With demand for Earth imagery increasing, manufacturers are expected to produce more than 200 remote sensing satellites over the next 10 years, according to Forecast International.
The company’s new study “The Market for Civil & Commercial Remote Sensing Satellites” reports that during the 2015-2024 forecast period, the value of production will be an estimated $27.2 billion (in FY15 U.S. dollars). The study covers some 58 remote sensing satellite programs with spacecraft weighing 100 kilograms (220 lb) or more. Sample products in this range include the Airbus Defence and Space MetOp-SG, Surrey Satellite Technology’s FORMOSAT-7, Thales’ MTG and Sentinel, Mitsubishi Electric’s GCOM, Lockheed Martin’s GOES, and Ball Aerospace & Technologies’ JPSS.
Satellite operators will purchase new satellites over the next 10 years to keep up with increasing demand for remote sensing imagery. These new satellites will replace and improve upon aging spacecraft currently in orbit.
William Ostrove, the study’s author, notes that a higher number of satellites will be delivered during the next five years compared to the previous five. The average annual launch rate of civil and commercial remote sensing satellites between 2010 and 2014 was 12. That figure will increase to 25 between 2015 and 2019. According to Ostrove, “This increase demonstrates the growing demand for remote sensing imagery.”
The larger number of satellites will enable more frequent revisit rates by satellites over spots around the globe. Another source of growth for the industry is the rise of small satellite operators, like Skybox Imaging.
Governments remain the most important part of the civil remote sensing satellite industry. Government agencies are both the largest users of imagery data as well as the largest buyers of satellites. Ostrove points out that governments “will utilize both commercially operated and government-owned satellites to meet their imaging needs.” Governments will use satellite imagery for scientific study, weather forecasting, and to monitor resource usage. One of the most important areas for government satellite usage is military operations.
Despite the importance of governments to the remote sensing market, commercial funding is becoming more significant. According to Ostrove, “Sales of Earth imagery data to the commercial market are growing.” This is evidenced by the increasing share that commercial sales represent in DigitalGlobe’s bottom line. Another company, Airbus’s Geo-Information Services division, purchased two SPOT satellites even though it had no government contracts for purchase of the data.
One recent development of note covered by the analysis is the recent U.S. Commerce Department approval of the sale of 30-centimeter-per-pixel resolution satellite imagery by DigitalGlobe. DigitalGlobe followed the decision with an announcement that it will start selling 30-centimeter imagery from its WorldView-3 satellite. According to Ostrove, the improved resolution will enable DigitalGlobe to better compete against other satellite operators as well as against aerial imagery providers.
Top manufacturers in the civil and commercial remote sensing satellite industry going forward include Airbus Defence and Space, Thales Alenia Space, Mitsubishi Electric, Lockheed Martin, and Ball Aerospace. These companies are forecast to garner a combined $14.3 billion in sales of their remote sensing satellites over the next 10 years, accounting for a market share of 52.7 percent.