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Space Business & Investing
Cosmic dividends...

I'm often surprised by how often people are surprised to learn that there exists a large commercial space industry. Historically, most space profits came from companies working down in our industrial infrastructure, which is mostly unseen by the general public. For example, the distribution of TV programs from Hollywood and New York to local cable providers has long been done via satellite.

However, more and more space services deal directly with the public. Home satellite TV, satellite radio, and GPS navigators have become very popular.

Under the broadest definition of the space industry, a detailed estimate reached an annual value of around $290 billion worldwide in 2011: The Space Report 2012 - The Space Foundation - April.2012.

More than three quarters of this involves purely commercial activities and that part is growing much faster than defense and other governmental space activity.

For overviews of the industry see reports from organizations such as the Satellite Industry Association, the Space Foundation, and Futron.

So perhaps you are a small investor wondering if space might offer some bargains with a chance for big growth.

The biggest space money maker is, of course, satellite telecommunications. However, this broad category now spans many sub-categories:

  • Long distance telephone and television transmission
  • High-rate data connections
  • Direct-to-home television
  • Direct-to-home Internet
  • Internal business networks
  • Global personal telephone & paging systems
  • Messaging and tracking
  • In-flight telephones, TV, Internet, movies.
  • Satellite radio

Other space industries outside of telecommunications are also growing. See the following links for information on some of these:

Space Business News



Space Index


Space Broadcasts

The Space Show - Dr. David Livingston interviews leading figures in the development of outer-space commerce. Recent and Upcoming shows.

Weekly, Monthly, Quarterly Reports

Discussion Groups


See the archive for previous articles...

Space Businesses

We list here some of the broad categories of space businesses. Surveys of the space industry include both the space based part, i.e. satellites sending TV to home receivers, and the ground based part, i.e.building satellites and the systems to communicate with them.

We give here brief discriptions of several space business categories and a short sampling of companies in that area. For more complete listings of space companies, see the list links below.

Note 1: Many companies span more than one category. Also, many companies are involved in areas completely outside of space. This is especially true for the big conglomerates.

Note 2: Privately held companies are also included since they are often the most dynamic companies in a given area. They might go public at some date as well.

Geostationary Satellite Systems

If a spacecraft orbits the earth around its equator at an altitude of 35,900km, it will move at the same speed as the earth turns. Thus it appears to hang suspended above a point on the earth. This orbit is commonly referred to as Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) or as a Clarke Orbit after Arthur C. Clarke who first proposed this orbit for communications relays.

GEO is an ideal orbit for signal relays. An antenna on earth points at the relay satellite in GEO, which then sends the signal back to earth anywhere within its "footprint" on the ground.

The strongest economic feature of GEO is point-to-multipoint signal distribution. The best example of this is the Direct to Home (DTH) broadcast system. Here a satellite receives a programming signal from a single antenna on the ground and then broadcasts it to millions of small home dishes simultaneously.

It is perhaps less well known that cable TV, the main competitor to DTH, also relies on GEO satellites. The cable TV business in the US until the 1970s was a small industry serving mainly rural and mountainous regions with poor access to over the air broadcasts. Distribution of programming over groundbased transmission systems was limited and expensive. (Cable TV History: Kansas State Univ.)

Commercial communications satellites came along and provided the capability to distribute 30-40 TV channels from their sources in New York and Hollywood to thousands of cable TVoperators around the country. In fact, the price was cheap enough that independent channels in some big cities began leasing transponders and distributing their super-channel stations nationwide.

This is how Ted Turner began to build his empire. He started with a local Atlanta station and then used satellites to broadcast it around the country (giving rise to the term "super-station"). Later in the early 1980s, TV distribution of news via satellite was the key technology that allowed CNN to compete with the big broadcast news organizations.

Telecom Networks
SES Global

These companies run the really big money makers of space.

Their satellites, either owned or leased, provide long distance telephone connections, TV distribution for broadcasters and cable TV, data links for large companies, etc.

Even though construction and launch may cost up to a couple of hundred million dollars, once in orbit they usually last 10-12 years and pay themselves off within a couple of years. From then on it is pure gravy.

