The Pros and Cons of Vertical Integration for Earth Observation Satellite Operators


Vertical integration is a business strategy where a company acquires, merges, or develops the capabilities to control multiple stages of its production process. This strategy allows a company to better streamline its operations, reduce costs, and create value-added products or services.

In the context of Earth observation satellite operators, vertical integration implies controlling various aspects of the value chain, from satellite design and manufacturing to data acquisition, distribution, processing, and information products based upon the data.

Source: EUSPA

This article explores the advantages and disadvantages of vertical integration for Earth observation satellite operators, as well as the current state of the industry in terms of vertical integration.

Pros of Vertical Integration

Vertical integration allows satellite operators to control multiple stages of their supply chain, potentially reducing costs by eliminating the need for intermediaries. By controlling manufacturing, operations, and data processing, operators can better optimize their resources and increase overall efficiency.

By owning the entire process from satellite manufacturing to data distribution, operators can better monitor and maintain the quality of their products and services. This quality control can lead to more accurate and reliable Earth observation data, which is essential for various applications, such as climate change monitoring, disaster management, and urban planning.

Vertical integration can accelerate innovation by fostering better collaboration between different departments within the company. This streamlined process can lead to the development of new technologies and improved data processing techniques, ultimately enhancing the value of Earth observation data.

By controlling critical aspects of the value chain, satellite operators can differentiate their products and services, tailoring solutions to specific vertical market needs. This customization can lead to a stronger competitive position in the market and attract a more diverse clientele.

Cons of Vertical Integration

Vertically integrating requires significant capital investments to acquire or develop the necessary infrastructure and capabilities. This can be a barrier for smaller companies or start-ups in the Earth observation satellite industry.

Owning and managing multiple stages of the value chain can make it harder for satellite operators to quickly adapt to changing market conditions or new technological developments. This reduced flexibility may make it difficult for vertically integrated companies to remain agile and competitive in the long run.

Vertical integration can increase a company’s exposure to risks associated with different stages of the value chain. For example, a vertically integrated satellite operator may face increased financial and operational risks if there is a failure in satellite manufacturing or data processing.

As companies control more aspects of the value chain, they may be perceived as monopolistic by regulators, potentially leading to antitrust investigations and increased regulatory scrutiny.

Status of Vertical Integration for Earth Observation Satellite Operators

While complete vertical integration is not yet a common practice in the Earth observation satellite industry, many companies have adopted partial vertical integration strategies. These companies may control some aspects of the value chain, such as satellite manufacturing and data acquisition and distribution, while still relying on external partners for other services like launch, data processing and information products based upon the data. Some examples of companies with vertically integrated or partially vertically integrated operations include Planet Labs, Maxar, and Airbus Defence and Space.


Vertical integration offers several potential benefits to Earth observation satellite operators, including cost reduction, improved quality control, faster innovation, and enhanced competitive advantage. However, this strategy also comes with significant drawbacks, such as high initial investment, reduced flexibility, risk concentration, and potential antitrust issues. As the Earth observation satellite industry continues to evolve, companies will need to carefully weigh the pros and cons of vertical integration and determine the most effective strategy for their specific situation.