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Satellites, the high-tech sentinels orbiting from above, embody the sophisticated infrastructure required for a thriving modern society, facilitating seamless communication, enabling scientific exploration, and contributing indispensably to the intricate web of technological progress.

In the context of the development of contemporary mass-production industries, the maturity phase is characterized by the emergence of new economic sectors driven by the direct utilization of products and the introduction of product-enabled services. Within the satellite industry, the maturation process is evident as both the satellite manufacturing and launch segments, and the ground equipment and satellite services segments contribute significantly to shaping the industry's evolution.

Engaging in the global satellite industry takes significant initial investments from a country, mandating unique infrastructures and capabilities. Moving forward, once the satellite space industry reaches a full maturity life cycle phase, entry barriers will become even more prominent.

It is predicted that the six-leading space-faring governments (US, China, Russia, Japan, India, and Europe) will account for two-thirds of the total satellite manufacturing and launch demand in value.

Serving as technological catalysts, satellites not only enhance connectivity but also contribute critical data for informed decision-making, precision agriculture, disaster management, and scientific research, showcasing their transformative impact on a global scale.

Satellite Applications in Various Sectors

  1. Communication

    Deloitte predicts that more than 200 million smartphones with satellite connectivity will be sold in 2024. These phones are expected to contain about USD 2 billion of special chips.

    One of the latest efforts in enabling direct-to-device (D2D) capabilities is shown by T-Mobile and SpaceX. Using Starlink’s LEO satellite constellation, they have successfully provided text messaging services for customers in the United States, aiming to provide full global texting coverage by the end of 2024.

    The satellite communication landscape is poised for a transformative decade of growth as satellite capacity demand is projected to surge from 3.6 Tbps in 2022 to 51 Tbps in 2032, representing a 31% CAGR. All data segments are expected to observe exponential growth in the next 10 years.

    Expected to achieve an approximate capacity of nearly 200 Tbps by 2028, this growth aligns with the emergence of novel non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) constellations, particularly in the low Earth orbit (LEO). Noteworthy developments include Telesat Lightspeed and Amazon Kuiper, complemented by second-generation constellations for Starlink and OneWeb. Additionally, the landscape is enriched by Very High Throughput Satellite (VHTS) deployments such as Viasat-3, Jupiter-3, and Satria-1.

    Additionally, as satellite-based non-terrestrial networks (NTN) gain momentum on the user end, Juniper Research estimates that NTN could yield up to USD 1.7 billion in revenue for telecom operators. Network operators could also generate USD 17 billion of additional revenue from 3GPP‑compliant 5G satellite networks between 2024 and 2030.

    Anticipated in 2024, the inaugural commercial launch of a 5G satellite network is poised to pave the way for over 110 million operational 3GPP-compliant 5G satellite connections by the year 2030. To capitalize on this growth, the research urges operators to prioritize immediate partnerships with satellite network operators (SNOs) that can launch GSO satellites.

    For example, du's cellular backhaul solution stands at the forefront of innovation, significantly enhancing the capabilities of mobile coverage in remote areas. Through its partnership with Intelsat, it can leverage the full capacity of the IS-39 satellite, providing coverage to the most remote areas of the nation.        

    Moreover, Release 17 will also introduce new radio (NR) support for NTN technology— primarily satellite communications.

  2. Earth Observation

    Satellites play a crucial role in Earth Observation, supporting environmental applications, climate monitoring, and disaster management for public safety. Recent studies, leveraging artificial intelligence in tandem with satellite technology, have unveiled notable discrepancies in public tracking systems, exposing a considerable portion of the burgeoning USD 2.5 trillion blue economy. Industrial fishing, transport, and energy activities are identified as sectors with substantial ‘unaccounted for’ elements.

    The upcoming MBZ-SAT from MBRSC in Dubai (set to launch in 2024) will enhance mapping accuracy for monitoring environmental changes, water quality, and agricultural development. Similarly, aligned with sustainable development goals, Egypt's successful launch of the Horus 1 satellite, with high-resolution imaging capabilities, contributes to their strategic vision.

    In times of major disasters, satellites provide essential global views and precise data only achievable from space. The International Charter in ‘Space and Major Disasters’ has been activated over 800 times, relying on Earth observation satellites for rapid and high-quality responses, especially during floods and storms.

    In the near future, the collaborative endeavor between India and NASA, embodied in the NISAR satellite scheduled for an anticipated launch in early March 2024, marks a pioneering initiative. Noted as the costliest and largest radar imaging satellite to date, NISAR will create detailed 3D maps, offering invaluable data for monitoring natural disasters, resource management, and climate change studies.

