SATELLITE 2019: The Business of Meaningful Connections, Washington, USA

Skyrora attended the SATELLITE 2019 conference in Washington DC from the 6 – 9th May, supported by the UK Department for International Trade and working alongside our partner Spaceport Cornwall.


SATELLITE positions itself as the annual exhibition and conference for all satellite companies both big and small and the entire ecosystem and value chain around this industry. The representatives of the ‘space primes’ – the main companies- in dialogue without exception made reference to the new technological challenges and opportunities facing the industry- particularly the advent of 5G and IoT capabilities; yet few of them mentioned the paradigm change taking place in the industry, both from the point of view of the market structure from the consumers to the underlying economy. Most noticeably, the satellite companies that have experienced this paradigm change in their traditional relationships in the market to the greatest degree, had taken the decision to be absent from this event.  


Representatives of the “new space” economy such as Rocket Lab, Firefly, Vector Launch and Virgin Orbit in the area of the provision of transport and the aggregator Space flight discussed the optimal size of rockets taking into account the size of the payload, the price per kilogram of payload, and the actual size of the rocket. Interestingly, as this area of the space value chain market is still developing (the transport sector is dominated by the “primes” and almost state sponsored commercial actors), the main question is the travel of direction of the market and what thresholds or parameters can be or should be challenged. Certain of the representatives consider 1000kg payload as optimal, to achieve a reasonable price per kg, and yet the versatility or agility that the size should allow.


One company had taken the concept of disruption to the value chain to the extreme and has embarked upon a very ambitious project to 3D print a rocket (satellite transport vehicle) in its entirety. While certain aspects of such a concept were impressive, the main reaction from the market was that such technology is still nowhere near market justified, and therefore while it may be physically possible to undertake, the market is not yet ready to support such a technological disruption.


Catherine Mealing-Jones of UKSA addressed the British delegation and reinforced that the UK’s place in space was particularly to be focussing on “a cost-effective approach to space” - a key element in Skyrora’s development strategy. In spite of the scale and size of the space industry represented at SATELLITE2019, there was an awareness amongst the UK Space Sector companies, that in order to develop the market in the UK, there are huge opportunities through collaborating, and beginning to focus on addressing the “white spots” in the fabric of the economy such as the lack of comprehensive legislation around launch.

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