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Blog – Disruptive vs Operational Mission Strategies

Over the past two decades, space venturing companies have lived or died based on whether they chose the right business strategy at the right time. One rather unsuccessful business model we have witnessed more than once is an attempt to enter a new market segment with a comprehensive, full performance demonstration satellite, one that delivers all the same functions and/or capacity as those planned for the eventual operational (service providing) mission.

Such a satellite might be disruptive, but it also might be too late.

Companies that spend a lot time deliberating on their first proof-of-concept mission slow themselves down by trying to make it all powerful and fully functional. In this process, they miss the market entry opportunity. History has shown that it’s often the first operator who gets a working demonstration satellite into orbit that captures a new application market regardless of achieving the target performance for the operational mission.

To be truly disruptive, the demonstration satellite need only be first to prove the new technology works in space as opposed to operating at a commercial capacity.

In addition to securing market share, there are several important advantages to being disruptive. A successful demonstration mission usually puts its owner in an excellent position to seek additional rounds of investment. If done quickly, without obsessing about achieving final performance, this means earlier investment. And the investment money – along with technical lessons learned from the demonstration mission – ultimately enable the company to develop an operational satellite or constellation that is far superior than envisioned at the outset.

At SFL, we have participated in disruptive mission strategies on numerous occasions. Among the more notable of these was Nanosatellite Tracking of Ships (NTS), also known as CanX-6, that we developed in only six months for COM DEV Ltd. The 6.5kg demonstration satellite was designed to carry the Automated Identification System (AIS) receiver built by COM DEV to prove that AIS signals from ships at sea could be tracked from space.

First of its kind in orbit, NTS cracked open the commercial space-based ship-tracking market for exactEarth, a COM DEV spinoff, which now has operational satellites in orbit.

SFL has committed to supporting disruptive business strategies by unveiling a new line of low-cost, high-performance CubeSats that can be developed and launched quickly. Once an application concept has been proved in orbit by CubeSat, SFL’s customer can easily transition to any solution in its complete line of nano- and microsatellite buses for the development of reliable and longer-lasting missions if so desired.