Today, terrestrial-based businesses can deploy an application with relatively small upfront investments using cloud services such as Software as a Service, and Infrastructure as a Service. This allows them to quickly reach first revenue. Space businesses, on the other hand, require large amounts of early capital to develop and deploy satellites and associated infrastructure on the ground before they can reach first revenue. Furthermore, owning and operating satellites and associated infrastructure requires expert knowledge, and dedicated teams. This is where Satellite as a Service comes in.
Satellite as a Service, also referred to as Hosted Payloads, promises to lower the costs and speed up the time to reach first revenue for satellite based applications. It does this by hosting one, or more, customer payloads on a single spacecraft. The spacecraft provides power and communications to the payload(s); and manages orbit station keeping and attitude control. The customer designs their payload using well-defined physical and software interfaces to integrate with the spacecraft. The service provider operates and maintains the spacecraft and associated ground infrastructure. The customer interacts with their payload via the service provider’s infrastructure.
Examples of hosted payloads include: technology demonstration/proof of concept; satellite subsystems testing; microgravity experiments; and earth observation.
Current companies with platforms supporting hosted payloads include:
It is too early to tell if this will be a large or niche market. It is worth noting that Spire Global started out with the intention of providing hosted services on its constellation of satellites but it has transitioned to selling the data which their satellites collect. Also, in 2013 Iridium offered the industry’s first hosted payload service called PRIME and continues to offer hosted payload services. Iridium recently announced a contract with the US Army focused on hosted payload capabilities development.