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When you hear about New Space or smallsats it’s all Greek to you? Don’t worry, ANTERAL ACADEMY is back! 🚀 In today’s edition, we briefly review the current trend of miniaturizing and why smallsats have democratised the space sector. We hope you find it interesting!

What is NewSpace and its benefits?

Traditionally, space technology was characterized by being large and expensive because of the size and complexity of conventional satellites. The cost of each gram launched to space is huge so, due to the costs involved, space programs were accessible only to space agencies or major corporations.

If you think about how much placing a satellite in orbit costs, you must take into account not only the technical development itself, but also the logistic of the launch, including the management and the spacecraft, for example.

With the arrival of New Space, the space sector has changed completely. Nowadays the trend is miniaturizing satellites to reduce costs. This New Space sector is based on developing smaller and lighter satellites in shorter periods of time, so weight and size are very vital. New fabrication techniques such as additive manufacturing are becoming increasingly important, because they make lighter systems possible. The space sector has been democratised and is now more accessible.

What is a smallsat?

The term “smallsat” typically refers to spacecraft with a mass of less than 500 kg. Traditionally, small constellations of large and complex satellites have been installed in space to carry out desired operations. But form the last decade, a new trend has been initiated by space industries where the idea of large constellations of small satellites has emerged in the market. This new idea is become feasible due to the rapid advancements in technology in the recent years. Within this category there are several classifications of smallsats:

Smallsats are significantly more cost effective than larger spacecraft and easier to produce, making them better suited for constellations. Constellations, groups of satellites working together as a system, are enabling new technologies and applications. Smallsats are being manufactured at a much faster pace than traditional large satellites. The miniaturization trends in various technologies like communication equipment, electronics, computing, and sensors has benefited all type of satellites. These trends not only enable to reduce the size of satellite payloads but also reduce the cost.

Advantages of smallsats

One reason for miniaturizing satellites is to reduce the cost; heavier satellites require larger rockets with greater thrust that also have greater cost to finance. In contrast, smaller and lighter satellites require smaller and cheaper launch vehicles and can sometimes be launched in multiples. They can also be launched ‘piggyback’, using excess capacity on larger launch vehicles. Miniaturized satellites allow for cheaper designs and ease of mass production.

Technical challenges in the construction of small satellites may include the lack of sufficient power storage or of room for a propulsion system.

The orbit on which a satellite is placed is dependent on the satellite’s mission, but the most common orbit for smallsats is Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

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