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Posted in Policy & Regulation, Technology Photo of Tony LinPhoto of Sarah K. Leggin

A Big Year for Smallsats: Conference Highlights Optimism and Diversity in the Growing Industry

Mike Safyan, Planet

Last month, the smallsat community gathered in Silicon Valley for the 2019 Smallsat Symposium. The conference featured leading innovators, experts, and entrepreneurs in the industry who discussed their achievements and the expanding opportunities for funding, launch, and partnerships. Mike Safyan, VP Launch for Planet Labs, gave an inspiring keynote address describing Planet’s victories and challenges in its first 10 years, and highlighting new innovations from Planet, including Planet Explorer, Planet Analytics, and Queryable Earth. Safyan’s optimism about the future of the smallsat industry was echoed by other panelists throughout the conference.

From left: Randy Segal, Hogan Lovells; Dan Hart, Virgin Orbit; Dr. Tom Markusic; Tim Ellis, Relativity; Jim Cantrell, Vector; Dr. Giulio Ranzo, Avio

Hogan Lovells’ own Randy Segal, Corporate Partner and co-leader of the firms’ Space and Satellite Practice, moderated two panels focused on new developments poised to accelerate the industry’s growth. The first focused on the Smallsat Sandbox. Panelists offered perspectives on how smallsats complement, compete, and interact with other platforms, reflecting the diversity of companies within the industry. The panelists agreed that the industry is in an exciting period where stakeholders are experimenting with different views of what the future will look like. Randy’s second panel focused on the cost-savings and tailored launch opportunities presented by small launch vehicles. The panelists – most of whom were looking forward to completing their first launches later this year – agreed that they will need to remain flexible and keep adjusting to the demands of the industry, and even predicted smallsats will get larger again.

From left: Tony Azzarelli, Azzurra Telecom Ltd; Tahara Dawkins, NOAA; Brian Weimer, Sheppard Mullin; Brad Kizzort, Peraton; Chuen Chern Loo, ITU; Tony Lin, Hogan Lovells

On the last day of the conference, Hogan Lovells’ Tony Lin, Counsel in the firm’s Communications, Internet and Media Practice, moderated a panel on standards and regulation. Tony noted it was fitting that this was the final panel, given that regulatory compliance is often the last thing on an operator’s mind. While several panelists suggested that the regulatory framework in the United States should be relaxed to foster innovation and faster deployment, the panelists also recognized the need for some regulation as the smallsat industry matures. Panelists urged operators and other industry stakeholders to coordinate to develop technology standards (akin to LTE and 4G in the terrestrial wireless industry) to promote interoperability. In addition, panelists agreed that the smallsat industry must keep working together, and with regulators and governments, to create an environment with enough certainty to drive growth and innovation for the years to come.

The coming year promises to be another exciting one for smallsats. Hope to see you next year at the Smallsat Syposium!