The Benefits of Small Satellite Launch Systems for the Client14th May 2021
Modern small satellite launch systems have managed to reduce satellite size to that of a shoe box. As satellites are becoming smaller and lighter, it is becoming economically unviable to launch small payloads on heavyweight rockets. Heavy and medium-class launches cost $50-100 million, require powerful infrastructure and lengthy pre-launch preparation. What can private companies, that only need to launch one or two satellites, do to reduce the price and the waiting time?
That’s where small satellite launch systems come in. These light launch vehicles are specifically designed to launch small satellites and CubeSats into orbit. Such launchers are small, and their fairings can accommodate payloads from 150 to 1000kg and have multiple compartments for different types of satellites or different clients.
But there is more to small satellite launch systems. Let’s take a closer look at their main features.
Vertical and Horizontal Small Satellite Launch System
Traditionally, most rockets are launched vertically from a ground platform. The rocket launches on its own and deploys its payload into the calculated orbit.
However, there is also horizontal launch technology or air launch. In this case, the rocket is attached to the wing of a transport aircraft. The aircraft lifts the rocket to an altitude of several thousand feet into the rarefied layers of the atmosphere and deploys the rocket from there. The solution is simpler and does not require a special platform and a lot of staff, and all that is required is a runway suitable for a large transporter.
You can read more about the differences between the two launch types in another article specially devoted to this topic.
Basic Access and Rideshare
The smaller the satellite, the smaller the rocket that is required. The minimum payload of today’s light rockets starts from 150kg, depending on the orbit, and the launch cost starts from $5 million (Rocket Lab Electron). So, if your satellite weighs 10kg, you will either have to pay the full launch cost or look for an operator offering rideshare services.
Rideshare is the process of launching several satellites on one rocket when the payload is divided into primary and secondary. For this, the cargo compartment must have several parts or different-sized cells. The primary payload owner is considered the main customer, and most launch service cost falls on him. But in return, he gets full priority and control over the launch schedule.
Dedicated rideshare helps to avoid dividing payloads into primary and secondary ones. The launch provider chooses satellites by weight, volume, launch time, and placement orbit. As a result, all clients save money and benefit from a more convenient launch schedule.
With the emergence of new private aerospace companies producing lightweight launchers, the commercial launch market is becoming increasingly competitive.
In Europe alone, Orbex Space, Skyrora, Isar Aerospace, and PLD Space should soon offer launch services. In Australia, this will be Gilmour Space Technologies, and in the USA — Firefly Aerospace and Astra Space.
Considering the competition, today’s companies are consistently trying to improve their rockets, making them less harmful to the environment, more reliable, easier to manufacture and, as a result, cheaper. Besides, companies are increasing their number of available services.
Today, many companies that offer rideshare missions also provide:
- Constellation roll out – deploying entire satellite constellations in orbits
- Deploying satellites into different orbits, SSO, LEO, etc.
- Maintenance, refueling, and deorbiting satellites
- High launch frequency
This flexibility minimises the client’s tasks. All one needs to do is fill out a launch application, indicating payload characteristics, specify the orbit, and choose the desired launch window. All of these make small satellite launch systems client-oriented.