Megaconstellations - flash in the pan or long-term business model?
Megaconstellations - flight groups of usually more than 100 satellites - have been prominently featured in space news for several years now. Media coverage has increased considerably with the numerous launches of Starlink and OneWeb satellites and has now reached public awareness.
Plans for other constellations are also progressing quickly. For example, Telesat Lightspeed has commissioned Thales Alenia Space to build its constellation satellites. Amazon has hired several hundred personnel for its Project Kuiper and published initial information on a small user terminal. China SatNet has also announced its own megaconstellation. This indicates that megaconstellations will soon become a reality.
Megaconstellations differ from previous approaches in several aspects. Until now, satellites were mainly custom-made. Each satellite was developed to meet specific requirements and each satellite had its own task. This made space-based systems relatively costly, as technical changes were necessary for each satellite and large numbers built to one design were rarely needed. In megaconstellations, the individual satellites are much smaller, but produced in larger numbers. Constellations with several hundred to several tens of thousands of satellites are envisaged, all of which are identical apart from technical improvements. In contrast to the geostationary satellites mainly used in communications so far, which orbit at an altitude of approximately 36,000 kilometres above Earth’s surface, the megaconstellations operate in low-Earth orbit (LEO) at altitudes of 350 to 1200 kilometres.
This raises several questions. Have the technical challenges been overcome? Are the megaconstellations just a gimmick for the super-rich, or will they have a longer market presence? Are the business models viable and how do they differ from those of the geostationary satellites that have been used for many years to provide communications services? What does this mean for Germany as a user and for the German space industry?
The Independent Trend Analysis on Megaconstellations, HEUMEGA, investigated these questions. To this end, the Starlink, OneWeb, Kuiper, Telesat Lightspeed, AST & Science SpaceMobile and KLEO Connect systems operating in LEO, as well as the O3B mPOWER system operating in medium-Earth orbit (MEO), were examined.
The HEUMEGA analysis was carried out with funding from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (Bundesministeriums für Wirtschaft und Energie; BMWi) by the University of the Federal Armed Forces in Munich on behalf of the German Space Agency at DLR.
Please be aware that the report is currently available in German language. The English version is presently in the translation process.
For further information, the final report can be requested from the contact below.