These satellite companies in turn will lease transponders to other companies who specialize in offering particular services using satellites. See, for example, the following:

Direct-to-Home TV
British Sky - COMCAST
Echostar - SATS
DISH Network - DISH
Mobile Broadcasting

Direct-to-home satellite broadcasting appeared in the 1980s in large dish C-band servcies and in digital small-dish services in the 1990s. The DTH market grew to over 31 million subscribers in the US by 2017 and tens of millions worldwide.

Mobile Satellite Phone/Internet

03b Networks
OverHorizon AB
Thuraya Satellite

Iridium and Globalstar are usually thought of at the mention of satellite phones. They use low earth orbit constellations and are described in the LEO Phone section.

Those two companies were built for a mass market that never appeared and they went into bankruptcy proceedings, from which they emerged as small private companies serving niche markets. There are, however, two geostationary satellite phone services, Inmarsat and Thuraya, and they never experienced the bankruptcy traumas that the LEO sat phones systems underwent.

The GEO sat phone had the advantage that they could begin offering services as soon as the first satellite was orbited while the LEO companies had to launch their huge constellations before signing a single customer.

Inmarsat pioneered mobile satellite communications with briefcase sized systems that quickly became popular with journalists and workers in remote areas. The service was always a premium one and not intended for a handheld consumer phones. Company now has over 250k users.

  • STRATOS: Global Communications | Inmarsat, Iridium, VSAT | Broadband | Telecom
  • SwanSat - seeks to launch 3 GEO sats to supply integrated communications links ranging from telephone to interenet.

In the spring of 2005, a telecom in South Korea began to offer a high speed wireless service called DMB (Digital Multimedia Broadcasting). It provides multi-channel TV and other services. Both satellite and terrestrial signals are used:

MSS - Hybrid satellite/terrestrial Systems
Combining satellite with terrestrial broadcasts to provide seamless communications regardless of location or situation (e.g. a hurricane disaster zone.)

MSS - Mobile Satellite Services is becoming the standard term for a satellite communications service that works in tandem with a terrestrial wireless network (ATC - Ancillary Terrestrial Component). The ATC will connect where the satellites cannot reach, e.g. in between skyscrapers in a big city.

  • MSAT Solutions - MSV
  • ATC Primer - MSV - Nov.2005 - ATC (Ancillary Terrestrial Component)
  • ICO North America, Inc.: "The Company is building an advanced hybrid satellite-terrestrial system (“Hybrid System”) designed to provide voice, data and Internet services with handsets similar to existing cellular phones. This system is expected to enable the Company to offer integrated satellite and terrestrial mobile services and is expected to be operational in July 2007."

03b Networks plans to orbit 16 satellites in a medium altitude orbit (MEO) to provide broadband services to developing countries. Service could begin in late 2013.

Inmarsat in 2010 began providing a hand-held satellite phone, called the IsatPhone: Inmarsat Hand held Phone Arrives on Market - SpaceNews.com - June.15.10

Subscribers to satellite phones:

Other related articles:

In-flight &
Direct-to-Vehicle, Phone/TV/Internet
Airshow, Inc.
Datron Systems -
Flynet at Lufthansa
AIRIA inflight television...
Satcom Direct, Inc.

Mobile systems to receive DBS TV in planes, cars, boats, and mobile homes from GEO sats are also now available. E.g.

Frank Kennedy`s Satellite TV (TVRO) - lots of sat TV links.

While the low earth orbit telephone constellations (see below) are struggling to gain a market, Inmarsat has been offering moble phone systems for several years. Although generally expensive and bulky, the sizes and prices have been falling (see the Shopping section on mobile phones.)

In-flight telephones have been available via satellites for sometime and now internet will soon be available as well.

JetBlue offers 24 channel satellite TV for every seat.

Auto/Boat Sat TV:

See also the section on LEO constellations (e.g. Iridium & Globalstar) which are also in use for aviation communications.

Internet / Data
Transmission Backbones

03b Networks

The quarter second delay to and from geostationary sats was once thought to be a fatal problem for the TCP/IP protocols of the Internet. But this problem has, in fact, has been overcome with sophisticated packet routing processors.

