NASA Seeks Dedicated CubeSat Launch

cubesatIn an effort to support the development of dedicated small-satellite launch vehicles and help reduce a backlog of more than 50 CubeSats that are waiting to fly, NASA has published a solicitation for a CubeSat launch.

The program — known  as the NASA Launch Services (NLS) Enabling eXploration & Technology or NEXT — is aimed at securing a launch vehicle capable of placing three 3U sized Cubesats weighing a minimum of 15 kg  (33 lbs) to a minimum orbit of 425 km (264 miles).

The launch vehicle would have to deliver CubeSats as the primary payloads. Currently, most CubeSats are launch as secondary payloads on large rockets. The contract would cover a single launch no later than December 15, 2016.

NASA’s decision to purchase a dedicated CubeSat launch is intended to help support the development of small satellite launch vehicles now being funded by private companies,  DARPA, the U.S. Army, and other agencies and organizations.

The table below shows dedicated small satellite launch vehicles currently under development or proposed by U.S. companies.


Small, Nano- and Micro-Satellite Launchers
BoosterBuilder(s)
& Supporting Agency
Payload to
LEO or SSO
First Flight(s)
SPARK_smSuper Strypi (a.k.a., SPARK)Aerojet, Sandia National Laboratories & University of Hawaii/DOD Office of Operationally Responsive Space250 kg
(550 lbs.)
2014
launcherone_smLauncherOneVirgin Galactic225 kg
(500 lbs.)
2015
cartoon_rocketALASALockheed Martin, Boeing, Virgin Galactic, Northrop Grumman, Ventions LLC & Space Information Laboratories LLC/DARPA45.4 kg
(100 lbs.)
Unknown
SWORDS_SMSWORDSU.S. Army25 kg
(55 lbs.)
2013
GO2GOLauncher 2Generation Orbit Launch Services & Space Propulsion Group5 to 30 kg
(11 to 66 lbs.)
2018
Lynx_smLynx Mark IIIXCOR AerospaceNanosats2015 or 2016
whittinghill_smMinimum Cost Launch SystemWhittinghill AerospaceNanosatsUnknown
garvey_nanosat_lvNanosat Launch VehicleGarvey Spacecraft CorporationNanosatsUnknown