Report: Starship – Impact On The Satcom Industry (ISU 2022)

Source: ISU


Starship, SpaceX's latest reusable launch vehicle and the world's most powerful rocket in development, is expected to cause a significant impact on the satellite telecommunications industry. Reductions in launch costs, higher payload masses to orbit, a larger payload fairing, and frequent launches are all factors that would individually disrupt the SatCom industry. Starship is redefining all four factors simultaneously.

Industry impact assessments on space-based systems and launch vehicle developments as well as historical analysis help form a knowledge base for SatCom industry participants, , and regulators to assess future initiatives. The rapid development of Starship has given rise to a further assessment. The Telecommunications and Integrated Applications (TIA) directorate of the European Space Agency (ESA) has requested an investigation into the projected impacts of Starship's development on future SatCom business models and satellite design drivers.

The investigation is conducted by a team from the Master of Space Studies 2022 class of the International Space University (ISU), within the frame of the annual Team Project. To develop recommendations on business opportunities for SatCom players and identify changing trends on satellite design drivers, this report conducts a realtime technological assessment – a qualitative and quantitative analysis on Starship's impact across socio-economic, scientific, regulatory, and engineering domains.

Findings suggest Starship's operation, carrying high volumes of payload with a regular launch cadence, will heavily impact the economics of the SatCom industry. New market developments towards an integrated space computing network leverage advancements in cross-link communication between terrestrial and non-terrestrial networks – of which mega-constellations form the backbone for space architecture.

Starship is also impacting satellite design drivers for manufacturers. Larger mass-to-orbit capabilities are paving the way for more capable satellites in LEO and MEO. An increased launch cadence is changing the mantra of high-reliability GEO satellites to one of increased expendability.

Our recommendations beyond the industry, to agencies and regulators, highlight the need for sustainable utilization of this new launch vehicle. Regulators must address the environmental and social impacts of frequent, powerful launches. National space agencies must consider implications of global data connectivity advancements, deep-space communication, and intertwined relations between the private and public sectors.