Swiss Space Systems Announces Smallsat Launch System

Payerne, 13 March 2013 (S3 PR). Swiss Space Systems – S3, a new Swiss aerospace company, was officially inaugurated in Payerne today in the presence of representatives of the national authorities and of prestigious Swiss and international partners such as the ESA, Dassault Aviation, the Von Karman Institute, Sonaca, Meggitt and Stanford University.

S3 aims to develop, build, certify and operate suborbital space shuttles dedicated to launching small satellites, enabling space access to be made more democratic thanks to an original system with launching costs up to four times less than at present. The first test launches will be carried out by the end of 2017.

A Swiss company with strong global partnerships

Swiss Space Systems was inaugurated on 13 March 2013 in the presence of cantonal and local authority representatives, and dignitaries and diplomatic representatives of eight countries. They had come together to celebrate the birth of this new company, which aims to develop and build suborbital shuttles in order to launch small satellites with a maximum weight of 250kg [551 lbs.].

The objective is to be able to carry out the first test flights by 2017 an ambitious timetable, but as the founder and CEO of S3, Pascal Jaussi, said: “Our launch programme benefits from the input of technologies previously developed and certified through original partnerships between major players in the aerospace sector such as the European Space Agency (ESA), Dassault Aviation, the Von Karman Institute and Sonaca”.

These technological inputs from the Hermès and X 38 programs will allow S3 to save time that would otherwise be spent on research and development, enabling it to reach its 2017 target and reduce production costs at the same time, since the budget will be CHF 250 m [$263 million]. This sum would have been several billions if the work had had to start from nothing.

A simpler, safer and more efficient launch system

The Swiss Space Systems launch model uses an Airbus A300, an aircraft already certified for zero gravity flights, to take the shuttle up to 10,000m on its back; the shuttle will then be launched from there. Combining the internal architecture developed by the French company Dassault for Hermes with the external architecture developed by the Belgian companies Sonaca and Space Application Services will develop the shuttle. Discussions are at an advanced stage concerning the engine supplier.

The shuttle drone will take care of the next part of the ascent up to an altitude of 80km, the height at which the upper stage will be launched in order to put the satellites into orbit. Once this operation has been completed, the shuttle will return to earth by gliding towards its launch airport, where it will be taken care of by the maintenance teams who will prepare it for a new launch.

The system developed by S3 has many safety advantages, because the launch can be terminated and the shuttle returned to earth at any time during the process. With launch equipment that is regularly reused and a fuel consumption that is much lower than at present, Swiss Space Systems will be able to offer satellite launches for CHF 10 m [$10.5 million], or approximately four times less than current market prices.

In contrast to launchers requiring a great deal of ground infrastructure, the system proposed by S3 only needs an aerodrome capable of receiving the Airbus A300. All this will encourage the democratisation of space by offering satellite launches to countries or research institutes that cannot afford them at present. Agreements have already been signed for four launches for the prestigious Von Karman Institute.

Development and construction in Payerne

The authorities who attended the inauguration emphasised the boldness of this project, which would have been difficult to realise in another country: Switzerland’s neutrality, security and discretion, as well as its know how are the plus points that made these European and American partners willing to join the enterprise.

The Mayor of Payerne is particularly proud of this new company, which has chosen her town for the development of its business. As she said during the event: “Payerne and its aerodrome was a natural choice for S3 to use as its base. The company would like to build its first Spaceport on the Aeropole, a project which requires an analysis conducted by S3 in collaboration with Payerne”.

The flights would be carried out during the civilian aircraft flying hours defined by the relevant authorities, and should not cause additional disturbance to local residents. The development of this company, which has 25 employees at present (but the number should at least double before the end of the year), will be a source of local jobs and indirect economic benefits.

The Spaceport planned for the Payerne Aéropole by 2015 is estimated to cost CHF 50 m [$52.3 million]. Other countries, such as Malaysia and Morocco, announced during the conference that they would be partnering with S3 in order to build spaceports in their countries too and discussions are under way with several other potential partners.

About Swiss Space Systems

Swiss Space Systems Holding SA is a Swiss company founded in Payerne in 2012, which groups and supervises the activities of its companies. Groupe S3 aims to develop, build, certify and operate suborbital shuttles to deploy small satellites up to 250 kg. The company currently has 25 employees and its overall budget is approximately CHF 250m [$263 million].