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The Smallsat Story Is Only Just Beginning

The Surrey team enjoyed a busy week at the 31st Space Symposium, held April 13–16, 2015, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. This show has an increasingly international flavor—certainly recognized by the conference organizers who ran a series of “country in focus” sessions. The “Country in Focus: UK” session, held on Wednesday afternoon, featured the Surrey group’s Executive Chairman Sir Martin Sweeting as a panelist.
Earlier that same day, Surrey US CEO Dr. John Paffett and fellow industry leaders took part in a New Generation Space Leaders panel session to discuss and share their views on “Implications of a Revolution: Smallsats, Cubesats and Constellations.”

There has been a rapid growth in the number of smallsats and cubesats launched in recent years. With more than 140 satellites with a mass of less than 10 kg launched in 2014, it is clear that this segment of the space industry is attracting a great deal of interest.

The session featured a combination of panelists covering a range of perspectives across the small satellite value chain—from Surrey, which started the smallsat revolution 30 years ago, through to Spire (represented by Launch Manager Jenny Barna), which was founded only three years ago.

Space Foundation's John Holst, moderator (far left) and panelists (left to right) Dr. John Paffett, Jenny Barna, Clayton Mowry, Shey Sabripour, Lieutenant Colonel Dennis Wille
Sustainable small satellite missions need cost-effective launch solutions. The panel featured speakers from two launch providers—Clayton Mowry, president of Arianespace, Inc., and Shey Sabripour, chief technical officer of Firefly Space Systems, Inc. These two companies come from very different starting points: Arianespace, the world’s first commercial launch company, has traditionally focused on large GEO spacecraft launches and was the launch provider for ten of Surrey’s early missions during the ten years from 1990 to 1999; and Firefly Space Systems has been in business since last year and is working toward the launch of its first rocket to LEO in 2017.

Lieutenant Colonel Dennis Wille, space operations military planner for SMD/ARSTRAT, rounded out the panel with a user and customer perspective developed over years of using space-based data to address defense and military challenges.

Dr. Paffett set the tone for the discussions with his opening remark: “It’s a great time to be in the space industry,” stating that, while Surrey has been at the forefront of the small satellite revolution for the past 30 years, the small satellite industry is still in its infancy, and the story is only just beginning. We’ve seen the development and maturation of the GEO telecommunications as the first commercial space sector, and now we’re seeing the start of commercial Earth observation and LEO communications systems and business models. In addition, we see the emergence of launch providers who are planning to deliver a “launch on demand” service as a key stimulator of the small satellite industry.

The other panelists echoed Paffett’s comments—Sabripour stating that “the space industry is a beacon for young minds” and that the “prospects for using space for the growth and prosperity of humanity is only just beginning.” All of the panelists linked the growth in the small satellite industry to the growing need for space-based data, which can be used to create data applications and valuable knowledge. Barna commented, “It’s not about space, it’s about the data and what we can do with it.”

One area that was discussed at length in this and other panel sessions was the increasing importance of space situational awareness (SSA) and the associated need for space resiliency. Colonel Wille said that “LEO smallsat constellations are game-changing.” Wille also stated the importance of “predictive knowledge for space operations,” acknowledging, however, that the risk of space debris is making SSA more challenging.

Paffett discussed the fact that most of the technology building blocks required to implement space debris removal missions have already been demonstrated, and the remaining challenges are largely regulatory. The panel recognized the tension that exists between government regulations and commercial organizations and noted that it is essential to get the balance right to establish rules that encourage responsibility and that can be policed but do not stifle the growth of the industry.

All of the panelists were in agreement about the need for new talent to develop the innovative ideas and framework that will enable the space industry to flourish in the coming years and decades. The thirst for knowledge about our planet and for space-based information that can be used to support an array of diverse human needs means that it is definitely an exciting time for the next generation of talented space leaders.


23 April 20150 Comments1 Comment

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