Space Forecast Predicts Satellite Production Boom

PARIS - A10-year forecast of satellite and launcher markets has good news and bad newsfor hardware manufacturers: There will be many more satellites to build andlaunch, but the average manufacturing and launch price will increase onlymarginally, if at all, and may even drop after accounting for inflation.

The 12thWorld Market Survey of satellite construction and launch trends produced byEuroconsult of Paris looks at the likely government and commercial satelliteand launchlandscape for the 10 years ending in 2018 and compares it to the 10 yearsending in 2008.

Taking allmarkets - commercial, civil government and military - combined, the averagesatellite mass is likely to drop by 5 percent, to 4,166 pounds (1,890 kg), inthe coming 10 years compared to the previous period, Euroconsult concludes.

But whilethe average satellite built in the next decade will lose weight, the numberof satellites will increase. The study concludes that 1,185 spacecraft willbe launched in the next 10 years, a 47 percent increase over the 10 yearsending in 2008.

The averagesatellite price over the next decade will be $99 million, compared to $97million in the past 10 years. The per-satellite launch price is predicted to remainflat, at $51 million, according to Euroconsult.

Thereport?s principal author, Rachel Villain, said the increased participation ofemerging-market economies such as India and China in the overall space marketwill continue to exert downward pressure on launch and satellite prices. Thefigures do not include microsatellites weighing less than 88 pounds (40 kg) atlaunch, nor do they include classifiedmilitary satellites, principally from the United States and Russia.

Thecommercial satellite market does not share all the trends of the overallmarket, according to Euroconsult. The report assumes that all three mobilevoice and data low-orbiting satellite constellations - Globalstar, Iridium andOrbcomm - will be replaced with second-generation systems. Adding these threesystems into the general data mix tends to skew the figures because these threecompanies alone will account for the launch of 130-160 satellites.

For thecore commercial market - telecommunications satellites in geostationary orbit -Euroconsult forecasts a growth of 15 percent, to 234, in the number ofsatellites to be launched between 2009 and 2018.

Instead ofgetting lighter along with the rest of the satellite market, commercialspacecraft, on average, will continue to get heavier. It is partly for thisreason - heavier satellites carry more payload - that the total market value ofthese commercial satellites will increase by 28 percent over the decade. Eventhis increase is not much when stretched over 10 years, especially if it isdistributed across a satellite population that is growing by 15 percent.

Euroconsultforecasts that the increased average weight of a commercial geostationarysatellite will occur especially at the upper end of the scale. Among thecurrent crop of commercial telecommunicationssatellites under construction are several consumer broadband and mobilevoice and data spacecraft weighing well over 13,277 pounds (6,000 kg).

Euroconsultfound that 3 percent of commercial satellites currently on order and scheduledfor launch by 2011 will weigh more than 14,330 pounds (6,500 kg) at launch.Between 2012 and 2018, the report says, 13 percent of all commercialtelecommunications satellites will weigh more than 14,330 pounds, while another27 percent will weigh between 12,125 pounds and 14,330 pounds (5,500-6,500 kg).

These figuresexclude Russian-built satellites that are designed to be launched only byRussian Proton rockets directly into geostationary orbit. Most non-Russiantelecommunications satellites are heavier than their Russian counterparts andare placed into a transfer orbit by their launch vehicle. They then use theirown fuel to climb into final geostationary position.

IfEuroconsult is correct, 40 percent of geostationary satellites ordered between2012 and 2018 will weigh more than 12,125 pounds, compared to 29 percent in thepast three years and just 17 percent earlier this decade.

Satellitesin the lowest weight class for geostationary orbit - 1,500 kilograms to 3,500kilograms - will retain their current market share of 24 percent, according toEuroconsult. The midrange class of spacecraft, between 7,716 pounds (3,500 kg)and 12,125 pounds, will lose market share. Such satellites represent 47 percentof commercial geostationary satellites currently under construction. They areexpected to account for 36 percent of the spacecraft built between 2012 and2018.

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Charles Q. Choi
Contributing Writer

Charles Q. Choi is a contributing writer for and Live Science. He covers all things human origins and astronomy as well as physics, animals and general science topics. Charles has a Master of Arts degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, School of Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of South Florida. Charles has visited every continent on Earth, drinking rancid yak butter tea in Lhasa, snorkeling with sea lions in the Galapagos and even climbing an iceberg in Antarctica. Visit him at