NASA Seeks Dedicated CubeSat Launch

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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
Booster Builder(s)
& Supporting Agency
Payload to
LEO or SSO
First Flight(s)
SPARK_sm Super Strypi (a.k.a., SPARK) Aerojet, Sandia National Laboratories & University of Hawaii/DOD Office of Operationally Responsive Space 250 kg
(550 lbs.)
2014
launcherone_sm LauncherOne Virgin Galactic 225 kg
(500 lbs.)
2015
cartoon_rocket ALASA Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Virgin Galactic, Northrop Grumman, Ventions LLC & Space Information Laboratories LLC/DARPA 45.4 kg
(100 lbs.)
Unknown
SWORDS_SM SWORDS U.S. Army 25 kg
(55 lbs.)
2013
GO2 GOLauncher 2 Generation Orbit Launch Services & Space Propulsion Group 5 to 30 kg
(11 to 66 lbs.)
2018
Lynx_sm Lynx Mark III XCOR Aerospace Nanosats 2015 or 2016
whittinghill_sm Minimum Cost Launch System Whittinghill Aerospace Nanosats Unknown
garvey_nanosat_lv Nanosat Launch Vehicle Garvey Spacecraft Corporation Nanosats Unknown

  • Andy

    The Space News article about this quoted a NASA official as saying the *single* NEXT launch will pay $200,000 to $300,000. How many groups in that table are $200,000 and 3 years away from reaching orbit?

  • Hug Doug

    according to the table itself, 4 of them.

  • Andy

    “according to the table itself, 4 of them.” I’m not sure if you’re trying to be funny or snarky, but I can read the table. I was trying to express that the timelines for VG and XCOR may be naively optimistic.

    NASA cancelled its nanosat centennial challenge because it didn’t think the teams other than ALASA or SWORDS could build a vehicle to fly sats for $1 million per launch by 2015-2017. (Jeff Foust reported on this here: http://www.newspacejournal.com/2012/11/28/nasa-may-be-shutting-down-its-nano-satellite-launch-challenge/). If NASA thought they couldn’t do it by 2017 for $1 million dollars per launch, what makes them think they can do it by 2016 for $200,000 per launch?

  • Hug Doug

    oh, i’m sure optimism is a factor. timetables slip in the aerospace industry all the time. i wouldn’t necessarily call that naivety, considering that NASA, Boeing, LockMart, etc. have schedules that frequently slip as well.

    perhaps this cubesat contract is a bit of naive optimism on the part of NASA?

  • Geoff T

    I’m not the only one who chuckled at the picture for ALASA right?