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Surrey US CEO John Paffett Explains Why Small Satellites Will Succeed at NSS

Last month we and many other representatives of the space industry were at the 29th National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, despite the weather’s best attempts to disrupt travel plans for exhibitors and participants alike. Surrey had a very busy week; we met a lot of interesting people and attended many thought-provoking presentations, but one of our most memorable events of the symposium was the New Generation panel discussion “A Fresh Take on Old Concepts.” This is an approach we’ve always tried to engender, and SST–US CEO Dr. John Paffett was pleased to be invited to take part in the session.
The New Generation Panel. Image Courtesy of the Space Foundation.
As a New Generation panel, the session covered products and technologies that will shape the future of the space industry and “expand humanity’s access and utilization of space.” Dr. Paffett spoke about the rise of small satellites in the operational domain alongside fellow panelists Maj. Gen. Craig Weston, USAF, Ret., president and CEO of U.S. Space, LLC, who spoke about in-orbit satellite servicing, and Andrew Nelson, chief operating officer of XCOR Aerospace, who spoke about maintenance and reusable launch vehicles. Before an audience of young space industry professionals, the panel speakers were asked to address how current issues are affecting growth in their markets and the opportunities and challenges that their technologies face.

Surrey is a proponent of new, innovative thinking for driving “next-generation” technological advancements for small satellite applications. Our business originated as part of the University of Surrey, which Dr. Paffett explained acted as an “incubator environment” for innovation. Surrey started very small in 1981, meaning that while we did not have the same level of resources enjoyed by larger space companies, we were able to be progressive and dynamic. We’ve grown on a foundation of innovation to become the world leader in small satellites, and we still actively nurture this entrepreneurial spirit today.

Surrey CEO, Dr. John Paffett

Thirty years on from the first days at the University, small satellites have evolved from novel proof-of-concept missions to highly-capable operational missions that hold their own in the operational domain. The capability of small satellites has improved greatly in this time, and we’re also seeing a significant reduction in costs, making space solutions increasingly accessible for real world applications.

The increasing capabilities and reliability of small satellites mean that there is growing industry acceptance that small satellites can provide solutions for many operational needs, and that while the small satellite market is still in its infancy, there is a lot of potential for growth. Small satellite in-orbit performance and heritage are improving, but proving that technology works in orbit is essential to changing industry mindsets: we’ve demonstrated that a Surrey small satellite will last seven years by flying it for seven years.

Demand is ever-increasing yet budgets are reducing, and organizations are under pressure to prove return on investment. The short program times and launcher rideshare opportunities available to small satellites provide a faster return on investment, and the increasing availability of launch vehicles for small satellites means that missions are becoming more and more accessible to meet demand.

There are still preconceptions to be overcome; while some customers are more responsive to the small satellite approach, some customers are in denial or “in paralysis” about the change in the industry, as Dr. Paffett also discussed in a recent Milsat Magazine interview. However, small satellites are becoming more widely used and accepted because it has been proven that they can deliver valuable data and fulfill many operational requirements. That means, as Dr. Paffett said, “small satellites will continue to play an ever-increasing role in the market.”


08 May 20130 Comments1 Comment

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