The disruptors shaping SmallSat technologies: The State of the Art Report by NASA 2023

NASA’s 2023 report on evolving SmallSat technologies 

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The space industry is undergoing a significant transformation, fueled by advancements in SmallSat technologies. The recent State of the Art Report by NASA for 2023 provides an overview of these advancements and their current development status, utilizing NASA’s Technology Readiness Level (TRL) standard as a benchmark. Companies are categorized by their contributions to Payloads, Power, Propulsion, GNC, Avionics, and Launch sectors. It provides a general exploration of these innovations, setting a pathway for job seekers and companies alike to navigate the expanding space economy. 

Navigating your space in the industry: Why this matters? 

For job seekers: Exploring career opportunities in SmallSat innovations 

The space industry’s expansion, particularly in SmallSat technologies, opens a wealth of career paths. Companies leading in this domain, such as Astranis Space Technologies and Spire Global, are on the lookout for innovative minds to drive their missions forward. If you are looking for a new career in space, understanding the landscape as outlined in NASA’s report is crucial for identifying roles that match your skills and passions. It can offer a unique chance to contribute to the cutting-edge of space exploration.  

For companies: Talent acquisition in the Space Tech arena 

For companies looking to hire top talent in the competitive Space Tech sector, the NASA report not only offers a glimpse into the cutting-edge SmallSat technologies but also paints a clear picture of the competitive landscape. This insight is crucial for companies to position themselves strategically within the industry, ensuring they attract talent with the precise skills. 

You can see the whole list here. 

Some highlighted companies per sector: 

Payloads 

Hosted Payloads: represents a collaborative approach to space missions, where multiple payloads from different customers share a single satellite platform. This model promotes cost-efficiency, resource sharing, and operational flexibility, making space more accessible to a wide range of users. 

  • Astranis Space Technologies Corp. (USA): Specializes in providing broadband connectivity. 
  • Berlin Space Technologies (USA): Offers versatile satellite platforms for various payloads. 
  • EnduroSat (USA): Provides modular satellite solutions for academic, commercial, and research purposes. 
  • Loft Orbital (USA): Delivers a payload hosting service that simplifies access to space. 
  • Spire Global (USA): Focuses on data gathering and analytics through hosted payloads. 

Dedicated Spacecraft Bus: allocates the entire satellite bus to a single customer or mission, offering tailored solutions that cater to specific operational requirements. This approach has seen significant growth, incorporating comprehensive solutions that enhance mission flexibility. 

  • Alba Orbital (UK): Known for pioneering the PocketQube satellite standard for ultra-small satellites. 
  • Blue Canyon Technologies (USA): Provides a range of satellite buses for various mission types. 
  • Orion Space Solutions (USA): Offers customized satellite solutions for dedicated missions. 
  • AAC Clyde Space (Sweden): Specializes in advanced nanosatellite spacecraft for commercial missions. 
  • NanoAvionics (Lithuania): Focuses on mission-agnostic satellite buses with a high degree of customization. 

Power:  

Power generation: is crucial for SmallSats, relying predominantly on solar power technologies. This subsector focuses on companies developing solar cells, panels, and arrays to ensure sustainable energy sources for satellites in orbit. 

  • AZUR Space (Germany): A leader in solar cell manufacturing for space applications. 
  • Rocket Lab (USA): Not only a launch provider but also involved in power solutions for satellites. 
  • SpectroLab (USA): Offers high-efficiency solar cells and panels for space missions. 
  • Airbus Defense and Space (The Netherlands): Provides comprehensive space technology solutions, including power generation. 
  • AAC Clyde Space (Sweden): Known for its advanced solar power systems for CubeSats and SmallSats. 

Energy Storage: Given the intermittent nature of solar energy in space, energy storage plays a critical role in managing power supply during orbit night times and peak load periods. This subsector includes companies specializing in battery technologies for space applications. 

  • EaglePicher Technologies (USA): Offers robust battery solutions for a variety of space missions. 
  • Ibeos (USA): Specializes in high-reliability energy storage systems for spacecraft. 
  • Saft (France): Provides a range of battery technologies for space and other demanding environments. 
  • GomSpace (Germany): Delivers power storage solutions alongside its other nanosatellite components. 
  • AAC Clyde Space (Sweden): Engages in the development of advanced power storage systems for SmallSats. 

Power Management: Power management and distribution (PMAD) systems ensure the efficient use of electrical power within the spacecraft, controlling the flow to various subsystems as required. Companies in this subsector develop technologies that optimize power distribution to maintain satellite functionality. 

  • Bradford Space (USA): A leading provider of space propulsion and power management solutions. 
  • Space Dynamics Laboratory (USA): Develops custom power management systems for satellite missions. 
  • Berlin Space Technologies (Germany): Offers integrated power systems for small satellite platforms. 
  • NanoAvionics (Lithuania): Specializes in modular satellite bus technologies, including power management. 
  • GOMspace (Germany): Provides power management units designed for CubeSats and SmallSats. 

