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Is the satellite industry entering a “low-cost” era?

6 episodes
  • 1
    Satellites: a new service sector?
  • 2
    Research: observing climate change from space
  • 3
    Sustainable fuel for satellite propulsion
  • 4
    Defence: the European strategy against spatial collisions
  • 5
    Lasers to shift the trajectory of satellites in the sky
  • 6
    Nanosatellites: more than an educational tool?
Épisode 1/6
On April 27th, 2021
4 mins reading time
Murielle Lafaye
Murielle Lafaye
Head of the Economic Intelligence Pole and Project Manager of the Observatory of Space Economy at the CNES

Key takeaways

  • In 2019, 95% of investments in the space sector were made by public bodies but, with the rise of private players such as SpaceX or Planet, public ownership is decreasing.
  • However, states are not giving up on space: they simply prefer to buy satellites or services directly from third-party companies, which they often subsidise.
  • As such, Murielle Lafaye, head of the Economic Intelligence Unit at CNES explains how space is becoming more accessible, but not yet entirely privatised.
Épisode 2/6
Cyril Crevoisier, CNRS Research Director at the Dynamic Meteorology Laboratory (LMD*) at the École Polytechnique (IP Paris)
On April 27th, 2021
4 mins reading time
Cyril Crevoisier
Cyril Crevoisier
CNRS Research Director at the Dynamic Meteorology Laboratory (LMD*) at the École Polytechnique (IP Paris)

Key takeaways

  • Satellites are not only used to discover space, they are also used to better understand our own planet.
  • While Earth Science research attempts to answer such vast riddles as the origin of our planet, it is also used to quantify and monitor the evolution of global warming.
  • Sea levels, radiation levels, crop conditions and soil moisture are measured over the long term.
  • All European data collected by the Copernicus programme are freely available online.
Épisode 3/6
Sophy Caulier, Independant journalist
On April 27th, 2021
4 mins reading time
Ane Aanesland
Ane Aanesland
CEO and co-founder of ThrustMe

Key takeaways

  • Space pollution due to debris is a well-known problem for both experts in the sector and the general public.
  • To remedy this, the company ThrustMe has developed an electric engine designed to keep satellites in orbit as long as possible and to return them to Earth at the end of their life.
  • The chosen fuel is solid iodine, which reduces costs by a factor of 40! €1M euros would be enough to propel an entire constellation.
Épisode 4/6
Sophy Caulier, Independant journalist
On April 27th, 2021
4 mins reading time
Pascal Faucher
Pascal Faucher
President of the European Union Member States Consortium on Space Surveillance and Tracking

Key takeaways

  • Today, one in two low-Earth orbit collisions is due to just two events: the deliberate destruction of a Chinese satellite in 2007 and the collision between two Russian and American satellites in 2009.
  • This debris forces ground crews to conduct avoidance manoeuvres: in 2020, Europeans had to perform 31 such manoeuvres.
  • To address the problem of space debris, Europe will launch the European Union Space Surveillance and Tracking (EU SST) in May 2021.
  • The aim is to protect Europe's space infrastructure from collisions; intentional or accidental.
Épisode 5/6
Sophy Caulier, Independant journalist
On April 27th, 2021
4 mins reading time
Christophe Bonnal
Christophe Bonnal
Space debris expert at the CNES launchers department

Key takeaways

  • According to Christophe Bonnal, a space debris expert at CNES, there are now more than 130 million objects larger than 1 mm in orbit.
  • However, it takes more than 1,000 years for debris to come down from 1,000 km: it therefore remains in orbit for a very long time, with a high risk of collision.
  • Experts are therefore putting in place solutions to neutralise this debris: nanosatellites can be grafted on to them to deflect their trajectories and avoid collisions.
  • Clouds of nanoparticles can also be vaporised to slow them down: a variation of one second in a 90-minute orbit can be enough to avoid a collision.
  • Another solution is to use lasers to incise the surface of the debris to generate a plume of gas that can deflect its trajectory.
Épisode 6/6
Antoine Tavant, Technical Director of the Space Centre at École polytechnique (IP Paris)
On April 27th, 2021
4 mins reading time
Antoine Tavant
Antoine Tavant
Technical Director of the Space Centre at École polytechnique (IP Paris)

Key takeaways

  • A nanosatellite can weigh up to 6,000 times less than a “standard” telecommunications satellite. This raises the question: what can you do in space with such a light object?
  • The interest in nanosatellites lies largely in their ability to be sent in constellations; one of the reasons why the number of launches has increased more than tenfold since 2013.
  • Their plug-and-play nature is also one of their major assets, as is their low cost.
  • All of this makes nanosatellites an excellent teaching tool for university projects such as the one at the École Polytechnique Space Centre.

Contributors

Cyril Crevoisier

Cyril Crevoisier

CNRS Research Director at the Dynamic Meteorology Laboratory (LMD*) at the École Polytechnique (IP Paris)

Cyril Crevoisier and his team study atmospheric climate variables, and greenhouse gases in particular, using spatial and airborne observations. He is a Research director at the CNRS, and head of the "Atmosphere, biosphere and climate by remote sensing" team at the Dynamic Meteorology Laboratory (*LMD: a joint research unit of CNRS, École Polytechnique - Institut Polytechnique de Paris, ENS, Sorbonne University). He also chairs the Scientific Committee for Earth Sciences at the National Center for Space Studies (CNES).

Sophy Caulier

Sophy Caulier

Independant journalist

Sophy Caulier has a degree in Literature (University Paris Diderot) and in Computer science (University Sorbonne Paris Nord). She began her career as an editorial journalist at 'Industrie & Technologies' and then at 01 Informatique. She is now a freelance journalist for daily newspapers (Les Echos, La Tribune), specialised and non-specialised magazines and websites. She writes about digital technology, economics, management, industry and space. Today, she writes mainly for Le Monde and The Good Life.

Antoine Tavant

Antoine Tavant

Technical Director of the Space Centre at École polytechnique (IP Paris)

Antoine Tavant coordinates the activities of the Centre Spatial de l'École polytechnique (CSEP), which proposes and conducts space-related student projects at the École polytechnique. These projects include two nanosatellite projects and three experimental rocket projects in 2021. These projects aim to have students work on concrete and innovative projects, in line with the current space sector. Antoine is an alumnus of both École polytechnique and ISAE SUPAERO, having started his research at the University of California at Berkley, before doing a thesis on electric propulsion for satellites with Safran at the Plasma Physics Laboratory.