There was an interesting article recently in the Financial Times, written by the International Business editor Peggy Hollinger and quoting Steve Collar, the CEO of satellite operator SES, who is calling for consolidation within the satellite sector. His argument is that through greater collaboration and sharing of critical satellite communication networks the companies involved will receive a faster return on their capital investments.
Collar compares the situation to that in the telecommunications industry, where it’s common to share the cost of mobile phone masts and fibre optic backbones. This has led to a situation where rival operators have been able to extend their network coverage while minimising the capital required, with common standards and greater interoperability.
The article points out, however, that the possibility of significant consolidation taking place any time soon is unlikely; national interests, differences in technologies and the emergence of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) disruptors such as Starlink and Project Kuiper all stand in the way of widespread collaboration.
Nonetheless, the article serves to highlight the importance of greater collaboration at all levels in the space sector if, as a community, we’re ultimately to benefit from the opportunities of space exploration and scientific discovery.
Collaboration starts at home
At Frazer-Nash Manufacturing we regularly work with a range of customers that are active participants in the space sector, from satellite manufacturers to research and academic institutions working on a variety of space missions. In each case, we take a collaborative approach to help customers overcome the challenges of engineering low volume precision components and assemblies.
Many of these parts are unique or are produced from exotic materials that can often be difficult to machine, especially to the levels of sub-micron accuracy or surface characteristics required for parts that are destined for use in the demanding environmental conditions of space. To manufacture them exactly as specified requires dedicated engineering knowledge and experience and, most importantly, detailed discussions with each customer at the design stage, to ensure that the finished part will conform to tolerance and perform as expected. It can also require collaboration with our specialised materials suppliers and, where appropriate, other experts in surface coatings or finishing.
Although we’re typically sharing knowledge and experience, rather than infrastructure or resources, the importance of collaboration and information sharing between all parties involved is clear: without a collaborative approach the customer risks ending up with a product that might not meet the expected specification or, in the worst case, fail while in service – something that could jeopardise the success of the entire space project.
In our view, collaboration is a commercial imperative and is key to long term success, both of our business and that of our customers throughout the space sector.