Those attending World Satellite Business Week in Paris a couple of weeks ago would have seen evidence that the space business is as buoyant as ever. There were some rumblings of leaner times ahead but in general the show had the same energy the Farnborough Airshow must have had in the 1960s.

New projects

The talk was of new things and communications satellites dominated. The scale of some projects is impressive. OneWeb plans a constellation of 648 satellites to provide global internet access.

The fact that such large and complex systems are being considered is a testament to the progress being made in designing, manufacturing and launching space hardware. Confidence is running high.

Vertical integration

The nagging concern is that these new systems are tending to be vertically integrated monoliths. Is this because nobody has worked out the properties of the individual bits and the interfaces between them?

For a system to become the mainstay of another it is essential to describe what it does and provide service level agreements or guaranteed minimum levels of performance. For this reason GPS remains useful but not a stand-alone means of navigation for aviation. The right level of guarantees cannot be given.

Do what it says on the tin

Future systems have to be capable of being components of systems of systems. In the world of aviation the post war radio navigation aids stubbornly linger on because they do exactly what it says on the tin. The satellite navigation world is still not quite sure what to write on the tin.

So do those planning these new systems have the right idea? Agreeing industry standards, partnering, cooperation with others and clearly defining interfaces is hard and expensive work. The alternative is to charge ahead with a new system and serve a new market, leaving those already served by well proven established technologies well alone.