Opportunities in a Time of Paradigm Shift – Entering a New Era for Space Component Suppliers
Many changes in the space industry are upon us as we are moving to low-Earth orbit (LEO) constellations, smaller satellites, software-defined missions, and more crewed missions to LEO and beyond, as well as missions that will eventually have autonomous operations control. These changes require new hardware, software, and sometimes different manufacturing approaches. Following research with suppliers in the space technology industry, it has become apparent that there are several projected shifts in the industry that are likely to affect components and parts suppliers.
The move towards smaller satellites for LEO means that for some organizations who specialize in providing highly reliable components, demand decreases. As satellites are becoming smaller and the ability to send a lot of them up in a short space of time is increasing, the likelihood of having extremely high-reliability custom connectors and other components is decreasing. This means that some organizations must diversify their offerings to be able to provide for the many planned LEO constellations.
Top-end exploration hardware requirements
At the same time, ambitions for crewed missions in LEO and a growing ambition to return to the surface of the moon means that the need for highly reliable, top-end components is increasing in this area. According to figures released by Euroconsult, government investment in exploration missions is set to grow by $13 billion between now and the period between 2023-27. This forecast growth means that this could be a great opportunity for organizations supplying specific and important hardware to future crewed missions. Several component suppliers have noted that they are monitoring this growth.
Introducing higher frequencies
Companies supplying electrical systems see an increase in demand for satellites and other spacecraft that operate with new, high-frequency bands. The changes in communication signals would require new amplifiers, antennas, circulators, combiners, and digital electronics. Meanwhile, moving to higher frequencies brings specific challenges, such as charges that build up on the surface of the wave guides and remits, causing damaging noise on the signal.
Going digital: moving from hardware to software
Traditionally, space missions were led by technology development on the hardware side of things. As technology levels are maturing, several industry segments are looking into operations control for (commercial) missions that are led by autonomous systems. On-orbit servicing as well as on-orbit manufacturing are great examples of this, and with ambitions such as the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway as well as commercial space stations, this area is projected to grow rapidly in the future. As the use cases will be looked at from an operations demand perspective, there will be an increasing need for advanced software development in this area, following which specific hardware would be required to perform the tasks set by operations control.
A need to stay up to date
Some suppliers we spoke with stressed the importance of staying up to date with ambitions and technology requirements from primes, agencies, and government institutes. Getting a good idea of their roadmaps and continuous dialogue will help spur technology development in these areas, so the lower tiers in the supply chain can respond accordingly and in a timely fashion. As such, it remains essential that primes, agencies, and governments remain as open as possible on what they need in these changing times.
Keen to learn more about the highlighted topics? Join us at Space Tech Expo 2019 on May 20-22 in Pasadena, CA! The Conference, Workshop, Open Tech Forum, and 360 Sessions agendas will be announced in early January 2019.