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New small launch vehicles
by Staff Writers
Bethesda, MD (SPX) Apr 26, 2016

Several of the would-be launch providers have been around for a while. For example, XCOR offers to place 15 kg into LEO. Garvey Spacecraft Corp. offers to launch 20 kg into LEO. Generation Orbit claims it can launch 30 kg into LEO for $2,500,000.

Recent reports indicate there are roughly 20 launch vehicles that are either ready or under development around the world designed to serve the small satellite market for payloads weighing up to 1,000 kg. However, judging from history, not all of these will be successful. Nevertheless, the level of interest and financial commitment associated with creating new options for small satellite manufacturers and users is quite exciting.

One of the primary reasons for this level of activity is the recent array of announcements related to new constellations of small satellites each numbering in the dozens to hundreds of communications and remote sensing spacecraft. The competition is fierce, and all ventures will require access to launches in the next several years.

Add to this the interest in cubesats for both constellations and standalone missions, and you have an apparent extreme demand for space launch capacity. Although the size and strength of the market for small satellite services has yet to be measured, entrepreneurs are not to be deterred.

An optimistic estimate of small satellite numbers that may be launched over the next four years ranges from several hundred to several thousand. Obviously, some constellations may be placed in orbit with large launch vehicles carrying several satellites per launch. However, there will surely be a need for many single-satellite launches.

Potential launch providers consist of fresh start-ups and seasoned companies. Here is a brief introduction to several potential U.S. ride providers. At the low end, we have three examples of recent start-ups.

Ventions LLC is developing the SALVO launcher, designed to place up to 4 kg into LEO. In addition, there is CubeCab that promises to place 5 kg into LEO for $250,000. The third is Interorbital Systems that claims 40 kg to polar orbit for $250,000.

Several of the would-be launch providers have been around for a while. For example, XCOR offers to place 15 kg into LEO. Garvey Spacecraft Corp. offers to launch 20 kg into LEO. Generation Orbit claims it can launch 30 kg into LEO for $2,500,000.

Then, we have the more established and well-funded providers. This group includes Virgin Galactic's LauncherOne which is promising 400 kg into LEO; Orbital ATK which has Pegasus XL (468 kg into LEO) and Minotaur I (584 kg into LEO); and Lockheed Martin has its Athena Ic (760 kg into LEO). These options tend to be much more costly.

There are several additional potential providers from the U.S. and other nations. Clearly, there are too many companies offering launch services and many will surely fall by the wayside over the next few years.

Fifty years of experience with launch vehicle companies tells us that some will survive, some will morph into other companies and some will simply fail. Only a very few will succeed.

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