Overview of Commercial Small Satellite Systems in the “New Space” Age

Living reference work entry


“New Space” or “Space 2.0” initiatives are changing the space industry and not in modest or one-dimensional ways. We are today experiencing change in profound ways that permeate the entire space enterprise. Thus smallsats and “New Space-related” changes now impact almost every aspect of the space industry.

These should not be seen as mere disparate or unrelated parts, but as key pieces of a whole revolution in the space industry. There are many changes that are occurring in the world of commercial space, which taken together should be seen as enabling forces. These “parts” are coalescing together to allow significant changes to occur throughout every dimension of the space industry.

In short, all of these various “disruptive” changes are a part of an overall gestalt. It is driven by what might be called a new way of thinking and analysis born of a way of thinking associated with Silicon Valley – namely, an approach that questions old ways of doing things. It asks not how can things be improved but how can new ways of thinking make significant changes that revolutionize how things are done. There is a constant search for major strides that are sweeping – rather than baby steps.

Out of “New Space” thinking has come new technologies, new market entrants, new launcher systems, new ways of financing space ventures, new satellite architectures, efficient new small satellite designs, new types of ground antenna systems with electronic tracking, and market shifts toward networked services. Over-the-Top (OTT) data streaming of entertainment and gaming services and demand for networking access in rural and remote areas of the world are just a few examples. These forces of change and new ways of thinking are converging together to create an integrated nexus of change in the space industry that has produced among other things the great spurt of activity related to commercial small satellite constellations and an effort to bring broadband digital services to the entire world.

Many of the companies in the global aerospace world that have built satellites, launch vehicles, ground antenna systems, provided satellite services, and insured and financed space enterprises for many years have been caught off guard by the swiftness of the change and are now struggling to find their footing in the swirling eddies of transforming markets, spacecraft, ground system, and launcher technologies, and even the regulatory framework that controls these industries.

This chapter explains that this dramatic change in the design, manufacturer, launch operations, architecture of satellite constellations, and business models of those operating small satellite constellations can only be understood in the context of all the forces of change that are coming from perhaps a dozen different basic shifts in the space industry. Those who think one-dimensionally or narrowly about shifts in technology, market forces, capitalization, and global operations will miss the overall scope of this change. This overview of commercial small satellites is actually designed to capture this larger picture. This chapter focuses on what might be called synoptic change in space industry. It is now an industry that is completely beset by new and “disruptive” ways of thinking about every aspect of commercial space industries – the various markets, the changing modes of financing new systems, the diverse technological components of its products and services, and all of the associated regulatory processes.


Airbus Angel investors Blue Origin Boeing Crowd Funding CubeSat Electronic pointing phase array ground system Kickstarter LauncherOne Microsats Minisats “New Space” OneWeb Reusable launch vehicles Rocket Lab Rounds of financing Small satellite launch vehicles Sierra Nevada Space 2.0 Surrey Space Technology Ltd (SSTL) SpaceX Thales Alenia Space Vector 


  1. J. Brookin, SpaceX and OneWeb broadband satellites raise fears about space debris. Ars Technica, October 4, 2017.
  2. CubeSat. Last accessed 15 June 2019
  3. T. Maclay, W. Everetts, D. Engelhardt, Responsible satellite operations in the era of large constellations. Space News, January 23, 2019Google Scholar
  4. S. Madry, Disruptive Space Technologies and Innovations: The Next Chapter (Springer Press, Cham, 2019)Google Scholar
  5. S. Madry, P. Martinez, R. Laufer, Innovative Design, Manufacturing and Testing of Small Satellites (Praxis Publishers, Cham, 2018), pp. 17–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. NASA Venture Class Procurement Could Nurture Ride, Small Sat Trend., June 8, 2015.
  7. A. Nyirady, SpaceX wants FCC Approval of 1 Million Satellite Broadband Earth Stations. Satellite Today, February 13, 2019.
  8. J. O’Callaghan, ‘Not Good Enough’ – SpaceX reveals that 5% of its Starlink satellites have failed in orbit so far. Forbes, June 30, 2019Google Scholar
  9. J. Pelton, Space 2.0: Revolutionary Advances in the Space Industry (Springer Press, Cham, 2018). Chapter 1Google Scholar
  10. M. Sheetz, Space Startup adds $1.25 billion from SoftBank and other to mass produce Internet satellites. CNBC, March 18, 2019.
  11. The New TV – The State of the New TV Industry. IAB.Com. Last accessed 15 June 2019
  12. U.S. Space Policy Directive 3, National Space Traffic Management Policy, June 18, 2018.
  13. What Next for Satellite in a 5G and OTT Era. Newtec, June 8, 2018.

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Arthur C. Clarke Foundation BoardWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.International Space University (ISU)StrasbourgFrance
  3. 3.International Association for the Advancement of Space SafetyArlingtonUSA
  4. 4.Thales Alenia SpaceArlingtonUSA
  5. 5.Pacific Telecommunications Council BoardHonoluluUSA

Personalised recommendations