Multiple Small Satellite Launch Vehicles Under Development

LauncherOne stage separation. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
LauncherOne stage separation. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

There are at least 20 launch vehicles under development around the world designed to launch small satellite payloads weighing up to 1,000 kg (2,205 lb).

That was the conclusion of a recent survey by Carlos Niederstrasser and Warren Frick of Orbital ATK. They presented their results in a paper titled, “Small Launch Vehicles – A 2015 State of the Industry Survey,” during the Smallsat 2015 conference in Utah last month.

The authors identified active launcher programs according to a set of criteria. They did not attempt to assess the viability of any of the rockets being developed.  And there may be some projects they missed.

The tables below are adapted from the paper. I’ve combined several of their tables into single ones. I’ve also made some minor changes due to some developments that have occurred since the paper was written. For example, Virgin Galactic has increased the payload for LauncherOne. And the Kodiak Launch Complex has been renamed as the Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska.

SMALL SATELLITE LAUNCH VEHICLES

Organization(s)Launch Vehicle Name
Country of Origin
Current First Launch Date
PerformanceOrbit(s)
Projected Launch Cost
Estimated Cost Per Kg
Ventions LLCSALVOUSA20154 kgLEO
CubeCabCubeCabUSAJuly 20175 kg400 km$0.25 M$50 k
Lin IndustrialТаймырRussia9 kgLEO$0.18 M$20 k
XCOR AerospaceLynx Mark IIIUSA2017+15 kg400 km
Garvey Spacecraft CorporationNanosat Launch VehicleUSA20 kg450 km
Generation OrbitGO Launcher 2USAQ4 201630 kg425 km 300$2.5 M$56 k
Interorbital SystemsNEPTUNE N5USAQ4 201540 kg310 km SSO$0.25 M$13 k
Celestia AerospaceSagitarius Space ArrowSpainQ1 20164-16 nanosats600 km$0.24 MNo mass spec
BoeingALASAUSAQ1 201645 kgLEO$1 M$22 k
Open Space OrbitalNeutrino 1Canada50 kgLEO
zero2infinityBloostarSpain75 kg600 km SSO
Rocket LabElectronUSA/New Zealand2015100 kg500 km SSO$4.9 M$49 k
Scorpius Space Launch CompanyDemi-SpriteUSA160 kgLEO$3.6 M$23 k
Swiss Space SystemsSOARSwitzerland2017250 kgLEO<$10 M$40 k
 U. Hawaii, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Sandia National LabSuper StrypiUSAOctober 2015250 kg400 km SSO$12 M$48 k
Firefly Space SystemsFirefly αUSA2017200 kg SSO 400 kg LEOLEO/ SSO$8-9 M$20 k
Virgin GalacticLauncherOneUSAQ4 2016200 kg SSO 400+ kg LEOLEO/ High SSO<$10 M<$20 k
ARCA Space Corp.Haas 2CRomania/USA400 kgLEO
MISHAAL AerospaceM-OVUSA454 kgLEO
Orbital ATKPegasus XLUSA1990468 kg200 km 00
Orbital ATKMinotaur IUSA2000584 kg200 km 28.50
Lockheed MartinAthena IcUSAAfter contract award470 kg
760 kg
700 km SSO
500 km

As shown, the launch vehicles cover quite a range of orbits and payloads, ranging from 4 kg (8.8 lb) to 760 kg (1,676 lb). Most of the vehicles are being developed by small startups, although you will notice the presence of larger companies such as Orbital ATK, which has two active launch vehicles, and Lockheed Martin, which is upgrading the older Athena rocket family.

Another aerospace giant, Boeing, is developing its ALASA launch vehicle under a DARPA contract. Vention’s smaller SALVO air-launched rocket also was developed with defense funding under the ALASA program.

The majority of the launch vehicles are American; in two case, there is U.S. participation with partners in New Zealand and Romania. Spain, Switzerland, Russia and Canada are also represented.

The table below shows the different launch methods and locations used for the launch vehicles.

LAUNCH METHODS & LOCATIONS

Organization(s)Launch Vehicle Name
Launch Method
Launch Location(s)
Current First Launch Date
Performance Orbit(s)
Projected Launch Cost
Ventions LLCSALVOAirCCAFS20154 kgLEO
CubeCabCubeCabAirInt’l WaterJuly 20175 kg400 km$0.25 M
Lin IndustrialТаймырLand9 kgLEO$0.18 M
XCOR AerospaceLynx Mark IIIAir/ Suborbital KSC or Mojave2017+15 kg400 km
Garvey Spacecraft CorporationNanosat Launch VehicleLandPSC-Alaska20 kg450 km
Generation OrbitGO Launcher 2AirUSA, PR, UKQ4 201630 kg425 km 300$2.5 M
Interorbital SystemsNEPTUNE N5LandQ4 201540 kg310 km SSO$0.25 M
Celestia AerospaceSagitarius Space ArrowAirInt’l WaterQ1 20164-16 nanosats600 km$0.24 M
BoeingALASAAirGlobalQ1 201645 kgLEO$1 M
Open Space OrbitalNeutrino 1Land50 kgLEO
zero2infinityBloostarBalloon Int’l Water75 kg600 km SSO
Rocket LabElectronLandBirdling’s Flat, NZ2015100 kg500 km SSO$4.9 M
Scorpius Space Launch CompanyDemi-SpriteLand160 kgLEO$3.6 M
Swiss Space SystemsSOARAir/ Suborbital2017250 kgLEO<$10 M
U. Hawaii, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Sandia National LabSuper StrypiLandPMRF Barking Sands — HawaiiOctober 2015250 kg400 km SSO$12 M
Firefly Space SystemsFirefly αLandPSC-Alaska preferred2017200 kg SSO 400 kg LEOLEO/ SSO$8-9 M
Virgin GalacticLauncherOneAirInt’l WaterQ4 2016200 kg SSO 400+ kg LEOLEO/ High SSO<$10 M
ARCA Space Corp.Haas 2CLand400 kgLEO
MISHAAL AerospaceM-OVLand454 kgLEO
Orbital ATKPegasus XLAirInt’l Water — Multiple locations demonstrated1990468 kg200 km 00
Orbital ATKMinotaur ILand CCAFS, PSC-Alaska, VAFB, WFF2000584 kg200 km 28.50
Lockheed MartinAthena IcLand4 US SpaceportsAfter contract award470 kg
760 kg
 700 km SSO
500 km

Ten of the vehicles use some form of air launch, including two using reusable suborbital system and a third using a high-altitude balloon. The rest are launched from the ground.

As mentioned, Virgin Galactic recently increased the payload capacity to 200 kg (441 lb) for sun synchronous orbit and 400+ kg (882+ lb) for LEO. This puts the company in direct competition with Firefly Space Systems, which is advertising a similar payload range for its ground-based launcher. Firefly is run by Tom Markusic, who used to Virgin Galactic’s vice president of propulsion.