A Plethora of Small Satellite Launchers

Founder and CEO Peter Beck displays Rocket Lab’s accumulated expertise in carbon composite launch vehicles. (Credit: Rocket Lab)
Founder and CEO Peter Beck displays Rocket Lab’s accumulated expertise in carbon composite launch vehicles. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

A new survey has found that more than 50 organizations are working on developing new small satellite launch vehicles capable of lifting up to 500 kg into low Earth orbit (LEO).

Result of the survey, which was conducted by Carlos Niederstrasser and Warren Frick of Orbital ATK, were presented last week during the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico.

The survey found that at least 29 launch vehicles are currently under active development. The boosters are shown in the table below.

Small Space Launch Systems Under Active Development
Organization Name Vehicle Name Country Latest Launch Date Launch Frequency
PLD SpaceArion 2Spain2021 10/year
Bagaveev CorporationBagaveevUSA 50/year
Horizon Space TechnologiesBlack Arrow 2United Kingdom 4/year
Scorpius Space Launch CompanyDemi-SpriteUSA
Tranquility AerospaceDevon TwoUnited Kingdom
Rocket LabElectronUSA/New ZealandQ4 20161/week
China Aerospace Science and Industry CorporationFei Tian 1China
FireflyFirefly αUSA201750/year
ARCA Space CorporationHaas 2CUSA2016
RocketcraftersIntrepid-1USAQ4 2018
LandSpaceLandSpace-1ChinaQ4 2017
Virgin GalacticLauncherOneUSA H2 201724/year
Interorbital SystemsNEPTUNE N5USA2017
Open Space OrbitalNeutrino ICanada
NammoNorth Star Launch ServiceNorway2020
Orbital AccessOrbital 500United Kingdom2020
Leap SpacePrimoItaly20/year
SpaceLSPrometheus-1United KingdomQ4 2017
Celestia AerospaceSagitarius Space ArrowSpain2016
Swiss Space SystemsSOARSwitzerland2018
UP AerospaceSpyderUSA
CONAETronador IIArgentina2019
VALT EnterprisesVALTUSA1000s/year
bspaceVolantUSA2018 Multiple/quarter
Vector Space SystemsWolverineUSA2018 100/year
Lin IndustrialТаймыр-1ARussiaQ1 2020

The authors also put together a watch list of projects that did not meet one of their criteria for being actively under development.

Watch List of Small Satellite Launchers
Organization Vehicle Name Country
Avio SpaUnknownItaly
Departamento de Ciencia e Tecnologia AeroespacialVLM-1Brazil
Generation OrbitGOLauncher 2USA
Gilmour Space TechnologiesErisAustralia
Heliaq Advanced EngineeringAustral Launch VehicleAustralia
New AscentUnknownUSA
Newton Launch SystemsUnknownUnited Kingdom
Odyne SpaceUnknownUSA
One Space TechnologyUnknownChina
Relativity SpaceUnknownUSA
Stofiel AerospaceUnknownUSA
Swedish Space CorporationRainbow Smallsat ExpressSweden
U. Hawaii, Aerojet Rocketdyne, SandiaSuper StrypiUSA
Unreasonable RocketUnreasonable RocketUSA
Whittinghill AerospaceMinimum Cost Launch VehicleUSA

The table below shows the system performance, launch types and launch locations for boosters under development.

System Performance, Launch Type & Location
Vehicle NamePerformanceOrbitLaunch TypeLaunch Location
Devon Two4 kgLEOLand
Cab-3A5 kg400 kmAir Int’l Water
Spyder8 kg370 kmLandWallops, Cape Canaveral
Bagaveev10 kgSSOLand, Water
Таймыр-1A12 kgLEOLand
North Star Launch Service20 kg350 kmLandAndøya Rocket Range, Norway
NEPTUNE N540 kg310 km SSOLand, WaterMoody Space Centre, Australia. Int’l Water
Wolverine45 kg
35 kg
Land, SeaKodiak, Cape Canaveral
Neutrino I50 kgLEOLand
Primo50 kg700 km SSOLand
Sagitarius Space Arrow64 kg600 kmAirInt’l Water, Spanish airport
Bloostar100 kg 75 kgLEO 600 km SSOBalloonInt’l Water
Arion 2150 kg400 kmLandSouth Europe
Electron150 kg500 km SSOLandBirdling’s Flat, New Zealand
Demi-Sprite160 kgLEOLand
LauncherOne200 kgSSOAirInt’l Water
Volant215 kgLEOLandKodiak
Prometheus-1250 kgLEOUnknown
SOAR250 kgLEOAir/SpaceCanary Islands, Spaceport Colorado
Tronador II250 kg600 km SSOLandPuerto Belgrano Naval Base
Intrepid-1376 kg500 km SSOLandKennedy Space Center
Firefly α400 kg
200 kg
LandKodiak Preferred
Haas 2C400 kgLEOLandSpaceport America
Fei Tian 1430 kg500 km SSOLand
M-OV454 kgLEOLand
Black Arrow 2500 kg
200 kg
200 km
600 km SSO
Pegasus XL468 kg200 kmAirInt’l Water; Multiple locations demonstrated
Orbital 500500 kg500 km SSOAir
LandSpace-1530 kg
400 kg
300 km 500 km SSOLandChina

The table below shows projected launch costs for select launch vehicles.

