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NanoAvionics Is On the Cusp of Constellation Orders, CEO Buzas Says

By Rachel Jewett | October 5, 2023

NanoAvionics CEO Vytenis Buzas. Photo: NanoAvionics

One year after being acquired by Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace, smallsat manufacturer NanoAvionics is on the cusp of signing constellation contracts, CEO Vytenis Buzas told Via Satellite in a recent interview. The company expects to announce serial manufacturing orders in 2024. Negotiations include constellations up to 100 satellites, to be built within three to five years. 

These contracts would be a large step up for the company. To date, the most satellites NanoAvionics has built for a single customer is five to seven satellites, however, it previously supplied a batch of several hundred avionics systems to a single customer. 

After years of discussions of pathfinders graduating to larger constellations, the market is finally maturing, Buzas says. “Finally, it seems that people are finding a way to satisfy their end customers and business plans, because it’s quite a big investment to launch this kind of constellation.”

Some of these potential constellations are with existing customers and others are new customers. Buzas says a number are undisclosed projects, including defense customers. The potential customers are from all over the world, Buzas says, not just the U.S. and Europe.

As the company prepares to meet manufacturing demand for constellation orders, it doubled its  satellite production capability earlier this year, by opening a new manufacturing, assembly, integration, and testing facility in Vilnius, Lithuania.

The smallsat industry is maturing into more serious business plans, and NanoAvionics is pushing customers to use standardized satellite bus designs versus custom designs in order to meet the manufacturing demand. It’s a shift to being more strict with customers, who still want custom offerings, which put more systems at risk for failure, and requires more extensive and expensive reliability testing. 

“If you want this cheap, reliable, and fast — you cannot think about custom. You have to change your mindset and build the payload to fit into the spacecraft — not the spacecraft to fit the payload,” Buzas says. 

He compares it to commercial airliners like Boeing and Airbus. Airlines do not order bespoke plane designs — it would be much more difficult to guarantee safety and reliability. 

“Our job is to make [spacecraft] as cheap as we can and maintain reliability,” he adds. “[Customers] start to realize that reliability and performance have a cost and they have to rethink their business models. We’re kind of waking up from that cubesat dream.” 

It’s an evolution of the idea that the cubesat is an expendable asset. Buzas cites that part of this evolution is an increase in solar activity that scientists have noticed, which puts higher demands on satellites for radiation resistance. Ten years ago, simple microcontrollers could work on a cubesat, but today there are higher requirements for spacecraft reliability. 

NanoAvionics’ answer to the evolving smallsat market with a push toward more capable satellites, is its line of MP42 microsats. NanoAvionics introduced the MP42 in 2021 and added a larger size last year. The market has had a good reaction to the MP42, Buzas says. 

The “cubesat dream” is growing up into an industry with more mature business plans, and manufacturing is evolving with it. 

“We maintain that New Space approach. Of course, it’s a bit more expensive, a bit slower. But this is where the market is going,” he says. “If they want reliability, we cannot go the old way of cubesats. We need to go the way of nanosatellites and micro satellites. Especially these days, where people start to do real business based on the constellations. If they fail — we fail other people. It’s a huge responsibility.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the timeframe that NanoAvionics plans to announce the constellation orders.