kilograms today can offer 70 percent to 80 percent of the capabilities of a traditional commercial Earth observation satellite,” NSR said in the report. “These can also offer download speeds and an onboard memory of a 1-ton satellite launched for 10 years … small satellites (less than 500 kilograms) are getting cheaper to produce and launch, their numbers are expected to surpass medium and heavy satellites in the next 10 years.” 
   Imagery prices continue to fall while imagery resolution continues to improve. NSR observed that the cost of two-meter PAN optical data has decreased by more than half since 2001 and that the decrease is already showing in low- and medium-resolution markets. With an influx of new capacity from small satellite on the market, the overall price of radar data should decline even further.
   “What NSR considers is a trend in lower mass and more performing spacecraft is a commoditization of satellites that offer higher resolution imagery at a lower price,” NSR said. “The barriers to entry for countries and operators that want their own infrastructure are thus coming down slowly and increasing the market pie. At 45 million British pounds ($70 million), not only is the SSTLSAR satellite priced much lower than what the market is used to, but it has advanced performance as well.” 
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