Small rockets will power the next stage of the nanosat revolution

Launch
August 15, 2018
Author
Chad Anderson
Jessica Holland
August 15, 2018
Authors
Chad Anderson
Jessica Holland

Between 2012 and 2017, just over a thousand small satellites were launched into Earth’s orbit. In 2017 alone, the number of small-sat launches reached a record 335, and the demand for more launch services became painfully obvious. In 2018, the high number of small-satellites sent into space is expected to continue, and while dozens of these tiny gadgets can be crammed into the payload of a large rocket, companies can still expect to wait anywhere from six months to two years before a rideshare to orbit becomes available.

Demand is sky-high for more timely launches, and with a payload that costs tens of thousands rather than tens of millions, small-sat companies may be willing to try a new type of launch vehicle for the chance of getting off the ground in just a couple of months. If this means they can start generating revenue immediately, rather than holding off for two years while competitors cement their reputations and rake in the dollars, they may even be willing to pay a premium rate for such a service.

Last year may have been a record year for small-sats, with a few hundred launched, but in the next 12 years, the number of these little machines being shot into the sky is expected to surpass 11,000, according to a report released by consultants Frost & Sullivan in March. Many of these satellites will be part of giant constellations, and as individual satellites inevitably fail, they will need to be constantly replenished. The satellite industry doesn’t just need the launch industry to step up, it needs a total transformation.

While the nanosat boom has been the big story of the last few years, it has set the wheels in motion for what could be the next big thing: small launch. Dozens of companies are racing to cater to the small satellite customer, offering rockets that are small, quick, and cheap enough to deploy that a small satellite company can book a dedicated launch, with all the freedom that this entails, rather than being stashed in someone else’s glove box.

Space Angels Small Launch Inforgraphic

Vector and Rocket Lab among those racing to provide small launch

Experts have been predicting the rise of small launch (vehicles that can carry a payload of around 2,000kg or less) for years, but 2018 was the year that these predictions started becoming a reality. In January 2018, Rocket Lab launched three satellites into orbit with a test flight of its 16m-tall, 200kg Electron rocket, which, when placed alongside SpaceX’s 70m Falcon 9 rocket, looks like a pencil next to a bazooka. Rocket Lab’s first official commercial launch was meant to happen in April, then June; data is now being reviewed before a new launch window is announced.

A month later,  a Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) sounding rocket successfully blasted off from the Uchinoura Space Center that made even the Electron look bulky. Just 10m high and 50cm in diameter, the vehicle looked like a needle trailing a plume of billowing white smoke as it blasted off, and the launch set a record for the world’s smallest orbital rocket.

Another small launch service planning to start operating this year is Space Angels portfolio company Vector Launch, which closed a $21 million funding round led by Sequoia in June 2017 and is developing two lightweight rockets aimed at the small-satellite market. Its Vector-R rocket is 13m long and carries a maximum payload of 66kg, while the Vector-H will be able to carry more than double that weight, but is still targeted squarely at the small-satellite market. Its competition in the small launch space includes Virgin Orbit, which plans to launch its LauncherOne from beneath the wing of a Boeing 747 later this year; Generation Orbit, which has partnered with another startup that has received Space Angels funding, Ursa Major, as the supplier of their liquid-rocket engines; and a number of other emerging small launch vehicles

NASA is among those testing out the possibilities of this new generation of launch services. In April, the agency announced that it had bought one flight each from Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit, to carry about a dozen CubeSats each, and will look into purchasing additional flights if these work out. “We’re supporting the continued evolution of the U.S. commercial space launch market,” said Jim Norman, NASA’s director of Launch Services.

Small launch offers control over payload and destination

While it’s true that small launch reliability is only at about 88% at this point, compared to 99% for commercial heavy-lift rocket launches, the technology behind small launch is developing fast, and reliability has continually increased since the 1950s. It’s also true that small launch is four times the sticker price of heavy launch due to economies of scale, although these costs can be recouped many times over due to the high likelihood of earlier launch window, which allows companies to start making money much quicker.

The average time between signing contracts and launching a satellite into space with a heavy vehicle is 24 months, while the equivalent time for a small launch vehicle is 15 months. Because a satellite startup spends an average of $425,000 per month on operating expenses, we have calculated that this 9-month reduction in wait time results in a 27x increase in overall savings.

