Commercial low-Earth-orbit (LEO) satellites are about to witness tremendous economic growth. Last year, hardly a month passed without the announcement of another satellite constellation designed to support Earth observation or broadband communication. Compared to those in more distant orbits, LEO satellites offer shorter orbiting periods and multiple daily flyovers thanks to their close proximity to Earth. This opens the door to an intriguing market, especially with regard to high-resolution imagery and videos produced by these constellations.
The Canadian start-up Urthecast has blazed a trail for innovators looking to make commercial use of LEO satellites. High-tech cameras on board the International Space Station (ISS) orbit the Earth 16 times every day, delivering high resolution images and videos that are then provided to developers along with analytical tools.
Meanwhile, a new concept from Airbus Defence and Space and Teledyne Brown Engineering is taking it a step further. These two companies want to attach an external service platform capable of housing multiple external payloads (for Earth observation or technology demonstrators, for example) to the European ISS module Columbus. Its position on Columbus was chosen to provide Bartolomeo, as the platform is known, with unrestricted views of Earth and outer space. Bartolomeo is to provide customers with a comprehensive service package.
Regular supply missions to the ISS present a reliable alternative to launch capacities that are currently high in demand, new payloads will be installed fully robotically, and the platform provides all necessary infrastructure such as power management, data transfer and a cooling system. The team behind Bartolomeo plans to drive commercial use of the ISS directly in offering a cost effective complement to other satellite missions, even without the involvement of the international space agencies.
To identify solutions and new business models for the future aerospace industry, the new idea competition INNOspace Masters is to award prizes to creative ideas for optimisations along the entire value chain in satellite manufacturing under the theme ‘Satellite 4.0’. It is geared towards small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs), research institutions, universities and start-ups. The competition’s partners, which include the Space Administration of the German Aerospace Center (DLR), Airbus Defence and Space, and Germany's two ESA Business Incubation Centres, will be sponsoring prizes in three categories for ideas and projects at different stages of maturity and innovation.
“In the Airbus Defence & Space Challenge, we're looking for innovations all along the satellite value chain – from concept definition, construction, manufacturing, assembly, integration and testing all the way to launch, operations and evaluation, with a main focus on the application of industrial standards and processes,” reported Dr Ulrich Kübler, Director of Business Innovation, Intelligence, and Future Trends at Airbus Defence and Space.