The apparent delay to the user is not usually very significant considering the many other delays on the Internet of the same order of magnitude. For interactive applications, e.g. multi-user gaming, the lag is a big minus. But otherwise, the high data rates (up to 2MB/s in some current services) are perfect for downloading large files or for streaming video to large numbers of receiving sites.

There are roughly 5 ways that satellites (so far only geostationary ones) currently participate in the Internet:

  • High rate "backbones" - high speed links between major Internet service service providers, e.g. BroadLogic, Cyberstar
  • Web Cache services - see entry below.
  • Direct-to-Business - until recently, the VSAT business networks used other types of protocols than the Internet's TCP/IP. Now companies like Tachyon are beginning to provide high speed (up to 45 Mbps) Internet links directly to businesses from geo-satellites.
  • Direct-to-home/small Business - see below

LEO internet systems , which will provide both high speed home and mobile links, are in development but none will fly for 2-3 years.

One company, Datron Systems (via its ASA Electronics division), has announced development of a system to receive DirectPC from vehicles. This grows out of from their other business of providing mobile receivers for DBS TV.

Direct-to-Home &
Small Business

HughesNet &
dataBahn Satellite Services
ZapMe! & rStar
Star One - Brazil

Providing broadband internet connections directly to homes and small businesses via satellite is often given a poor chance compared to DSL and cable modems.

However, Hughes Network Systems reports the following survey of consumers:

  • 21 percent are "broadband rich" and currently have access to cable and DSL;
  • 18 percent are "broadband limited" and currently can choose from cable or DSL, but not both;
  • 24 percent are "broadband waiting" and will not have access to cable or DSL for 3 to 5 years;
  • 37 percent are "broadband never" and include areas that don't have - and most likely will never have - DSL or cable.

So there is certainly a market available for satellite broadband in areas in the "broadbanc never" category, i.e. rural regions. However, Direct-to-home TV not only found a big market in rural areas, it also has done surprisingly well in suburbs among consumers unhappy with their cable providers.

Satellite internet will also find a suburban market if the prices are similar to terrestrial levels. (Note that, unlike the failed satellite phone systems such as Iridium, DTH prices are very competitive with the alternative, i.e. cable TV.)

DirecPC , a spinoff of Hughes DirecTV, was the first to provide Internet links to the home in the US but it is only a 1-way satellite connection. The satellite only provides the downlink segment. Uploading from the user is still by telephone modem. The downlink can be up to 400kps.

Now, Hughes is offering 2-way broadband via its HugesNet program. The cost will be around $60 per month plus the one time cost of a dish and installation fee. The monthly cost is comparable to the current $50 range for DSL and cable broadband.

The large number of projects that rose up to provide satellite broadband for 2-way direct-to-home & small business internet services have been hit hard by the telecom recession. The ones with satellites orbit are adding subscribers but not as fast as hoped. Those without satellites in orbit are trying to stay alive while the launches are delayed.

The services that are currently available use satellites that are in GEO orbit (so there are noticable delays in response) and use lower frequency Ku band transponders. The systems were not designed for providing large numbers of users with broadband 2 way communications.

Newer Ka band satellites with higher bandwidths would have been launched in the next year or so but with the financial crisis they may be delayed indefinitely.

Here are some DTH internet companies and projects:

  • Inmarsat - in addition to their mobile phones, Inmarsat also offers some attache case sized Internet systems. Too expensive for home use but good for your sailing boat or summer house in the mountains.
  • StarBand Communication -this VSAT company received investments from EchoStar and Microsoft for this 2-way broadband internet system that began in 2000. It has about 40k subscribers as of Spring 2002. EchoStar pulled out of the company to focus on its merger with DirecTV. This caused major disruption in its operations and it had to go into bankruptcy to re-organize. However, it appears to be a temporary condition and service continues.
  • HughesNet- Hughes 2-way internet for small businesses and consumers.
  • SkyWay USA - Highspeed Broadband Solutions - downloads via satellite, uplink via phone lines.
  • WildBlue (formerly iSky) now has satellites under construction for direct to home (or small business) 2-way services with performance/price in similar range as DSL.
  • Tachyon now offers 2-way service but prices are aimed more towards small businesses than home use.
  • EuropeOnline - up to 2MB/s


Web Cache

While light fiber ground lines are offering faster and faster speeds, your net downloads can still grind to a crawl if the server of the information you want is overwhelmed by requests.

