Proceedings of the IEEE - Popular - Sweeting

Proceedings of the IEEE - Popular - Sweeting

Modern Small Satellites-Changing the Economics of Space

Published in March 2018



M. N. Sweeting


Earth orbiting satellites come in a wide range of shapes and sizes to meet a diverse variety of uses and applications. Large satellites with masses over 1000 kg support high-resolution remote sensing of the Earth, high bandwidth communications services, and world-class scientific studies but take lengthy developments and are costly to build and launch. The advent of commercially available, high-volume, and hence low-cost microelectronics has enabled a different approach through miniaturization. This results in physically far smaller satellites that dramatically reduce timescales and costs and that are able to provide operational and commercially viable services. This paper charts the evolution and rise of small satellites from being an early curiosity with limited utility through to the present where small satellites are a key element of modern space capabilities.