The Cost of Satellites
It’s not rocket science to know that the cost of building a satellite is high – it can cost between $200 million and $600 million to send one into orbit. However, in these frugal times, satellite operators are looking for ways in which they can cut costs, but not compromise on quality.
It is a fact that we are all watching the pennies at the moment. It doesn’t matter if you are a mother watching the family’s weekly budget or a huge corporation managing its funds, money is tight and budgets have been slashed. Designing, building, constructing, launching and monitoring a satellite throughout its life is a very expensive affair and can be problematic. After all, once a satellite is launched, any problems need to be tackled remotely. It is not possible to bring it back down to earth to continue running repairs. It is this level of engineering and precision that costs. As well as this, there is the price of materials. Over the past few years, the cost of metals and equipment, software and computers has soared. Added to this, a satellite in orbit needs continuous maintenance and monitoring and this runs into hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, not forgetting the price of bandwidth.
Obviously, once a satellite is built, it must be launched. The price of launches has been a hotly debated topic within the industry, much discussed at satellite conferences. The operators ask why launches are so expensive. The providers answer that if operators want reliability they will have to pay for it. A launch can cost from between $50 and $400 million dollars. Not small change. So, operators are obviously looking for the best deal they can get. Competition within the launch sector is widening all the time. The recent successful launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 with the Dragon capsule on board has taken the company another major step closer to entering the commercial launch market and the company is upfront with their pricing and even lists it on their website. A Falcon 9 launch will set you back $54 million. This is a company determined to drive prices down, yet keep reliability high. Multiple launches also offer a means of keeping prices down and this is something that some providers are now offering.
Now that you have launched your satellite, you must monitor and maintain it. This involves acquiring extensive technology to help track, monitor and control the satellite, plus equipment that enables you to reduce instances of interference – plus the employees to run these services.
So, as we have seen here, launching and operating a satellite is an expensive and even risky business. Therefore, if operators are given the opportunity to look at building a satellite at a smaller cost, they will – and there are options out there. Electric and small satellites both offer cheaper alternatives. Small satellites can enable operators to trial new technology at a fraction of the price, and new all electric satellites that are powered solely through electric motors instead of propellant, making them lighter and less expensive to get into orbit.
Yes, satellites and their associated ground equipment are high, but cheaper alternatives continue to emerge and new technology will enable operators to orbit satellites for less.