One approach to solving these slowdowns is to distribute copies of the latest versions of these popular pages around the Internet. Then the page can be retrieved quickly from the local site.

Preferably the caching takes place as close to the user as possible (or as close to the edge as they say) , typically at an ISP or a large intranet.

This caching of web pages is offering opportunities for third party companies. These companies will maintain the ISP cache banks for a fee.

The startups listed here are using satellites to distribute the web data to the caches at ISPs. They take advantage of the point-to-multipoint capability of satellite communications cheaply to distribute pages to many sites at simultaneously.

Streaming of video and audio, e.g. RealMedia, also takes up lots of bandwidth, especially for live events where many users require service simultaneously. Satellite distribution of streams is therefore another market that these companies are seeking.

This service became a hot area towards the end of the dot.com area but at this time (2009), I can't find any firms specializing in it.

Satellite Radio
XM Radio

This space communication business, which opened in the US in the autumn of 2001, provides CD quality digital radio to subscribers. In the US the service is aimed primarily for mobile applications.

Worldspace aims at the developing world with digital radio. It relies on public radio and advertising based services rather than subscription.

[Note that the 3 Sirius satellites are not in geostationary orbit but in large ellipitical orbits. The sats are spaced along the orbits so as to keep at least two satellites always visible from North American. This type of orbit puts the sats at apogee at higher latitudes than the geosats, which must reside directly above the equator and so from North American are visible towards the south.]

As of the summer of 2008, total subscribers to the two US serves totaled over 18 million. Despite this, neither company had been profitable due to the high cost of recruiting new subscribers and paying very high fees for big name personalities, sporting broadcasts, etc. So the two companies decided to merge and use the resulting elimination of redundant capabilities to reach profitability. After more than a year of regulatory review, the merger was finally approved in July 2008.

Technical and historical info at:


See archive for more articles on Satellite Radio

Continue to
  • LEO + Support Space Businesses - information & links concerning businesses that rely on satellites in low and medium altitude orbits. Also, links to various businesses, such as those that build ground stations, that support the systems based in space.

  • New Space Businesses - information about newly developed space businesses outside of the telecommunication area such as remote sensing. Also, info on proposed space businesses such as lunar and asteroid projects.

  • Space Business Resources - various resources related to space businesses such as links to space investment sites, research reports, etc.


The Art of C. Sergent Lindsey



Space Foundation:
2012 Space Reportt
Total world space revenue for 2011:
$290 billion
Commercial Infrastructure:
$106 billion
US Govt
$47 billion
Int. Govt Budgets
$25 billion
Commercial Space Products & Services
$110 billion




Hobbyists Create a
Multi-Billion Dollar
Space Industry

In the late 1970's people driving in the US countryside began to notice strange bowl shaped objects appearing on lawns and hillsides. About 3 meters wide, the dishes pointed blankly at the sky.

H. Taylor Howard, a former Stanford professor, created in 1976 the first home-built system for receiving satellite transmissions. He found that he could pick up the TV programs distributed to cable TV companies (see below) as well as other signals in the so-called C-Band. His innovation grew into an industry as tinkerers, hams and electronic hobbyists began to build their own satellite TV systems. Eventually companies arose to provide general consumers with off-the-shelf systems.

Distribution of TV programming via satellite had revolutionized the cable industry in the 1970's. It allowed Hollywood and New York media centers to provide dozens of channels to the cable companies who previously could only obtain a handfull of channels via terrestrial microwave transmissions.

Initially, the home C-band hobbyists who were grabbing these programs were treated as pirates. However, most of the receivers were in rural areas without access to either cable or broadcast TV. Eventually the number of C-band users reached about 2 million in the US.

Seeing this large market, companies such as Hughes and Echostar were motivated to begin their Ku band direct-to-home (DTH) TV satellite services, which provide hiqh quality digital signals via small dishes of less than a meter wide.

There are now more than 30 million DTH satellite TV subscribers in the US.

The number of C-band users has dropped significantly but continues as a hobby (see the TVRO section.)

We should thank such hobbyists for spawning the hugely successful DTH industry in the US and around the world.

We hope to see many more such industries arise from space hobbies.



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