Smallsat 2016: Updates on Launch Vehicle Development

CubeSats (Credit: ESA/Medialab)
CubeSats (Credit: ESA/Medialab)

The Small Satellite 2016 Conference got underway today in Logan, Utah. Although I was not able to make it, I’ve been able to follow the conference via Twitter. A number of small satellite launch companies provided updates on launch vehicles they are developing. There is information below on Firefly Space Systems, Nammo, Rocket Crafters, Rocket Lab, Super Strypi, Vector Space Systems and Virgin Galactic.

Information came from the following Tweeters who are attending the conference:

  • Jeff Foust ‏@jeff_foust
  • C. G. Niederstrasser ‏@RocketScient1st
  • David Hurst ‏@OrbitalDave.


Company & Program Summaries

Firefly – Michael Blum

  • Launch manifest sold out for 2018,
  • 2019 launch manifest is almost sold out
  • Expect to launch about 50 times per year by 2023
  • Alpha launcher can loft payloads to 400 km
  • Adding turbopump to engine would double payload capacity

Nammo Raufoss AS – Onno Verberne

  • Norwegian company developing Nucleus nano-sat launcher with hybrid motors
  • Hybrid motor is safe and environmentally friendly
  • First test using a sounding rocket scheduled for 2017
  • Andoya Space Center works well for high inclination launches
  • A ground station is located on Svalbard
  • Norway has an interest in satellites to monitor ships, fishing, offshore oil rigs and other activities
  • Nammo is primarily a defense company with experience in designing and manufacturing rocket engines

Rocket Crafters – Sid Gutierrez

  • Developing launch vehicle with 3D printed hybrid engine we’re developing small launch vehicle
  • First test launch scheduled for late 2018 or early 2019

Rocket Lab – Brad Schneider

  • First launch in next several months
  • Commercial launches in first quarter 2017
  • Company focused on performance and launch rate, not requirements

Super Strypi – Jeffry Welsh, ORS-4 Mission Director

  • Rail-launched Super Strypi rocket failed during first launch about 30 seconds after launch from Navy range in Hawaii
  • Super Strypi separated clearly from its launch rail
  • First stage motor was not built sufficiently robust to deal with rocket’s spin stabilization
  • U.S. Air Force would consider using Super Strypi, but the launch vehicle has competition
  • Future of the program is uncertain
  • Super Strypi designed to be a low cost and responsive commercial launch vehicle
  • Belief that rail-launch rockets can be lower cost and relatively easy and fast to set up and launch

Vector Space Systems – Jim Cantrell

  • Developing the equivalent of the Falcon 0
  • People banging on their door seeking launches
  • Overcapacity could result if all launch companies are successful
  • Company is aiming for 50 launches per year

Virgin Galactic – A. C. Charania

  • LauncherOne development is fully funded
  • 240 employees working on LauncherOne rocket in Long Beach, Calif.
  • Flight tests of rocket scheduled for second half of 2017
  • Rocket can lift payloads weighing 300 kg to 500 km
  • Rocket air-launched from modified 747-400 aircraft
  • 747 being modified for air launch in Waco, Texas
  • Carrier aircraft will arrive in Mojave in early 2017 for tests
  • Move from WhiteKnightTwo to 747 resulted from need to carry larger payloads and demand for dedicated aircraft to launch satellites
  • Cost: Less than $10 million for 200 kg payload to sun-synchronous orbit
  • LauncherOne missions to SSO will be flown out of Mojave
  • Looking at other operating locations for different orbits
  • Rocket will use autonomous flight termination system

  • John_The_Duke_Wayne

    “Adding turbopump to engine would double payload capacity”

    Wow big difference, is that still with RP-1/LOX?

    I like how RocketLab, Firefly and Vector are all talking about their launches being fully booked, flight frequency, and upgrades. Then VG comes along and says their development is, of course, “fully funded” and, you guessed it, first flight will be next year, same story different day

  • Pete Zaitcev

    VG did not say even that. The “tests” of the carrier are not specified, so there will be fitment tests, captive carry tests, inert drop and separation tests.

  • Search

    Yes – allows greater thrust chamber pressure which directly increases capacity.
    They are all “in sell mode”. Most of them will fail in a couple years and hucksters abound.
    Firefly seems most realistic and will be interesting to watch.
    The WhiteKnight/Thunderbolt combination would make Pegasus obsolete if they can hold the price down – that Orbital ATK builds the rocket part is telling…

  • John_The_Duke_Wayne

    Do you have the original statement? I am basing this off second hand comments so it sounds like they are talking about test flights including captive carry, drop and powered flight since those are all included in test flights. I could be wrong but VG usually talks about the entire test program not just dry fittings

  • John_The_Duke_Wayne

    “Most of them will fail in a couple years and hucksters abound. ”

    That’s a bold statement, they have launches booked and presumably interested parties waiting on the results of the first few flights before committing, that’s how this industry usually works

    “Firefly seems most realistic and will be interesting to watch.”

    They have a very interesting system and an interesting management group. They seem to be interested in very exotic approach to their systems, which comes with high risk high reward.

  • JamesG

    “That’s a bold statement, they have launches booked and presumably
    interested parties waiting on the results of the first few flights
    before committing, that’s how this industry usually works.”

    But sadly the truth. All a claim of “booking a flight” requires is signing a piece of paper that says that once company A actually has a launcher, company B will have a payload and X amount of money to pay for it. If either A or B go out of business before hand, no one has made any money (esp. the assorted investors).

  • John_The_Duke_Wayne

    And while no money changes hands between A and B, both companies have a valuable piece of paper to take to current and future investors to say “hey we are close, and we want to show you we are working so you’ll keep up the funding” further securing the presumed continuation of both companies

  • JamesG

    Where I’m from that is called “The self eating sandwich”. Wall St. calls it “leverage”. And con-artists call it “The scam”.

  • John_The_Duke_Wayne

    Haha bought right too. The difference between a Wall St banker and a con artist is the quality of the suit

  • Wayne Martin

    Virgin Galactic

    “Cost: Less than $10 million for 200 kg payload to sun-synchronous orbit”

    200 kg x 2.2 = 440 lbs and $10,000,000 / 440 lbs = $22,727 a Pound ?

    WOW not overly cheap at all !