Small Satellite Booster Launch Costs
Vehicle NameProjected Launch
Estimated Cost per kg
Sagitarius Space Arrow$0.2 M$10.6 k
NEPTUNE N5$0.5 M$12.5 k
Black Arrow 2$6.6 M$13.2 k
Intrepid-1$5.4 M$14.4 k
Firefly α$8.0 M$20.0 k
Wolverine$1.0 M$22.2 k
Demi-Sprite$3.6 M$22.5 k
Unknown$0.3 M$25.0 k
Electron$4.9 M$32.7 k
Таймыр-1A$0.5 M$40.0 k
SOAR$10.0 M$40.0 k
Bloostar$4.0 M$40.0 k
Cab-3A$0.3 M$50.0 k
LauncherOne$10.0 M$50.0 k
Spyder$1.0 M$125.3 k
VALT$1.7 MNo mass spec

The following table shows funding sources for selected boosters.

Small Satellite Launch Vehicle Funding Sources
Vehicle NameFunding Source
Arion 2Spanish government, EC, Caixa Capital Risc, Gobierno de Aragon
BloostarPre sales, Investors
Cab-3ABiz Plan Competition
ElectronNZ Gov, Kholsa, VBP, K1W1, LM
Firefly αLogal Gov, VC, NASA
Intrepid-1State of Florida
LauncherOneVirgin Group
NEPTUNE N5Presales
Sagitarius Space ArrowOne signed up customer
SOARBrietling, pre IPO equity promotion
UnknownTim Draper, Adam Draper, DCVC, New Gen Silicon Valley Partners
VALTOffice of Naval Research, Mainte Space Grant
WolverineSeed Angels, NASA, DARPA
Таймыр-1ASergei Burkatovsky


  • Sam Moore

    CASIC have spun off a commercial entity for their commercial launches, called Expace, and have rebranded Fei Tian as Kuaizhou 1A. KZ-1A cost is about $7 million, and it is currently set to fly this December with a commercial payload. KZ-1A can do 200kg to 700km SSO.

    CASIC/Expace are also deep into development of a larger rocket called KZ-11, capable of 1,000kg to SSO. The first stage motor was successfully test-fired in august, and the first launch should be in the first part of next year. KZ-11 launch cost target is roughly $14 million.

    I don’t have a launches per year target of either launcher individually, but the factory CASIC/Expace are currently building is supposed to be able to build 50 Kuaizhou launchers a year by 2020.

  • Pete Zaitcev

    Not sure why Taimyr is spelled in Cyrillic. It could get rough if Indian and Chinese rockets get the same treatment. BTW, it appears that Il’in and his team are getting lost in experimentation, currently trying to replace RD-108 with homebrew HTP engine. This is hardly “active development”, as they fell way back from the straightforward clone of Samara that they proposed initially.

  • passinglurker

    Is it just me or does it seem like the closer these rockets actually get to launching the more thier unique ideas shed off until start looking eerily similar each other?

  • JamesG

    Convergent design. Physics and engineering are pretty resolute. But some of it is that potential investors and customers expect rockets to look a certain way.

  • patb2009

    Form follows Function.

  • They never was going to use RD-108 on Taimyr, it was proposed for Adler (https://spacelin.ru/proekty/legkaya-raketa-adler/).

  • Errol Cavit

    The report missed the change in launch site for Rocket Lab. Now Mahia Peninsula (eastern North Island, NZ), rather than Birdling’s Flat (central South Island). The Mahia site was officially opened last week.

  • Saturn13

    So here in Florida we have our own state rocket in Intrepid-1. With no payloads and will never launch.

  • ToOrbit


    I’m pretty sure ARCA is German, not American

  • Sam Moore

    They started in Romania, but now they’re based in the US

  • passinglurker

    So aside from rocket lab how many of these are not just inching development along to bait investors and actually have good odds of putting a payload in orbit before the end of next year?

  • I second JamesG’s “potential investors” comment, and have had a ring-side seat to a number of these events.

    As New Space moves from “billionaire with a dream” territory toward “investors trying to make a buck” territory, tolerance for innovation goes way down and desire for proven formulae goes way up.

    Business driven investors want very predictable results, and, so long as those predictable results are within their investment envelope, they are fine with the end product being more expensive, less efficient, or less visionary.

    Billionaires, on the other hand, when playing in New Space, just want what they want – it is a dream / hobby / personal legacy driven mentality.

  • Aerospike

    Imho they are not relevant anyway.

  • Stofiel Aerospace

    Stofiel Aerospace is building BOREAS balloon assisted small satellite launch system. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3f174ce54035489db2d00c6e50b5bbe36c6e3f3213558611573bd1c2e2ce27ff.jpg

  • Stofiel Aerospace

    Orbit no, but we hope to fire four rockets above 100,000 feet this summer to test our thrust system. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f2d1f918892e3b3cc0f5641d8aa586ab5d69413654a315f62e853e784321dad8.jpg