The 20th annual SmallSat meeting in Logan, Utah was attended by roughly 800 people representing industry (from Boeing on down), academia (both faculty and students), US government (USAF, USN, DOD, and NASA) and a number of foreign interests. The 3-1/2 days of talks included presentations by the NASA Administrator, the recently retired commanding general of USAF Space Command, and the head of ESA. There were more than 60 commercial exhibitors and 15 university/student exhibits.
My various random conclusions and reinforced biases from the meeting are:
(1) The military is the elephant in the room and is heavily represented at SmallSat.
(2) Both DOD and NASA are sincerely interested in seeing launch costs go down with frequent launch availability.
(3) Some creative people in the government are seeding various projects to encourage #2 within their operating constraints.
(4) There is a current surplus of launch capability: If launch costs were to be cut in half today, launch demand would change very little if at all.
(5) Current trends in technology favor smaller, special purpose satellites which drive down willingness to pay high launch costs. Who wants to pay $1 million to launch a $50 thousand satellite? That encourages waiting for a free ride on a multisatellite launch for many missions.
(6) The very smallest (picosat) payloads are primarily academic with the mix of military and commercial increasing as payload size increases. Academic payloads are less time sensitive in some regards, but academic careers can be deeply affected by prolonged launch delays.
(7) Several papers suggest there is a market for launchers of 1-10 Kg satellites with launch costs of perhaps $40K/Kg by trading time for cost notwithstanding #6.
(8) Cost per unit mass is an appropriate metric for multisatellite launchers, but cost per launch is a better metric for the smallest end of the mass spectrum.
(9) There is an alt.space industry. It attends SmallSat. This alt.space industry and its members work the system. The various space advocacy groups tend to whine about that which they don’t have rather than go out and get it. They are nevertheless worth inclusion because they occasionally create some interesting ideas and are seen as the go-to guys by the media even though BS filtering is inadequate.
(10) I would pay dearly for a system in my car that would switch my cell phone into a satellite link if the phone couldn’t locate usable cell towers. Cell coverage in the boondocks is spotty, and there are boondocks between Logan, Utah and the rest of civilization.