  3. Navigation

    In the realm of satellite navigation, the term ‘global navigation satellite system’ (GNSS) defines systems providing worldwide coverage. As of 2023, there are four operational global systems, namely, the United States' Global Positioning System (GPS); Russia's Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS); China's BeiDou Navigation Satellite System; and the European Union's Galileo.

    The future trajectory of GNSS points toward significant advancements, characterized by heightened accuracy, increased integration, and the deployment of next-generation satellites. Innovations in receiver technology and signal processing techniques aim to elevate positioning accuracy to the centimeter level.

    GNSS is poised to synergize with emerging technologies such as augmented reality (AR), autonomous vehicles, and the Internet of Things (IoT), expanding its applications considerably. Anticipated satellite launches promise enhanced capabilities, featuring higher transmit power and improved resistance to interference.

    These next-generation satellite navigation systems will transform space communication, offering precise positioning, navigation, and timing services. Through global coverage, superior signal quality, and support for multiple constellations, these systems have revolutionized space exploration, spacecraft navigation, and inter-satellite communication.

  4. Scientific Research

    Satellites play a pivotal role in advancing space exploration and deepening our comprehension of the universe. International collaboration is key in conducting joint space research initiatives.

    Scheduled for launch in February 2024, the Nova-C mission will carry scientific instruments and technology demonstrations to the lunar surface, significantly contributing to lunar exploration and research on resource utilization. A pivotal moment in lunar exploration is on the horizon, as China aims to launch Chang'e 6 in May 2024; aiming to collect and return the first lunar samples from the far side of the Moon, offering invaluable insights into its geological composition and history. Meanwhile, NASA's Europa Clipper represents the inaugural dedicated mission focused on studying Jupiter's moon Europa. This mission involves an orbiter spacecraft conducting multiple flybys over Europa while in orbit around Jupiter.

    Various satellites also enhance our understanding of celestial bodies' origin, formation, structure, and evolution. Additionally, they enable the study of the physics and effects of phenomena like the impact of solar flares on Earth's magnetic field.

Technology Progress

Technological advancements, including 3D printing and digital twins, are optimizing satellite designs. Improvements in processing power, data storage, camera technology, and miniaturization make systems more cost-effective, easier to launch, and easier to troubleshoot.

Yet, proliferated low Earth orbit (LEO) architectures are steering satellite manufacturers towards larger, customizable platforms, moving away from the 16U cubesat model.

Research advocates are also integrating machine learning into CubeSats for enhanced spacecraft navigation, ensuring precise location determination relative to Earth and the moon, improving navigation and landing accuracy.

In pursuit of extended mission lifetimes, the industry is exploring in-space servicing technology to prolong satellite service. Future satellites may feature interfaces or plug-in ports for refueling, power, and data upgrades.

Thrusters are increasingly becoming a standard on satellites, providing operators with a tool for in-flight safety and sustainable de-orbiting at the end of the satellite's life.

A green propulsion system has been in the works, establishing a revolutionary shift that replaces traditional toxic propellants with a non-toxic, high-performance alternative, aligning with global efforts to reduce the environmental impact of space exploration.

Satellite Industry in 2024

In conclusion, as we embark on the journey into 2024, the satellite sector is primed to perpetuate the strategic frameworks established in 2023. Three overarching global trends are anticipated: the integration of multiple orbits, spanning high-, medium-, and low-Earth orbits; the widespread adoption of direct-to-device connectivity; and a shift from reliance on small satellites to a greater emphasis on medium to large-scale satellite investments.

Projections indicate a substantial growth trajectory, with an estimated average of 2,800 satellites slated for launch annually by 2032. Industry observers outline two potential paths: the establishment of satellite communication technology standards, potentially led by entities like 3GPP; and a satellite-centric approach— involving rapid satellite launches to enable satellite-to-cell services for smartphones.

While the standardization process unfolds gradually, its influence on long-term industry trends is pivotal. In contrast, the alternative approach, focused on rapid satellite deployment, offers expediency but hinges on the capabilities of specific satellite operators.

The culmination of this transformation in the satellite industry is exemplified by the evolution of LEO satellites. Transitioning from a historical emphasis on small-scale models, the emergence of larger and more robust medium-sized satellites signifies a shift towards increased dimensions, enhanced performance metrics, and the facilitation of D2D connectivity for mobile devices. This ongoing metamorphosis underscores the dynamic nature of the satellite industry as it forges ahead into the future.

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