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].

  • While it’s not exactly the way I’d do a resuable first-stage airlaunched TSTO design (never been a fan of top-release architectures), I’m still very excited to see someone trying. Also, it’s good to see some international competition as well. I wish this team the best of luck on this project!

  • mzungu

    Might want to launch that from the bottom of the airliner, looked scary
    clearing the vertical stabilizer.

    All that matters little, because the
    small satellite market is so say “small”, it’ll never be
    sustainable economically. All you have to look at is the Orbital
    Pegasus, which only launch(find a customer) every few years….

  • The budget is enormous. They’re going to spend $263 million to build a system that launches 250-kg smallsats at $10.5 million per flight? Does that make sense economically?

    The second stage seems over designed for smallsat launches. I would think it could be a prototype for a larger system that would either fly suborbital with crew or even launch itself into orbit. You’d probably need a larger carrier aircraft.

  • Stuart

    It’s a free market I suppose, somebody believes micro satelites are the future.

    I agree the launch from the back of a jet airliner looked scary. Virgin Galactic will just see this as healthy competition. I would have thought that they would clean this market up as they’re “first in the pool”.

    The budget mentioned is a big sum, who are their investors Swiss bankers?

    Seriously I look forward to seeing this venture develop.further.before passing any judgement.

  • murc murc

    this won’t work, we all know what happens……the spacecrafts rockets fire while it’s still attached to the aircraft, and superman has to return to stop the aircraft and set it down in a baseball diamond. lol, joking aside I agree with you guys on that vertical stabilizer perhaps they could re-design it to look like tony starks aircraft.

    (yes, I watch a lot of movies) lol

    This thing is DOA, Virgin Galactics “LauncherOne” will consume this market.

  • Was that Superman Returns. Branson was in that movie. He was in the navigator seat in the shuttle.

  • It’s good that they’re learning from Hermes and the X-38, but better would be for them to learn from SpaceX. They expect to spend $263 million on a system to launch 250 kg to orbit while SpaceX spent $300 million to launch 10,000 kg to orbit.
    Studies have shown the carrier aircraft is also unnecessary. Hydrolox engines on the suborbital vehicle would allow it to launch on its own from the ground, for a vehicle the size of Spaceshiptwo. Then you could get both the suborbital tourism market as well as the small satellite market.

    Bob Clark

  • Seems like an incredibly over designed system for a smallsat launcher. Don’t really see where the necessity of the mini space shuttle lies, anyone got any explanation of why it’s beneficial over LauncherOne/Pegasus style expendables? On the plus side, yet another newspace entry, hopefully if enough companies are founded at least one will achieve something notable by the end of the decade.

  • Christopher James Huff

    The A300 has a max speed of around 290 m/s…around 0.1% of the way to orbital velocity in energy terms. That and only 10 km altitude? Might as well vertical-launch a slightly larger shuttle from the ground, and omit the A300 and its support infrastructure entirely.

    For comparison, the Pegasus launches at 12 km and around 300 m/s, gets 443 kg to orbit when air-launched, and the Taurus puts basically the same vehicle on a vertical launch first stage and gets 1320 kg to orbit. Note: you aren’t going to find a more expensive way to deliver mass to orbit than the Pegasus.

    And…”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.”

    The launch system that delivers a 250 kg payload to orbit essentially all on its own requires no additional ground infrastructure whatsoever? How does that work? The thing needs rocket propellants, for one…and liquids so it can dump propellant to do the abort to runway landing described. I don’t think the A300 uses much rocket propellant. Or do they reduce “ground infrastructure” by cramming that infrastructure into the A300?

  • Tom

    Hello Christopher. A few points of contention:

    – The main purpose of air-launch from a conventional aircraft (as opposed to some hotshot super/hypersonic vehicle) isn’t to gain a velocity boost towards orbital speed. The idea is that by launching from an aircraft, you can follow a much shallower ascent trajectory and avoid the large gravity losses incurred by near-vertical angles.

    – The payload differential between Pegasus and Taurus is due to the Castor-120 first stage added to the Taurus (stages 3-4 are essentially the same as the Pegasus stack, minus the wing). You mentioned the first stage, but didn’t mention the size of the thing; if you consult ATK’s motor catalog, this motor is massive, with over 30 million lbf-sec of impulse. If you took the Pegasus stack by itself and tried a vertical launch, I wouldn’t be surprised if you weren’t able to make it to orbit at all due to the additional gravity losses.

    I agree that air-launch is somewhat hyped, though. I’ve never understood how adding a jetliner into the mix was supposed to simplify things.

  • Christopher James Huff

    10 km is deep within the atmosphere…you’ve got a heavily loaded plane flying around using it for lift and jet engines. You’ll still have to burn upward at a steep angle after release to clear the atmosphere so you can start doing the real work of getting close to orbital velocity.

    And yes, the Taurus has a big booster, but as I mentioned, it gets over 5 times the payload to orbit as the S3 system…it doesn’t simply replace the plane. I also already mentioned the need to scale up the “shuttle”…getting their 250 kg payload to orbit won’t require anything nearly as big as the Taurus first stage. You need to get it to 10 km and around 290 m/s with enough performance left over to do what their proposal does with an aircraft launch…that’s a minor increase in performance and size, mainly in dirt-cheap propellant. This also buys them the freedom to scale the shuttle up or use boosters to launch larger payloads without needing to custom build giant launcher planes capable of carrying the weight.

  • OrbitalResonance

    the animation was pretty

  • oterkep

    Depends on the number of launches and the net revenue per launch.