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SATELLITE 2018 Provides a Much-Needed Boost of Confidence for an Evolving Industry

2018-06-18 / Number of views:719

SATELLITE 2018 was a huge win for the satellite industry for a long list of reasons that should have left everyone feeling excited about the future. From a show organizer’s perspective, SATELLITE 2018 saw the largest year-over-year increase in attendance that I’ve seen since working on the event. The “big deal” announcements and new product reveals once again flooded our news feeds, and there seemed to be much more certainty in the air regarding our direction as a technology community 

Where to begin? Let’s start on the ground. Not surprisingly, ground terminals and antennas (and newer models that integrate both) were the focus of hardware technology discussions early on at SATELLITE. Isotropic Systems Founder John Finney unveiled his company’s new all-in-one terminal/antenna in a box that ships with dual beam capability. He also announced partnership deals with iDirect, SES, Inmarsat, and OneWeb. That partnership reunites the original O3b triumvirate of Finney, Steve Collar (SES), and Greg Wyler (OneWeb).

Satellite operators fared much better at SATELLITE 2018 than they did in 2017. While they continued engaging in conversation about transitioning business models and preparing for a future that could very well see data networking become its top revenue-generating product, they appeared to be whole-heartedly embracing this change. The Tuesday opening general session panel, featuring the CEOs of the largest satellite operators in the world, answered questions from guest moderators from Cisco, Royal Caribbean, and Wells Fargo about how they hope to steer technology development in the 5G/IOT/Big Data communications era.

Despite some very tough questions about their continued dependence on video/DTH revenues, operators had to be pleased with the fact that there was a noticeable spike in terrestrial/telco attendees and that they came to SATELLITE with an open mind to collaborate on new infrastructure to support 5G. Operators also had to be pleased with the finance sector’s optimistic views on the profitability of new satellite-delivered products. During a Thursday morning keynote address, Maxar Technologies CEO Howard Lance referred to a recent Morgan Stanley report that the commercial satellite industry will be a $1 trillion market in 20 years, driven by a surge in demand for data networking applications. Combine that with SATELLITE’s record attendance during our Thursday Imagery/Sensing program, and it becomes much clearer that the satellite industry’s competitive spirit is very much alive.

Launch service providers couldn’t be happier. There’s more business and demand out there than they could have ever imagined even just a few years ago. Blue Origin, SpaceX and ULA rolled out big launch contract announcements during the week. SpaceX, whose president and COO Gwynne Shotwell was honored with a standing ovation during her Satellite Executive of the Year acceptance speech, even slipped an announcement under the radar about the pricing model of its upcoming satellite internet service — a helpful reminder that SpaceX is still very serious about getting into the constellation business.

The race to join Iridium in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) has intensified, with new small satellite constellations in the works from a variety of different companies seeking to capture a variety of different markets. Satellite manufacturers face a bit more difficulty dealing with this transition than their operator counterparts. Unlike operators, manufacturers don’t have a legacy video/DTH market to sustain themselves through change. GEO satellite orders have all but stopped, forcing the larger manufacturers to completely reinvent their businesses. Some, like Thales Alenia Space and Orbital ATK, are looking to add on specialized capabilities and products to their portfolio (such as cybersecurity, and in-orbit servicing). Others, like SSL, look to mergers and acquisitions to create powerful synergies (Maxar). Airbus is even talking more openly about getting into the ground systems game.

Finally, the conversation about reusable, sustainable space technology made a noticeable shift, as it expanded to possibilities beyond the launch pad. In-orbit servicing and commercial space situational awareness were popular topics throughout the week — starting with Orbital ATK’s reveal of its new robotic servicing vehicles (MRV) and pods. The reveal was so important that Intelsat CEO Stephen Spengler came up on stage with Orbital ATK’s President and CEO David Thompson and Space Logistics President Tom Wilson to personally endorse the technology, calling it “a significant revenue-generating and cost saving opportunity for operators.”

To add to the space sustainability excitement, the Startup Space 2018 grand prize winner was Dan Ceperley of LeoLabs, a company that aims to bring advanced space debris mapping services to LEO and protect the swarms of new constellations in the pipeline. These are all huge developments for the satellite industry. The SATELLITE team and I couldn’t have been more thrilled to see all of these storylines come together at once.

There’s plenty to talk about leading up to SATELLITE 2019 — and plenty of time to discuss these developments! Next year’s show will be in May, giving us 14 months to digest this new information before we all reconvene. It was a pleasure to be your SATELLITE 2018 chairman and I look forward to seeing how all this excitement turns out next Spring!

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