The growth of the small-satellite market suggests that there will be enough demand to support both small and heavy launch. In addition to the shorter wait times that should be the major advantage of lightweight rockets, there are added benefits of being in the driving seat. A company that books its own launch can choose not only the flight date but also the precise destination of their satellites, rather than having to follow a primary payload to wherever it’s headed.

Dedicated launch also means a company can set other terms, such as the type of equipment allowed on board. Accion Systems is in the process of developing tiny ion engines to propel satellites exactly where they are needed, help them dodge obstacles and prolong their life. While this has clear value (Space Angels invested in Accion in 2016), carrying such a payload on a large rocket packed with other companies’ precious cargo could be considered an unacceptable risk. Small-launch customers would be able to make their own decision about what goes on a rocket that they’ve booked themselves.

It is clear that the launch industry must transform in order to meet a demand the likes of which has never been seen before, and which already outstrips supply. Globally, the small satellite market is expected to reach $7.7 billion by 2023 by some estimates, and with that kind of money at stake, the incentive for companies to try an alternative to heavy-rocket ridesharing is high — especially when that alternative provides them with two assets that are valuable to almost any business: speed and autonomy.

Between 2012 and 2017, just over a thousand small satellites were launched into Earth’s orbit. In 2017 alone, the number of small-sat launches reached a record 335, and the demand for more launch services became painfully obvious. In 2018, the high number of small-satellites sent into space is expected to continue, and while dozens of these tiny gadgets can be crammed into the payload of a large rocket, companies can still expect to wait anywhere from six months to two years before a rideshare to orbit becomes available.

Demand is sky-high for more timely launches, and with a payload that costs tens of thousands rather than tens of millions, small-sat companies may be willing to try a new type of launch vehicle for the chance of getting off the ground in just a couple of months. If this means they can start generating revenue immediately, rather than holding off for two years while competitors cement their reputations and rake in the dollars, they may even be willing to pay a premium rate for such a service.

Last year may have been a record year for small-sats, with a few hundred launched, but in the next 12 years, the number of these little machines being shot into the sky is expected to surpass 11,000, according to a report released by consultants Frost & Sullivan in March. Many of these satellites will be part of giant constellations, and as individual satellites inevitably fail, they will need to be constantly replenished. The satellite industry doesn’t just need the launch industry to step up, it needs a total transformation.

While the nanosat boom has been the big story of the last few years, it has set the wheels in motion for what could be the next big thing: small launch. Dozens of companies are racing to cater to the small satellite customer, offering rockets that are small, quick, and cheap enough to deploy that a small satellite company can book a dedicated launch, with all the freedom that this entails, rather than being stashed in someone else’s glove box.

Space Angels Small Launch Inforgraphic

Vector and Rocket Lab among those racing to provide small launch

Experts have been predicting the rise of small launch (vehicles that can carry a payload of around 2,000kg or less) for years, but 2018 was the year that these predictions started becoming a reality. In January 2018, Rocket Lab launched three satellites into orbit with a test flight of its 16m-tall, 200kg Electron rocket, which, when placed alongside SpaceX’s 70m Falcon 9 rocket, looks like a pencil next to a bazooka. Rocket Lab’s first official commercial launch was meant to happen in April, then June; data is now being reviewed before a new launch window is announced.

A month later,  a Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) sounding rocket successfully blasted off from the Uchinoura Space Center that made even the Electron look bulky. Just 10m high and 50cm in diameter, the vehicle looked like a needle trailing a plume of billowing white smoke as it blasted off, and the launch set a record for the world’s smallest orbital rocket.

Another small launch service planning to start operating this year is Space Angels portfolio company Vector Launch, which closed a $21 million funding round led by Sequoia in June 2017 and is developing two lightweight rockets aimed at the small-satellite market. Its Vector-R rocket is 13m long and carries a maximum payload of 66kg, while the Vector-H will be able to carry more than double that weight, but is still targeted squarely at the small-satellite market. Its competition in the small launch space includes Virgin Orbit, which plans to launch its LauncherOne from beneath the wing of a Boeing 747 later this year; Generation Orbit, which has partnered with another startup that has received Space Angels funding, Ursa Major, as the supplier of their liquid-rocket engines; and a number of other emerging small launch vehicles

NASA is among those testing out the possibilities of this new generation of launch services. In April, the agency announced that it had bought one flight each from Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit, to carry about a dozen CubeSats each, and will look into purchasing additional flights if these work out. “We’re supporting the continued evolution of the U.S. commercial space launch market,” said Jim Norman, NASA’s director of Launch Services.

