Recent launch woes among commercial service providers has dampened short-term enthusiasm for small-satellite missions.
That’s that most notable finding of a sector forecast by SpaceWorks Enterprises. The Atlanta-based firm published its small-satellite report Feb. 1.
More positively, the report noted a couple fledgling launch-service providers are
expected to fly their small-sat launch vehicles for the first time in 2017. Those include Virgin Galactic with its LauncherOne and Rocket Lab’s Electron.
Still, SpaceWorks found a notable negative effect from recent launch woes including a SpaceX rocket explosion that destroyed a pricey satellite payload. The Hawthorne, Calif.-based company remains very much in the satellite-launch business, however, with contracts including a 70-sat run of missions for Iridium Communications.
Overall, the Nano/Microsatellite Market Forecast projects that up to 2,400 small satellites — weighing 1 kg to 50 kg — are expected to be scheduled for launches through 2023. That’s 20 percent fewer than projected for a similar span of years just 12 months ago.
There were 101 small-sat launches last year, down from 131 in 2015 and a record l58 in 2014. Ride-share missions could turn things around this year, according to report author Bill Doncaster.
“Even though launch delays continued to have a strong impact on the small satellite market in 2016, this year should set a new record for the number of nano/microsatellites launched with multiple large dedicated ride-share missions,” Doncaster said. “In the future, however, concentration on relatively few launch vehicles increases uncertainty in the launch schedule for small-satellite operators and limits near-term growth.”