The evolving as-a-service models in the Space Industry: Explained
As a professional in the space industry, I've noticed a considerable shift from space technology being limited to scientific missions or government initiatives—it has now become a vast realm of commercial opportunities. I find it exciting that, according to Morgan Stanley, the global space industry could generate revenue of more than $1 trillion by 2040. Moreover, space launch services alone account for nearly half of that figure!
"As a service" model has started carving its niche in the space launch services industry. It is akin to having a genie for your business. You gain access to a plethora of services without dealing with the infrastructure. This model is convenient, scalable, and offers cost-effectiveness on a pay-per-use basis.
I've observed how space-as-a-service has gained traction within this expansive market, establishing a new standard for businesses and organizations to access and utilize space-based technologies and infrastructure.
Commonly, the space industry sees activities divided into three broad areas:
This article will primarily focus on the Space Segment aspect. The Space Segment (especially in LEO) concerns itself with data collection and transmission, enabling communication, facilitating scientific observations, monitoring Earth's surface, and providing a plethora of space-based applications.
Various as-a-service models in the space industry
Various institutions and companies are already harnessing space data for scientific research, studying climate patterns, optimizing supply chains, or conducting geological surveys. Space serviced data, analytics and services are disrupting the market, giving businesses and organizations the ability to access space-based technologies and infrastructure on demand without the need for considerable investments in spacecraft, satellites, or ground infrastructure. I believe, like any novel concept, this model is still finding its way and dealing with unique challenges inherent in the space industry. From technological integration hurdles to regulatory complexities, numerous cosmic obstacles must be overcome.
For any as-a-service model to emerge, there must be a broad demand and focused supply. Unlike traditional space sector companies, which have been vertically integrated, the emergence of new space companies with specialized capabilities is looking to cater to the burgeoning demand - with an as-a-service model.
The as-a-service model eliminates the need for companies to invest heavily in their own space-based infrastructure, such as satellites or launch vehicles. It allows access to advanced, capex-heavy, space-based technologies and capabilities that might be prohibitively expensive or complex for companies to develop independently.
Understanding the different kinds of as-a-service offerings available today can be complex. It's not always clear what value the service provider brings to the table. The most confusing and seemingly irrelevant of them all is Space-as-a-service, which in my opinion, means nothing. It's like someone providing Earth-as-a-service or Moon-as-a-service. It's vague and irrelevant jargon.
This is my humble attempt to classify various services offered in the space segment:
P.S. This list is probably not complete, and if you can think of any more broad items, please leave them in the comments.
Satellite as a Service (SataaS)
Satellite Platform as a Service (SPaaS)
Satellite Operations as a Service (SOaaS)
Satellite Data as a Service (SDaaS)
Space Insights as a Service (SIaaS)
SatCom as a Service (SCaaS)
Satellite Internet as a Service (SInaaS)
And here are some future services in the making:
Space Data Centre as a Service (SDCaaS)
Space Data Relay as a Service (SDRaaS)
Space Refuelling as a Service (SRaaS)
Spacecraft Deorbiting as a Service (SDOaaS)
In-Space Manufacturing as a Service (ISMaaS)
"Satellite as a Service" (SaaS), not to be confused with Software as a Service, refers to a model in which satellite capabilities are offered on a subscription basis, similar to how cloud services operate. This allows companies, governments, and other entities to make use of satellite data, communication services, and other satellite capabilities without having to invest in, launch, and maintain their own satellite infrastructure.
This term is broadly used within the new space satellite industry and maybe sometimes misleading. Different satellites have different capabilities - such as for satellite communications, earth observation GPS (Global Positioning System) constellations, and transmit signals over vast distances, enabling seamless global connectivity. These capabilities define the exact service that is offered. There is no one straightforward answer.
Much like Platform as a Service (PaaS) in the software industry, SPaaS provides a framework that allows customers to develop, operate and manage payloads without the complexity of building and maintaining the infrastructure (aka satellite bus) typically associated with launching and operating their own platforms in space. The best feature is that it abstracts the underlying complexities of space technology, allowing customers to focus on their hardware and software payloads.
SPaaS supports the ride-sharing model for startups, researchers, and others who want to innovate in the space industry without making massive investments in infrastructure or having the know-how to build and operate satellites.
"Space Operations as a Service" (SOaaS) is a business model in the space industry where companies offer comprehensive space mission operational services to customers who want to deploy and manage their satellites, but don't want to or can't handle the complex and costly task of operating them.
Instead of having to build up their own operations infrastructure and staff, customers can contract a SOaaS provider to handle tasks like mission planning, command and control, communications, data management, and other aspects of operating a satellite or fleet of satellites. These services are often cloud-based and can be accessed from anywhere, making it much easier and more affordable for a wide range of entities - from startups to universities to governments - to conduct space missions.