Small launch offers control over payload and destination

While it’s true that small launch reliability is only at about 88% at this point, compared to 99% for commercial heavy-lift rocket launches, the technology behind small launch is developing fast, and reliability has continually increased since the 1950s. It’s also true that small launch is four times the sticker price of heavy launch due to economies of scale, although these costs can be recouped many times over due to the high likelihood of earlier launch window, which allows companies to start making money much quicker.

The average time between signing contracts and launching a satellite into space with a heavy vehicle is 24 months, while the equivalent time for a small launch vehicle is 15 months. Because a satellite startup spends an average of $425,000 per month on operating expenses, we have calculated that this 9-month reduction in wait time results in a 27x increase in overall savings.

The growth of the small-satellite market suggests that there will be enough demand to support both small and heavy launch. In addition to the shorter wait times that should be the major advantage of lightweight rockets, there are added benefits of being in the driving seat. A company that books its own launch can choose not only the flight date but also the precise destination of their satellites, rather than having to follow a primary payload to wherever it’s headed.

Dedicated launch also means a company can set other terms, such as the type of equipment allowed on board. Accion Systems is in the process of developing tiny ion engines to propel satellites exactly where they are needed, help them dodge obstacles and prolong their life. While this has clear value (Space Angels invested in Accion in 2016), carrying such a payload on a large rocket packed with other companies’ precious cargo could be considered an unacceptable risk. Small-launch customers would be able to make their own decision about what goes on a rocket that they’ve booked themselves.

It is clear that the launch industry must transform in order to meet a demand the likes of which has never been seen before, and which already outstrips supply. Globally, the small satellite market is expected to reach $7.7 billion by 2023 by some estimates, and with that kind of money at stake, the incentive for companies to try an alternative to heavy-rocket ridesharing is high — especially when that alternative provides them with two assets that are valuable to almost any business: speed and autonomy.

Between 2012 and 2017, just over a thousand small satellites were launched into Earth’s orbit. In 2017 alone, the number of small-sat launches reached a record 335, and the demand for more launch services became painfully obvious. In 2018, the high number of small-satellites sent into space is expected to continue, and while dozens of these tiny gadgets can be crammed into the payload of a large rocket, companies can still expect to wait anywhere from six months to two years before a rideshare to orbit becomes available.

Demand is sky-high for more timely launches, and with a payload that costs tens of thousands rather than tens of millions, small-sat companies may be willing to try a new type of launch vehicle for the chance of getting off the ground in just a couple of months. If this means they can start generating revenue immediately, rather than holding off for two years while competitors cement their reputations and rake in the dollars, they may even be willing to pay a premium rate for such a service.

Last year may have been a record year for small-sats, with a few hundred launched, but in the next 12 years, the number of these little machines being shot into the sky is expected to surpass 11,000, according to a report released by consultants Frost & Sullivan in March. Many of these satellites will be part of giant constellations, and as individual satellites inevitably fail, they will need to be constantly replenished. The satellite industry doesn’t just need the launch industry to step up, it needs a total transformation.

While the nanosat boom has been the big story of the last few years, it has set the wheels in motion for what could be the next big thing: small launch. Dozens of companies are racing to cater to the small satellite customer, offering rockets that are small, quick, and cheap enough to deploy that a small satellite company can book a dedicated launch, with all the freedom that this entails, rather than being stashed in someone else’s glove box.

Space Angels Small Launch Inforgraphic

Vector and Rocket Lab among those racing to provide small launch

Experts have been predicting the rise of small launch (vehicles that can carry a payload of around 2,000kg or less) for years, but 2018 was the year that these predictions started becoming a reality. In January 2018, Rocket Lab launched three satellites into orbit with a test flight of its 16m-tall, 200kg Electron rocket, which, when placed alongside SpaceX’s 70m Falcon 9 rocket, looks like a pencil next to a bazooka. Rocket Lab’s first official commercial launch was meant to happen in April, then June; data is now being reviewed before a new launch window is announced.

A month later,  a Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) sounding rocket successfully blasted off from the Uchinoura Space Center that made even the Electron look bulky. Just 10m high and 50cm in diameter, the vehicle looked like a needle trailing a plume of billowing white smoke as it blasted off, and the launch set a record for the world’s smallest orbital rocket.

