New Kids on The Block: Five Smallsat Tech Companies from Around the World
The small satellite industry is thriving with new businesses. Many have been around for a while and in near-operational phases, such as NovaWurks and PhaseFour. Meanwhile, there are smaller and brand-new organizations coming into the market which aim to offer different services or technologies. We have listed five of them below.
Reaktor Space Lab
Having started its small satellite project in 2016, this Finnish company is looking to launch its first mission, Hello World, on an ISRO Antrix PSLV vehicle in October 2018. The company has a couple of projects in the pipeline – aside from Hello World, it is also working on W-Cube and Aspect.
The Hello World mission features a 2U CubeSat with a hyperspectral imager designed by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.
While Reaktor Space is preparing for its first launch later this year, the company is also working on development of the W-Cube mission together with VTT, a project funded by ESA’s ARTES programme. With this mission, Reaktor Space will be investigating new frequency bands, the W-band, for future telecommunications satellites. As many new constellations (such as OneWeb and SpaceX) are set to go online and as 5G telecommunications will be implemented, frequencies will become congested, creating a need for higher-frequency bands. The W-Cube is a CubeSat satellite that will be launched to low-Earth orbit (LEO), where it will serve as a beacon transmitting W-band. After this, it will do a channel propagation measurement.
LeoStella is a 50-50 joint venture created by Thales Alenia Space and Spaceflight Industries. Based in Seattle, the company is responsible for manufacturing small satellites at scale, including some of the BlackSky constellation, aiming to deliver two to three satellites a month. Led by CEO Chris Chautard, the company is currently under development and getting the executive team together.
Thales Alenia Space is not new to small satellite manufacturing: the company has experience with delivering satellites for Iridium NEXT, GlobalStar 2, and the O3b constellations.
As for the BlackSky satellite manufacturing, the company will use Deep Space Industries’ ‘green’ Comet propulsion systems, which are non-toxic and low-pressure.
Manufacturing is due to begin in the last quarter of 2018.
Founded in 2015, Astranis is a small satellite start-up based in San Francisco. Its mission? To build a constellation of low-cost telecommunications satellites to supply internet to those who currently lack access. The company featured in the press in early 2018, after the announcement of a $13.5 million investment by Andreessen Horowitz.
The company is currently developing the MicroGEO satellites – 3U satellites that will be based in geostationary Earth orbit (GEO). In January 2018, Astranis launched its ‘DemoSat 2’ prototype satellite on an Indian PSLV-XL rocket. The prototype was a test bed for the intended communication tools the MicroGEO satellites are likely to use. The company carried out a test in February, successfully performing a HD video data transmission test from a ground station in Alaska to the software-defined radio aboard the DemoSat 2, and back again. The company works closely together with Seattle-based company Spaceflight.
Astranis aims to launch its first MicroGEO satellite in 2019 as a secondary payload on one of the operational large launchers, such as the Falcon 9 or Ariane 5. The company announced in June 2018 that the GEO satellites will use green propulsion systems provided by Bradford.
PicoSat Systems is an Australian start-up based in Perth. The company focuses on the development of picosat platform technology. Picosats tend to be smaller than CubeSats, weighing between 0.1 and 1 kilograms. The start-up is currently developing its technology demonstration satellite OzCube-1, which is scheduled to be launched in 2019. The satellite is astonishingly small: 5cm x 5cm x 5cm and weighing 150 grams. The picosat tends to use commercial off-the-shelf technology. The satellites could be used in the following industries: agriculture, defence, environmental management, natural disaster management, Earth resources, and scientific research.
Also known as C3S Electronics Development, this Hungarian company offers a variety of small satellite technology. C3S has been around for a while: it was founded in 2012. In the past six years, the company has worked on several projects, including a feasibility study of small satellite payload controllers which was carried out together with the University of Bologna, Department of Industrial Engineering, and the European Space Agency. The company has also been involved with the Hungarian-led RADCUBE mission and CROSS satellite system.
The company specializes in development of 3U and 6U platforms, as well as several subsystems and ground support systems.