Space Report 2012 Points to Commercial UAV Markets
As it always does, The Space Foundation reported on the state of the space industry in its annual Space Report. The space industry is relevant to the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) industry in ways both obvious and subtle.
On the obvious side, UAVs depend on space capabilities to greater or lesser degrees. All true UAVs (those able to navigate on their own) use space services like the Global Positioning System, even if they also have other navigation capabilities. But that’s a passive connection – UAV use is the same as ordinary vehicle navigation or cell phone positioning. The Space Report 2012 credits Location and Navigation services with $89B of economic activity last year.
Operators may link to larger UAVs through satellite communication. Such links are certainly critical to controlling UAVs and moving the huge amounts of data from reconnaissance UAV sensors strain some of those links severely. But UAVs are a tiny part of the reported $19B annual satellite communication market.
All such services to UAVs are dwarfed by the space-based entertainment industry. The Space Report’s authors valued that segment at $86B. This is where it gets interesting for the emerging commercial UAV industry.
There is very little commercial potential for traditional or conventional UAVs, those that look and fly like large airplanes at altitudes now reserved for airliners. Think about it: what would you pay a Predator company about $9,000 per flight hour to do? Is that Government Accountability Office cost calculation worth the photos you could take of your back yard, your neighborhood or your farm’s fields? No, because current aerial photo operators charge less than $1,500 per flight hour for that, without the airspace problems.
The real money will be made with capabilities flown on UAVs that ‘behave’ more like satellites than like aircraft. Look at the space capabilities market: it’s worth $290B per year and grew at 12%. There’s no recession in space. Much of that money is made delivering persistent, 24/7 broadcasts that could also be delivered from the stratosphere.
Emerging space markets also indicate nations and regions that will logically move to persistent UAVs. Why? Leaders there are generally concerned about commerce and regional issues. Low earth orbit satellites certainly have capabilities in those areas but are not persistent and spend almost all of their time over other regions. UAVs will be a better choice for many needs, like earth observation for urban planning and environmental monitoring. Those leaders also want high tech economies for jobs and pride. Developing an entirely new class of UAVs meets that need too.
Again, these Space Report 2012 figures indicate probable receptiveness to persistent UAVs.