Another small launch service planning to start operating this year is Space Angels portfolio company Vector Launch, which closed a $21 million funding round led by Sequoia in June 2017 and is developing two lightweight rockets aimed at the small-satellite market. Its Vector-R rocket is 13m long and carries a maximum payload of 66kg, while the Vector-H will be able to carry more than double that weight, but is still targeted squarely at the small-satellite market. Its competition in the small launch space includes Virgin Orbit, which plans to launch its LauncherOne from beneath the wing of a Boeing 747 later this year; Generation Orbit, which has partnered with another startup that has received Space Angels funding, Ursa Major, as the supplier of their liquid-rocket engines; and a number of other emerging small launch vehicles

NASA is among those testing out the possibilities of this new generation of launch services. In April, the agency announced that it had bought one flight each from Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit, to carry about a dozen CubeSats each, and will look into purchasing additional flights if these work out. “We’re supporting the continued evolution of the U.S. commercial space launch market,” said Jim Norman, NASA’s director of Launch Services.

Small launch offers control over payload and destination

While it’s true that small launch reliability is only at about 88% at this point, compared to 99% for commercial heavy-lift rocket launches, the technology behind small launch is developing fast, and reliability has continually increased since the 1950s. It’s also true that small launch is four times the sticker price of heavy launch due to economies of scale, although these costs can be recouped many times over due to the high likelihood of earlier launch window, which allows companies to start making money much quicker.

The average time between signing contracts and launching a satellite into space with a heavy vehicle is 24 months, while the equivalent time for a small launch vehicle is 15 months. Because a satellite startup spends an average of $425,000 per month on operating expenses, we have calculated that this 9-month reduction in wait time results in a 27x increase in overall savings.

The growth of the small-satellite market suggests that there will be enough demand to support both small and heavy launch. In addition to the shorter wait times that should be the major advantage of lightweight rockets, there are added benefits of being in the driving seat. A company that books its own launch can choose not only the flight date but also the precise destination of their satellites, rather than having to follow a primary payload to wherever it’s headed.

Dedicated launch also means a company can set other terms, such as the type of equipment allowed on board. Accion Systems is in the process of developing tiny ion engines to propel satellites exactly where they are needed, help them dodge obstacles and prolong their life. While this has clear value (Space Angels invested in Accion in 2016), carrying such a payload on a large rocket packed with other companies’ precious cargo could be considered an unacceptable risk. Small-launch customers would be able to make their own decision about what goes on a rocket that they’ve booked themselves.

It is clear that the launch industry must transform in order to meet a demand the likes of which has never been seen before, and which already outstrips supply. Globally, the small satellite market is expected to reach $7.7 billion by 2023 by some estimates, and with that kind of money at stake, the incentive for companies to try an alternative to heavy-rocket ridesharing is high — especially when that alternative provides them with two assets that are valuable to almost any business: speed and autonomy.

Between 2012 and 2017, just over a thousand small satellites were launched into Earth’s orbit. In 2017 alone, the number of small-sat launches reached a record 335, and the demand for more launch services became painfully obvious. In 2018, the high number of small-satellites sent into space is expected to continue, and while dozens of these tiny gadgets can be crammed into the payload of a large rocket, companies can still expect to wait anywhere from six months to two years before a rideshare to orbit becomes available.

Demand is sky-high for more timely launches, and with a payload that costs tens of thousands rather than tens of millions, small-sat companies may be willing to try a new type of launch vehicle for the chance of getting off the ground in just a couple of months. If this means they can start generating revenue immediately, rather than holding off for two years while competitors cement their reputations and rake in the dollars, they may even be willing to pay a premium rate for such a service.

Last year may have been a record year for small-sats, with a few hundred launched, but in the next 12 years, the number of these little machines being shot into the sky is expected to surpass 11,000, according to a report released by consultants Frost & Sullivan in March. Many of these satellites will be part of giant constellations, and as individual satellites inevitably fail, they will need to be constantly replenished. The satellite industry doesn’t just need the launch industry to step up, it needs a total transformation.

While the nanosat boom has been the big story of the last few years, it has set the wheels in motion for what could be the next big thing: small launch. Dozens of companies are racing to cater to the small satellite customer, offering rockets that are small, quick, and cheap enough to deploy that a small satellite company can book a dedicated launch, with all the freedom that this entails, rather than being stashed in someone else’s glove box.

