The space manufacturing market continues to expand due to the increase of satellites in orbit and launch activity, especially as China doubles down to match U.S. production and constellation growth. This ABI Insight highlights key announcements from China’s space sector, lays out the current state of satellite manufacturing in the United States, and provides guidance to space manufacturing stakeholders on what key information to track when identifying opportunities in the market.
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China Is Taking Significant Steps to Grow Its Rocket and Satellite Market
While SpaceX drives much of the world’s conversation around the rocketry and satellite market, China has been comprehensively growing its domestic space capabilities, with the country’s answer to SpaceX’s Starlink constellation coming in the form of the Guowang constellation, which is planned to contain 13,000 satellites. Alongside this, the Shanghai Municipal People’s Government has announced the G60 Starlink project, which aims to build a constellation of 12,000 satellites, sending up 1,300 into orbit in the initial phase. As of December 2023, the Starlink G60 Shanghai factory has begun production, and is expected to produce 300 satellites per year. In comparison, SpaceX manufactured an estimated 2,000+ satellites in 2023.
The Guowang and G60 Starlink satellite constellations are supported by China’s rapidly growing rocket market, which is dedicating significant resources to not only increasing the number of manufacturers and model options due to reduced barriers to entry, but also toward reusable technology intended to reach the market starting in 2024. Examples include Galactic Energy’s Pallas 1 rocket (first flight in 2024), Deep Blue Aerospace’s Nebula-1 (2024), Space Pioneer’s Tianlong-3 (2024), and LandSpace’s Zhuque-3 (2025). These company’s sit atop China’s state-owned main space contractor, CASC, and alongside other competitors such as GalaxySpace and HKATG.
What Does the Space Manufacturing Market Look Like?
Space manufacturing is a growing and lucrative market, composed of satellites, ground equipment, and launch production, with the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite market representing the greatest opportunities, as they are ideal for consistent manufacturing operations, involving mega-constellations of thousands of satellites with life spans of 5 to 7 years, on average, which are subject to consistent de-orbiting for upgrades by operators. Whilst Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) satellites are the most expensive to produce, with high-performance, cutting-edge designs often costing more than US$1 billion per unit, these platforms have a finite number of licenses (with only 1,800 GEO orbital slots) and, therefore, limited market growth potential for manufacturers.
SpaceX’s LEO Starlink network currently provides the best example of the space manufacturing market’s potential. It has currently deployed 5,600 satellites, with the goal to expand the constellation to around 42,000 in total. With the estimated manufacturing cost of each Starlink satellite being US$1 million, the company’s estimated manufacturing expenditure on satellites in 2023 was around US$2 billion and based on the projected growth rates of the constellation, will reach US$6.9 billion by 2030, a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 19%. The company’s launch business is also expected to see excellent growth, with the company achieving 61 launches in 2022, 96 in 2023, and an expected 144 in 2024. While a 30%+ Year-over-Year (YoY) launch volume is unlikely to be maintained throughout the decade, it is indicative of continued growth and is expected to reach around 320 launches annually by 2030, with estimated launch spending of US$23.6 billion. Finally, Starlink terminals represent the third piece of the space manufacturing market. The company’s leadership states that terminals cost around US$3,000 each to manufacture, and with an estimated 346,000 Starlink terminals shipped in 2023, this represents a manufacturing cost of US$1 billion.
Amazon, another mainstay name in the space market, is also significantly investing in an LEO constellation, with the company’s Project Kuiper aiming to deploy 3236 satellites by mid-2029. With the current cost to build a Kuiper satellite estimated at around US$5 million, the total constellation cost will likely be in the ballpark of US$14 to US$16 billion. With the expectation of manufacturing costs decreasing over the next 5 years, the estimated Amazon spending on satellite manufacturing is US$3.25 billion per year. Other constellations to note with good growth opportunities are IRIS2, Lightspeed, OneWeb, and SDA.
Trends to Watch in the Space Manufacturing Market
There are several key elements that space manufacturing stakeholders such as Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), operators, chipset vendors, and technology vendors should continue to track to effectively identify opportunities in the market:
- Launch Data: The size of the launch numbers provides an effective benchmark for the size of the rocket manufacturing market, especially among aerospace companies that still use single-use platforms. Even “reusable” platforms such as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 only reuse the first stage of the rocket, having to replace the second stage, incurring manufacturing costs. Therefore, companies with high launch rates are likely to be the most attractive targets for technology vendors looking to support manufacturing operations.
- Active Satellites/Constellations Deployment Data: While these platforms have already been manufactured and launched, it is important to track constellation size, and most importantly, satellite unit age and constellation update cycles. With most LEO satellites having life spans of 5 to 7 years, stakeholders can effectively map the investment in and manufacturing spending on satellite replacements. Data on satellite and constellation deployment can be found in ABI Research’s SatCom Constellations: Deployments & Subscriptions market data (MD-SATCC-102).
- Manufacturing Challenges Highlighted by Space Manufacturers: For technology vendors, identifying the key challenges faced by space manufacturers is essential to best align go-to-market strategies for solutions. Currently, the primary requirements of this industry are high customizability of product, significant quality control and assurance requirements, and comprehensive cost reduction. Solutions that enable significant improvements to these goals are well-positioned to succeed in the space manufacturing market.