Subcommittee Discusses Small Satellites

Press Release From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democrats
Posted: Tuesday, April 19, 2016


Today, the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Space held a hearing titled, “The Commercial Launch Industry: Small Satellite Opportunities and Challenges.” Testifying before the Subcommittee were Mr. Elliot Pulham, Chief Executive Officer of the Space Foundation, and Mr. Eric Stallmer, President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.

Advances in miniaturization, coupled with greater use of off-the-shelf hardware components, have contributed to reducing the time and costs for developing small satellites. This has fostered significant growth in the small satellite industry, not only in the United States, but also abroad. Small satellites, also known as smallsats, range in mass from as little as 10 grams to as much as 500 kilograms. They are already being used to provide imagery collection for monitoring, analysis, and disaster response, with more applications on the horizon.

Congressman Marc Veasey (D-TX) said in his opening statement, “Smallsat[ellite]s are contributing to the emergence of new start-up companies that aim to provide rapid turn-around in services and technology advancement to improve and expand services at a lower cost, especially in the area of Earth observation and data provision. U.S. leadership in this emerging industry has the potential to both create jobs and economic growth for the nation and to serve as an important source of U.S. innovation in an increasingly competitive and changing global marketplace. Additionally, universities and government agencies are exploring the increased use of smallsats for research, education and training, technology development, and conduct of government operations.”

Witnesses and Democratic Members discussed a number of issues including, challenges in the smallsat market; how the use of dedicated small launch vehicles would increase the options available for smallsat users; policy issues associated with increasing the number of launch options, for example, facilitating access to Indian launchers or allowing the U.S. Air Force to make some portion of its excess Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) rocket motors available for purchase and use in commercial launches; the need to address the orbital debris problem; and the International Space Station’s unique ability to dispense smallsats for educational institutions.

Congressman Veasey added, “One of the major challenges smallsat users face, after developing and building the spacecraft, is finding a way to put the spacecraft in space, and to do so in an affordable and reliable manner…Unfortunately, smallsat users and operators are often constrained in their choice of launch options due to individual requirements, available budgets, and the unique characteristics of each option. As a result, smallsat users and operators must make tradeoffs between factors such as affordability, schedule, risk, and orbital placement.”

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) addressed the need for the smallsat market to succeed because of its inspirational value, “I hope this panel can shed additional light on possible solutions to providing smallsat users and operators with more launch options, particularly those that are affordable. Because if this Nation is to maintain its global leadership in technology, we must facilitate the means by which our young are inspired to do great things. Small satellites, along with rocketry and robotics, provide the learning catalysts we so dearly seek and need.”

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