Space Angels Small Launch Inforgraphic

Vector and Rocket Lab among those racing to provide small launch

Experts have been predicting the rise of small launch (vehicles that can carry a payload of around 2,000kg or less) for years, but 2018 was the year that these predictions started becoming a reality. In January 2018, Rocket Lab launched three satellites into orbit with a test flight of its 16m-tall, 200kg Electron rocket, which, when placed alongside SpaceX’s 70m Falcon 9 rocket, looks like a pencil next to a bazooka. Rocket Lab’s first official commercial launch was meant to happen in April, then June; data is now being reviewed before a new launch window is announced.

A month later,  a Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) sounding rocket successfully blasted off from the Uchinoura Space Center that made even the Electron look bulky. Just 10m high and 50cm in diameter, the vehicle looked like a needle trailing a plume of billowing white smoke as it blasted off, and the launch set a record for the world’s smallest orbital rocket.

Another small launch service planning to start operating this year is Space Angels portfolio company Vector Launch, which closed a $21 million funding round led by Sequoia in June 2017 and is developing two lightweight rockets aimed at the small-satellite market. Its Vector-R rocket is 13m long and carries a maximum payload of 66kg, while the Vector-H will be able to carry more than double that weight, but is still targeted squarely at the small-satellite market. Its competition in the small launch space includes Virgin Orbit, which plans to launch its LauncherOne from beneath the wing of a Boeing 747 later this year; Generation Orbit, which has partnered with another startup that has received Space Angels funding, Ursa Major, as the supplier of their liquid-rocket engines; and a number of other emerging small launch vehicles

NASA is among those testing out the possibilities of this new generation of launch services. In April, the agency announced that it had bought one flight each from Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit, to carry about a dozen CubeSats each, and will look into purchasing additional flights if these work out. “We’re supporting the continued evolution of the U.S. commercial space launch market,” said Jim Norman, NASA’s director of Launch Services.

Small launch offers control over payload and destination

While it’s true that small launch reliability is only at about 88% at this point, compared to 99% for commercial heavy-lift rocket launches, the technology behind small launch is developing fast, and reliability has continually increased since the 1950s. It’s also true that small launch is four times the sticker price of heavy launch due to economies of scale, although these costs can be recouped many times over due to the high likelihood of earlier launch window, which allows companies to start making money much quicker.

The average time between signing contracts and launching a satellite into space with a heavy vehicle is 24 months, while the equivalent time for a small launch vehicle is 15 months. Because a satellite startup spends an average of $425,000 per month on operating expenses, we have calculated that this 9-month reduction in wait time results in a 27x increase in overall savings.

The growth of the small-satellite market suggests that there will be enough demand to support both small and heavy launch. In addition to the shorter wait times that should be the major advantage of lightweight rockets, there are added benefits of being in the driving seat. A company that books its own launch can choose not only the flight date but also the precise destination of their satellites, rather than having to follow a primary payload to wherever it’s headed.

Dedicated launch also means a company can set other terms, such as the type of equipment allowed on board. Accion Systems is in the process of developing tiny ion engines to propel satellites exactly where they are needed, help them dodge obstacles and prolong their life. While this has clear value (Space Angels invested in Accion in 2016), carrying such a payload on a large rocket packed with other companies’ precious cargo could be considered an unacceptable risk. Small-launch customers would be able to make their own decision about what goes on a rocket that they’ve booked themselves.

It is clear that the launch industry must transform in order to meet a demand the likes of which has never been seen before, and which already outstrips supply. Globally, the small satellite market is expected to reach $7.7 billion by 2023 by some estimates, and with that kind of money at stake, the incentive for companies to try an alternative to heavy-rocket ridesharing is high — especially when that alternative provides them with two assets that are valuable to almost any business: speed and autonomy.

Small rockets will power the next stage of the nanosat revolution
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Between 2012 and 2017, just over a thousand small satellites were launched into Earth’s orbit. In 2017 alone, the number of small-sat launches reached a record 335, and the demand for more launch services became painfully obvious. In 2018, the high number of small-satellites sent into space is expected to continue, and while dozens of these tiny gadgets can be crammed into the payload of a large rocket, companies can still expect to wait anywhere from six months to two years before a rideshare to orbit becomes available.

Demand is sky-high for more timely launches, and with a payload that costs tens of thousands rather than tens of millions, small-sat companies may be willing to try a new type of launch vehicle for the chance of getting off the ground in just a couple of months. If this means they can start generating revenue immediately, rather than holding off for two years while competitors cement their reputations and rake in the dollars, they may even be willing to pay a premium rate for such a service.