In-Space Propulsion:  

In-Space Chemical Propulsion: Chemical propulsion remains a cornerstone for in-space maneuvering, offering immediate thrust for orbit adjustments and mission-critical maneuvers. These companies have a proven track record or are pioneering new chemical propulsion technologies for small spacecraft: 

  • Aerojet Rocketdyne (USA): A leader in the development of propulsion systems, catering to a wide range of spacecraft sizes. 
  • Northrop Grumman (USA): Provides various propulsion solutions, including chemical propulsion for space missions. 
  • Moog (USA): Specializes in precision control components and systems, including propulsion. 
  • Benchmark Space Systems (USA): Offers innovative propulsion solutions tailored for SmallSats. 
  • Dawn Aerospace (New Zealand): Develops green propulsion technologies that offer both high performance and sustainability. 

In-Space Electric Propulsion: Electric propulsion offers efficiency and longevity for spacecraft, ideal for missions requiring significant delta-V or prolonged station-keeping. The companies listed are at the forefront of developing electric propulsion systems that are reshaping in-space maneuverability: 

  • Busek (USA): Renowned for its electric propulsion solutions, providing a variety of thruster options for SmallSats. 
  • Enpulsion (Austria): Offers highly scalable and modular ion propulsion systems for SmallSats. 
  • ThrustMe (France): Innovates with compact and efficient propulsion systems suitable for a range of satellite sizes. 
  • Northrop Grumman (USA): In addition to chemical, it also offers electric propulsion solutions, underscoring its broad expertise in space technologies. 
  • Exotrail (France): Specializes in electric propulsion systems, enhancing the operational capabilities of SmallSats. 

In-Space Propellant-less Propulsion: such as solar sails and electrodynamic tethers, provide innovative means for spacecraft maneuvering without the need for traditional fuel, opening new possibilities for mission design and sustainability: 

  • Aurora Propulsion Technologies (Finland): Focuses on propulsion solutions that require no traditional propellant. 
  • Tethers Unlimited (USA): Pioneers in developing space tether technologies for propulsion, power generation, and de-orbit mechanisms. 

GNC:  

Subsystems are crucial for the precise control and navigation of spacecraft, encompassing technologies for determining position and managing attitude control. These components ensure that satellites can maintain their intended orbits, align correctly for communications or observations, and execute maneuvers accurately. 

  • Berlin Space Technologies (Germany): Specializes in satellite systems that offer precise GNC capabilities for a variety of missions. 
  • Blue Canyon Technologies (USA): Renowned for its high-performance ADCS solutions, enabling advanced navigation and control for SmallSats. 
  • CubeSpace Satellite Systems (South Africa): Provides ADCS solutions tailored to the needs of CubeSats and SmallSats, emphasizing affordability and reliability. 
  • GomSpace (Denmark): Offers a range of GNC components, including advanced ADCS for precise positioning and maneuvering of nanosatellites. 
  • AAC Clyde Space (Sweden): Known for its expertise in developing robust ADCS solutions that enhance the operational capabilities of SmallSats. 

Avionics:  

Focusing on Data Handling and Flight Software: plays a pivotal role in mission success, ensuring efficient command and data handling, as well as the seamless operation of all onboard systems. The following companies are leading innovations in this sector: 

  • AAC Clyde Space (UK): Known for its expertise in space avionics, offering robust data handling systems for CubeSats and SmallSats. 
  • Aitech Systems Inc. (USA): Specializes in rugged electronic subsystems and components for space applications, including avionics. 
  • Bradford Space (USA): Provides comprehensive avionics solutions, including flight software and data handling systems. 
  • EnduroSat (Bulgaria): Offers modular CubeSat platforms with advanced avionics for academic, commercial, and research missions. 
  • GOMspace (Denmark): Delivers a wide range of avionics solutions, including command and data handling systems for nanosatellites. 

Launch: 

Focusing on Commercial Orbital Transfer: these services are essential for the final stage of satellite deployment, ensuring that payloads reach their intended orbits efficiently and accurately. Here are some of the leading companies in this sector: 

  • Moog (USA): Offers a variety of propulsion systems and components for satellite deployment and maneuvering. 
  • Momentus (USA): Specializes in in-space transportation services for satellites, leveraging innovative propulsion technology. 
  • Blue Origin (USA): Known for its reusable launch vehicles, also provides orbital transfer services to deploy satellites. 
  • D-Orbit (Italy): Focuses on satellite deployment and in-space transportation, offering precise orbital insertion. 
  • Rocket Lab (USA/New Zealand): Not only provides launch services but also orbital transfer capabilities with its Photon platform. 

The future of SmallSat, where talent meets technology.  

The SmallSat industry is undergoing rapid transformation, characterized by innovative mission designs, an expanding range of satellite platforms up to 16U, and a surge in launch options including rideshares and dedicated services. These advancements are not only enhancing mission capabilities but also addressing sustainability with policies like the FCC’s “5-year” rule to mitigate space debris. As significant missions like Starling and CAPSTONE demonstrate the sector’s potential, the industry’s evolution signals vast opportunities for innovation and collaboration.  

This dynamic environment underscores the critical need for skilled professionals and forward-thinking companies to drive future space exploration, emphasizing our role in connecting talent with pioneering firms in the SmallSat sector. 

Whether you’re a job seeker looking for new opportunities in this thrilling sector or a company looking for the best SmallSat talent, we are here to bridge the gap between visionary companies and the skilled professionals who will drive the next wave of space innovation.  

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Looking for talent? Contact us  

 

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