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November 26, 2018

Group eyes global ‘nanosatellite’ market as opportunity for Maine

Courtesy / Maine Space Grant Consortium
Courtesy / Maine Space Grant Consortium

The Maine Space Grant Consortium is looking at the growing global nanosatellite market as an opportunity for Maine interests.

The market study, funded by grants from the Maine Technology Institute and NASA EPSCoR (Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research), is focused on establishing a "Space Entrepreneur and Innovation Complex" in order to build on existing economic activity and attracting new companies for the nanosatellite industry.

According to a news release from the Augusta-based consortium, nanosatellites are small satellites that can be launched into orbit by small to medium thrust, low-cost rockets to conduct sensing, technological or communication functions. According to the release, the market value of nanosatellites was $720 million in 2017 and is projected to reach $3.5 billion in 2022 largely due to their use in a broad range of commercial applications in all regions of the world.

The industry's low-cost aspect is expected to "dramatically" increase the amount of information that can be acquired, which can then be used to benefit non-space industries such as marine sciences, forestry and agriculture, ocean transportation, security and law enforcement.

"Because of their relatively low cost, nanosatellites can be developed, built and launched by a wide range of interested parties, from school groups, to the largest aerospace companies," says the release, which cites potential data-analysis users like the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland and Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay.

"Data analytics requires the space sector professionals working with the end-users to understand what useful service to provide," the release says. "This wide use will attract research and development companies, startups, manufacturers, data analysis professional, launch providers, and suppliers to Maine Space Entrepreneur and Innovation Complex to capitalize on new opportunities utilizing nanosatellites."

Maine sites with a jump on the opportunity

The concept for the complex — based on Maine's existing aerospace economic activity, geographical location, and infrastructure at Brunswick Landing and Loring Commerce Centre — came about during discussions convened by the consortium in 2017, the release says. The consortium subsequently held "visioneering" workshops that included representatives from the education, government and private sectors, including NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration.

It was determined that existing resources at Brunswick Landing and the Loring Commerce Centre "will significantly reduce capital costs and accelerate development," the release says. At least two companies in Maine are already focused on launch vehicles, the release says: VALT Enterprises in Sanford is developing small, low-cost launch vehicles; bluShift Aerospace, in TechPlace at Brunswick Landing, has designed and is testing a rocket engine fueled by a sustainable product.

Maine also has an existing supply chain that services the aerospace industry, including such companies as Arundel Machine Tool, PTE Precision Manufacturing, Brunswick Aviation Services, Albion Manufacturing and C&L Aviation Group. Greisen Aerospace, at TechPlace, specializes in the design and manufacture of tooling and satellite ground support equipment.

The consortium is a 501(c)(3) corporation and a member of the national network of consortia in all 50 states plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. The network is funded by NASA's National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program, established by Congress in 1988 to contribute to the nation's science and engineering enterprise.

Maine Space Grant Consortium Executive Director Terry Shehata told the Bangor Daily News that project backers will likely know by next fall if the project is possible.

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