Last year may have been a record year for small-sats, with a few hundred launched, but in the next 12 years, the number of these little machines being shot into the sky is expected to surpass 11,000, according to a report released by consultants Frost & Sullivan in March. Many of these satellites will be part of giant constellations, and as individual satellites inevitably fail, they will need to be constantly replenished. The satellite industry doesn’t just need the launch industry to step up, it needs a total transformation.

While the nanosat boom has been the big story of the last few years, it has set the wheels in motion for what could be the next big thing: small launch. Dozens of companies are racing to cater to the small satellite customer, offering rockets that are small, quick, and cheap enough to deploy that a small satellite company can book a dedicated launch, with all the freedom that this entails, rather than being stashed in someone else’s glove box.

Space Angels Small Launch Inforgraphic

Vector and Rocket Lab among those racing to provide small launch

Experts have been predicting the rise of small launch (vehicles that can carry a payload of around 2,000kg or less) for years, but 2018 was the year that these predictions started becoming a reality. In January 2018, Rocket Lab launched three satellites into orbit with a test flight of its 16m-tall, 200kg Electron rocket, which, when placed alongside SpaceX’s 70m Falcon 9 rocket, looks like a pencil next to a bazooka. Rocket Lab’s first official commercial launch was meant to happen in April, then June; data is now being reviewed before a new launch window is announced.

A month later,  a Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) sounding rocket successfully blasted off from the Uchinoura Space Center that made even the Electron look bulky. Just 10m high and 50cm in diameter, the vehicle looked like a needle trailing a plume of billowing white smoke as it blasted off, and the launch set a record for the world’s smallest orbital rocket.

Another small launch service planning to start operating this year is Space Angels portfolio company Vector Launch, which closed a $21 million funding round led by Sequoia in June 2017 and is developing two lightweight rockets aimed at the small-satellite market. Its Vector-R rocket is 13m long and carries a maximum payload of 66kg, while the Vector-H will be able to carry more than double that weight, but is still targeted squarely at the small-satellite market. Its competition in the small launch space includes Virgin Orbit, which plans to launch its LauncherOne from beneath the wing of a Boeing 747 later this year; Generation Orbit, which has partnered with another startup that has received Space Angels funding, Ursa Major, as the supplier of their liquid-rocket engines; and a number of other emerging small launch vehicles

NASA is among those testing out the possibilities of this new generation of launch services. In April, the agency announced that it had bought one flight each from Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit, to carry about a dozen CubeSats each, and will look into purchasing additional flights if these work out. “We’re supporting the continued evolution of the U.S. commercial space launch market,” said Jim Norman, NASA’s director of Launch Services.

Small launch offers control over payload and destination

While it’s true that small launch reliability is only at about 88% at this point, compared to 99% for commercial heavy-lift rocket launches, the technology behind small launch is developing fast, and reliability has continually increased since the 1950s. It’s also true that small launch is four times the sticker price of heavy launch due to economies of scale, although these costs can be recouped many times over due to the high likelihood of earlier launch window, which allows companies to start making money much quicker.

The average time between signing contracts and launching a satellite into space with a heavy vehicle is 24 months, while the equivalent time for a small launch vehicle is 15 months. Because a satellite startup spends an average of $425,000 per month on operating expenses, we have calculated that this 9-month reduction in wait time results in a 27x increase in overall savings.

The growth of the small-satellite market suggests that there will be enough demand to support both small and heavy launch. In addition to the shorter wait times that should be the major advantage of lightweight rockets, there are added benefits of being in the driving seat. A company that books its own launch can choose not only the flight date but also the precise destination of their satellites, rather than having to follow a primary payload to wherever it’s headed.

Dedicated launch also means a company can set other terms, such as the type of equipment allowed on board. Accion Systems is in the process of developing tiny ion engines to propel satellites exactly where they are needed, help them dodge obstacles and prolong their life. While this has clear value (Space Angels invested in Accion in 2016), carrying such a payload on a large rocket packed with other companies’ precious cargo could be considered an unacceptable risk. Small-launch customers would be able to make their own decision about what goes on a rocket that they’ve booked themselves.

It is clear that the launch industry must transform in order to meet a demand the likes of which has never been seen before, and which already outstrips supply. Globally, the small satellite market is expected to reach $7.7 billion by 2023 by some estimates, and with that kind of money at stake, the incentive for companies to try an alternative to heavy-rocket ridesharing is high — especially when that alternative provides them with two assets that are valuable to almost any business: speed and autonomy.

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