Recent business opportunities in space development have sparked a surge in investment. According to Space Capital research, space-related investment reached 17.1 billion US dollars in 2021, with a total investment value exceeding 250 billion US dollars from 2012 to 2021.
Currently, the development of the space industry mainly focuses on the low orbit of the earth. Low Earth Orbit refers to the launch of a large number of small Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites in low-altitude orbits within 2,000 kilometers of the surface to form a satellite constellation. Since satellites operate in orbit, their signal transmission is unaffected by geography and their coverage is greater than that of ground communications. They are ideal for providing data transmission services in sparsely populated and remote areas.
According to the categorization of the Satellite Industry Association (SIA), satellites can be used for mobile communication, broadband connectivity, remote sensing & imaging for weather forecasting/ agriculture/ science research. GPS satellites provide location-based services for navigation devices. Broadcast satellites transmit video of live news and sporting events so that viewers around the world can watch these events take place live and as they happen. Satellites also enable the Internet of Things services beyond the reach of terrestrial networks. It is estimated that the related service market has a business opportunity of nearly 120 billion US dollars.
SpaceX, Kuiper (a subsidiary of Amazon), OneWeb of the United Kingdom, and Telesat of Canada have already invested in satellite network communication services for years. SpaceX proposed the Starlink project in 2015, and it is expected to launch 12,000 low-orbit satellites to provide users with broadband Internet services up to 1Gbps. Starting in February 2021, the public beta test will be carried out for selected regions or users. Currently, satellite broadband Internet access services have been launched in 25 countries through about 1,700 satellites in service. As of January 2022, there are nearly 150,000 active users.
In addition to network communication services, satellites are being used for other applications e.g. remote sensing and imaging and Internet of Things as well.
For example, Maxar Technologies, a U.S. satellite imaging company, provides high-resolution satellite imagery and analysis services for the government.
Orbcomm, a satellite IoT service provider, offers IoT solutions for vertical industries such as logistics in transportation, manufacturing, and energy. The on-vehicle networking device is used in transportation and logistics solutions to track and control remote fleets, check the temperature of containers during the cold chain logistics service process, and send an alarm if the temperature is abnormal. It also sends information about the fuel tank every 5 minutes in order to ensure timely delivery to the designation.
LEO satellite communication is still in its early stages of development. At the moment, up to 3 billion people on the planet are unable to access the Internet due to economical and terrestrial coverage limitations. The low-orbit satellite network will be an important part of our communication technology in the future. Space will eventually become the next infrastructure sector that governments and businesses cannot ignore, and the economic prospects and development challenges associated with it need to be continuously addressed.