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||Performance||Orbit(s)||Projected Launch Cost||Estimated Cost Per Kg|
|Ventions LLC||SALVO||USA||2015||4 kg||LEO|
|CubeCab||CubeCab||USA||July 2017||5 kg||400 km||$0.25 M||$50 k|
|Lin Industrial||Таймыр||Russia||9 kg||LEO||$0.18 M||$20 k|
|XCOR Aerospace||Lynx Mark III||USA||2017+||15 kg||400 km|
|Garvey Spacecraft Corporation||Nanosat Launch Vehicle||USA||20 kg||450 km|
|Generation Orbit||GO Launcher 2||USA||Q4 2016||30 kg||425 km 300||$2.5 M||$56 k|
|Interorbital Systems||NEPTUNE N5||USA||Q4 2015||40 kg||310 km SSO||$0.25 M||$13 k|
|Celestia Aerospace||Sagitarius Space Arrow||Spain||Q1 2016||4-16 nanosats||600 km||$0.24 M||No mass spec|
|Boeing||ALASA||USA||Q1 2016||45 kg||LEO||$1 M||$22 k|
|Open Space Orbital||Neutrino 1||Canada||50 kg||LEO|
|zero2infinity||Bloostar||Spain||75 kg||600 km SSO|
|Rocket Lab||Electron||USA/New Zealand||2015||100 kg||500 km SSO||$4.9 M||$49 k|
|Scorpius Space Launch Company||Demi-Sprite||USA||160 kg||LEO||$3.6 M||$23 k|
|Swiss Space Systems||SOAR||Switzerland||2017||250 kg||LEO||<$10 M||$40 k|
|U. Hawaii, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Sandia National Lab||Super Strypi||USA||October 2015||250 kg||400 km SSO||$12 M||$48 k|
|Firefly Space Systems||Firefly α||USA||2017||200 kg SSO 400 kg LEO||LEO/ SSO||$8-9 M||$20 k|
|Virgin Galactic||LauncherOne||USA||Q4 2016||200 kg SSO 400+ kg LEO||LEO/ High SSO||<$10 M||<$20 k|
|ARCA Space Corp.||Haas 2C||Romania/USA||400 kg||LEO|
|MISHAAL Aerospace||M-OV||USA||454 kg||LEO|
|Orbital ATK||Pegasus XL||USA||1990||468 kg||200 km 00|
|Orbital ATK||Minotaur I||USA||2000||584 kg||200 km 28.50|
|Lockheed Martin||Athena Ic||USA||After contract award||470 kg|
|700 km SSO|
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 LLC||SALVO||Air||CCAFS||2015||4 kg||LEO|
|CubeCab||CubeCab||Air||Int’l Water||July 2017||5 kg||400 km||$0.25 M|
|Lin Industrial||Таймыр||Land||9 kg||LEO||$0.18 M|
|XCOR Aerospace||Lynx Mark III||Air/ Suborbital||KSC or Mojave||2017+||15 kg||400 km|
|Garvey Spacecraft Corporation||Nanosat Launch Vehicle||Land||PSC-Alaska||20 kg||450 km|
|Generation Orbit||GO Launcher 2||Air||USA, PR, UK||Q4 2016||30 kg||425 km 300||$2.5 M|
|Interorbital Systems||NEPTUNE N5||Land||Q4 2015||40 kg||310 km SSO||$0.25 M|
|Celestia Aerospace||Sagitarius Space Arrow||Air||Int’l Water||Q1 2016||4-16 nanosats||600 km||$0.24 M|
|Boeing||ALASA||Air||Global||Q1 2016||45 kg||LEO||$1 M|
|Open Space Orbital||Neutrino 1||Land||50 kg||LEO|
|zero2infinity||Bloostar||Balloon||Int’l Water||75 kg||600 km SSO|
|Rocket Lab||Electron||Land||Birdling’s Flat, NZ||2015||100 kg||500 km SSO||$4.9 M|
|Scorpius Space Launch Company||Demi-Sprite||Land||160 kg||LEO||$3.6 M|
|Swiss Space Systems||SOAR||Air/ Suborbital||2017||250 kg||LEO||<$10 M|
|U. Hawaii, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Sandia National Lab||Super Strypi||Land||PMRF Barking Sands — Hawaii||October 2015||250 kg||400 km SSO||$12 M|
|Firefly Space Systems||Firefly α||Land||PSC-Alaska preferred||2017||200 kg SSO 400 kg LEO||LEO/ SSO||$8-9 M|
|Virgin Galactic||LauncherOne||Air||Int’l Water||Q4 2016||200 kg SSO 400+ kg LEO||LEO/ High SSO||<$10 M|
|ARCA Space Corp.||Haas 2C||Land||400 kg||LEO|
|MISHAAL Aerospace||M-OV||Land||454 kg||LEO|
|Orbital ATK||Pegasus XL||Air||Int’l Water — Multiple locations demonstrated||1990||468 kg||200 km 00|
|Orbital ATK||Minotaur I||Land||CCAFS, PSC-Alaska, VAFB, WFF||2000||584 kg||200 km 28.50|
|Lockheed Martin||Athena Ic||Land||4 US Spaceports||After contract award||470 kg|
| 700 km SSO|
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.