This is not as straightforward as one believes. When we talk about Satellite Data as a Service (SDaaS), we're referring to the delivery of data originating from satellites — such as high-resolution imagery, weather data, or other types of geospatial data — to customers. This data then becomes a valuable resource for a variety of applications.
Companies like Planet and Maxar have established themselves in the market by selling satellite imagery based on a vertically integrated value chain. While this might have begun as a service, I'd argue it's not the case anymore. From my perspective, this type of space-originated data has transitioned into being a 'product' rather than a service.
In a more recent approach, Space-Data-as-a-Service happens when a service provider delivers satellite data tailored to specific needs (including tasking requests), while absorbing the cost of owning and managing the infrastructure.
However, if a customer is paying to build and operate a particular space infrastructure, in my view, this is merely outsourcing. Important questions to consider here are - who owns the infrastructure? Who builds it, and who operates it?
One thing that remains clear to me is that, in most cases, the owner of the infrastructure also owns the data. This is the crucial position to be in.
Space Insights-as-a-Service (SIaaS) is a concept that leverages space-based data and analytics to provide valuable insights for businesses, organizations, and governments. SIaaS enables users to access and analyze a wealth of spatial information, including land cover, vegetation health, urban development, climate patterns etc., to provide meaningful, actionable information/insights to end customers. With the availability of the ESA Copernicus programme's free satellite data, it has been possible for several space analytics companies to thrive.
While it might not concern the end customer, I think it's important to distinguish where these insights are generated: in space or on the ground.
Insights generated on the ground: When it comes to insights generated on the ground, this is the most prevalent setup. Raw space data is downlinked to the ground and then converted into useful information in data centers. This process suffers from latency, but not all use cases necessitate immediate information.
Insights generated in space: As for insights generated in space, this represents the emerging ecosystem of Space-Edge-Computing. Insights are generated in space as soon as the data is captured by the sensor and then immediately delivered to the end user. This method tackles latency issues and eliminates the need to downlink large volumes of raw data. Companies like Little Place Labs are working to bring space-based insights to end customers in 7 minutes without having the need to downlink raw data.
It's worth noting that the field of SIaaS is rapidly evolving, and new companies are continuously entering the market with innovative solutions.
SatCom-as-a-Service (or Satellite Communication as a Service) refers to providing satellite communication services through a service-based model. This model involves a satellite communication provider owning, managing, and maintaining the satellite network infrastructure. The provider then delivers communication services to customers based on their specific needs. These services can range from simple satellite internet connectivity to complex broadcasting or data transmission services. This approach is particularly beneficial for businesses that need reliable, global communication coverage but do not have the resources or expertise to manage such infrastructure themselves. These services can be tailored to meet specific needs, such as remote locations, disaster recovery, maritime and aviation industries, and other applications where traditional terrestrial communication infrastructure is limited or unavailable.
A few companies offering SCaaS are Iridium, Globstar, Inmarsat, Viasat, SES, Intelsat, Telesat etc.
Satellite Internet as a service
Satellite Internet-as-a-Service (Satellite InternetaaS) refers to providing internet connectivity through satellite technology. It enables users to access the internet in areas where traditional terrestrial networks are limited, unavailable, or inefficient.
A satellite internet service provider sends the internet signal from a ground station to a satellite in space. The customer's satellite dish receives this signal and converts it into an internet connection via a modem. The process also works in reverse when you send data back to the internet.
Future services in making
While still in its early days, these services are poised for significant growth and maturation in the coming years.
Space Data Centre as a Service It refers to providing data storage, processing, and analytics capabilities in space. It involves deploying data centres or computing resources in space-based platforms, such as satellites or space stations.
Space Data Relay as a Service It involves establishing a network of satellites or space-based infrastructure to relay data between different spacecraft and between spacecraft and ground stations.
Space Refueling as a Service It involves the provision of on-orbit refuelling capabilities for spacecraft. It enables the replenishment of propellants and resources in space, extending the operational lifespan of satellites and enabling more ambitious space missions.
Spacecraft Deorbiting as a Service Spacecraft Deorbiting as a Service addresses the growing concern of space debris by providing the means to deorbit satellites and spacecraft at the end of their operational life.
In-Space Manufacturing as a Service It refers to the capability of manufacturing or assembling components, structures, or products in space. It leverages 3D printing, additive manufacturing, and other advanced techniques to produce items directly in the space environment.
As a professional deeply engaged in the space industry, I witness its constant evolution. New business models are continually emerging, and customer consumption patterns for products and services are rapidly changing. The thoughts I've shared here are my personal attempts to make sense of this complex and dynamic world. If my viewpoints resonate with you, I'd love to hear more examples from your experience. If you find areas where we disagree, I welcome your differing perspectives and believe we can learn and grow from this dialogue. Lastly, if there are elements you believe I've overlooked, please let me know, and I'll be more than happy to consider them in my next iteration of understanding.