TOP Carriers for Micro-satellites & Small Satellite Launch Market in 2021-202229th Jul 2021
In recent years, the small satellite launch market has seen steady growth. The number of spacecraft operating in orbit has exceeded 3000 and is increasing by hundreds every month. The trend is facilitated by the development of Remote Sensing and modern communication methods — in particular, satellite Internet.
Small satellites are spacecraft weighing up to 500 kg, which, in turn, are divided into subcategories in descending order of weight — mini, micro, nano, pico, and femto satellites. The most common segment is microsatellites (10-100 kg). This also includes CubeSats, devices made up of 3 to 16 cubic sections, rapidly gaining popularity.
This is how the market forecast for the next five years looks like.
As we can see, the demand for micro-satellites will remain, and the total number of small satellites will grow at least four times by 2026.
This situation requires simultaneous development of the small satellite launch vehicle market and creating many ultra-light rockets with a payload capacity of up to 1 ton. This will ensure affordable launches of 1-10 satellites for one or several customers.
Why small satellite launch platforms are beneficial
The cost of launching medium and heavy rockets ranges from 30 to 150 million USD. And taking into account the 6-ton carrying capacity, the owner of a payload weighing, for example, 300 kg will have to either wait for the rocket to be fully loaded by other customers with similar orbit requirements to share the cost of the service among all or pay for the entire launch alone. Waiting can take a while, but paying such a cost is unreasonable. The cost of deploying a small satellite launch vehicle is 3-4 times lower, and small satellite launch providers have fewer requirements for launch methods and location, which is why the demand for light rockets is growing. So does the supply in the small satellite launch vehicle market.
Active and Perspective micro-launchers
At the moment, there are five ultra-light launch vehicles on the small satellite launch vehicle market:
- Rocket Lab Electron (New Zealnd-USA). Since 2018. Payload mass up to 250 kg. 20 launches. 2 failures.
- ESA Vega (Italy, Europe). Since 2012. Payload mass up to 1500 kg. 17 launches. 2 failures.
- Changzheng. Long March 11 (China). Since 2015. Payload mass up to 700 kg. 11 launches. No failure.
- Kuaizhou-1. (China) Since 2013. Payload mass up to 300 kg. 5 launches. 1 failure.
- Virgin Orbit Launcher One. Since 2020. Payload mass up to 300 kg. 2 launches. 1 failure.
In the near future, more private small satellite launch providers will add to this list:
- Firefly Alpha. (USA-Ukraine) NET June 2021. Payload mass up to 1000 kg.
- Skyrora XL (Scotland, UK). Since 2022. Payload mass up to 315 kg.
- Orbex Prime (Scotland, UK) Since 2022. Payload mass up to 150 kg.
- PLD Space Miura 5. (Spain) Since 2022. Payload mass up to 500 kg.
- ISAR aerospace Spectrum. (Germany) Since 2022. Payload mass up to 1000 kg.
- Rocket Factory Augsburg RFA One. (Germany) Since 2022. Payload mass up to 1300 kg.
- Gilmour Space Eris. (Australia) Since 2022. Payload mass up to 305 kg.
Right now, these small satellite launch providers are just planning their first launches, and, possibly, the dates will shift. But it is already obvious that the micro-launcher market gradually fills up, which means that small satellite launches and payload delivery to orbit will become even easier, faster, and cheaper.