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Small Satellites, also called Smallsats or Minisatellite, are artificial satellites with a wet mass ranging between 100 – 500 kgs (including fuel). As far as usage value is concerned, any satellite with a mass below 500 kg is considered as a small satellite. These are further classified into different categories basis their varying masses. Previously, small satellites were considered only as experimental toys, but today they find themselves entrenched in various space research applications. Small satellites were initially utilised for low-earth orbit (LEO) missions; however, today they find application in geostationary (GEO) as well as planetary mission applications. In 2004, questions were raised if small satellites were complementary or disruptive technology. The AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites has been working for the last two decades to resolve this debate. While small satellites offer multiple advantages, their launch rate has been stagnant for a while. According to the AIAA/USU, it is important to establish the value and efficacy of small satellites as a disruptive technology if the market has to witness a paradigm shift in the near future.
According to SpaceWorks Forecast – which maintains an extensive database of existing and future satellites with masses ranging between 0 kg and 10,000+ kg – it has been planned by multiple companies to launch thousands of commercial small satellites over the next 15 years. Recent investments (in billions of dollars) in various ventures pertaining to small satellites confirm the continued interest of the commercial sector in the space industry. Small Satellite systems are likely to assume significant roles in the space industry. They have various applications especially in communications, security, meteorology, earth observation, research and exploration, navigation and surveillance. Earth observation and meteorology is likely to demonstrate a higher contribution in the global small satellite market.
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Global Small Satellite Market: Drivers
The question if the small satellite technology is complementary or disruptive could be answered based on the below aspects, which drive the growth of the global small satellite market: