New Markets for Nano & Microsatellites

Portugal is committed to fostering the effort of Democratisation of Space at internationally competitive prices through industry-led public-private-partnership developments of small satellites.

© Nasa

Since the beginning of the 21st century, the world has witnessed a silent but powerful revolution, pointing to what is known today as the “New Space”. Part of this new cycle are small satellites, initially known as “Cubesats”, which are one of the several platforms used to exploit Space for sustainable socio-economic benefit. SmallSats – spacecraft with a mass less than 180 kilograms and about the size of a large kitchen fridge, according to NASA – are also part of the diversification amplified over the past two decades, and that contributes to the Democratisation of Space.

We now live in an era where Space is accessible not only to governments but also to universities and research centres. This has only been possible due to the creation of the “CubeSat” standard 20 years ago. A CubeSat is a small satellite multiple of 1U (10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm), weighing just over 1,33 kg, and including all fundamental subsystem and many of the those also present in larger satellites, but using significantly cheaper components.

For operators, nano and small satellites are an opportunity for fleet management, but for Portugal, they are an instrument for (1) developing system and subsystem leadership; (2) capacity building; (3) achieving national goals in an international spirit.

In short, we are talking about smaller spacecraft, produced at lower costs. CubeSats allow  to cut the cost of development and production to a few hundred k€ and at most a few M€; and allow for shorter development times, in the range of months to 1 year. From simple applications, primarily linked to educational proposes, CubeSats are responsible for many disruptive innovations, moving up the value chain to a point where, thanks to technology miniaturisation, they can now compete, or even replace, established medium-size satellites. Being cheaper and faster in development, means that satellite constellations can be continuously updated.

 Nano / Microsatellite Definition 


(0.1 – 0.99kg)


(1 – 10kg)


(10 – 100kg)

Small/Medium Satellite

(100 – 1000kg)


In this context, Portugal is interested in the development of a constellation of small satellites, enable by international collaboration, to promote the socio-economic development and exploitation of the Atlantic and other bodies of water.

This the country is doing under the overall supervision of Portugal Space, and through the AIR Center, a network organisation created to foster the development of the Atlantic in a north-south research partnership of countries.

New Markets

Earth Observation

Earth Observation nanosatellites can provide valuable data for sectors such as agriculture, mining or the oil industry, and send images from anywhere in the world almost every day.



Timely predictions for natural disasters and fighting climate change are two of the main functions of nanosatellites, providing weather forecasts to all the industries that are directly affected.


Asset Tracking

Using Nanosatellites, we can have precise tracking and geolocation of all types of assets in real-time. CubeSats can identify an object wherever it may be in the world – either in remote locations or at sea – meaning you gain control on your assents.


Ship Tracking

The real-time tracking of the exact position of ships allows controlling the location and status of cargo by communication between nanosatellites and vessels. By tracking ships, companies enhance security, optimise routes, or coordinate rescue operations. Illegal fishing and piracy can be prevented, and environmental surveillance activities can be carried out.


Crop Controls

Images capture by CubeSats have a broad spectrum of applications in agriculture. Through these images, we can control crops and identifying areas that respectively require more or less irrigation and fertilisation. Also, the data from CubeSat can be a crucial tool to estimating the damage caused by weather phenomena, plagues and diseases.

Tracking Economic Activity

Cities economic activity can be evaluated using CubeSats to examine movements at ports, loading bays or airports. Aircraft, shipping or container recognition software can track traffic levels and generate export and import records.


ADS-B System

Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) gives the precise location of aircraft without needing land radar signals. These applications are particularly relevant if a plane is flying mid-ocean, where communications are not always possible. A nanosatellite constellation will work as an intermediary, forwarding these messages and ensuring the tracking of passengers and cargo.


Fleet Management

Nanosatellites improve and optimise fleet management systems, allowing for tracking goods and/or passenger carriers, and increase productivity by optimising routes.