Making Opportunities for Small Satellite Launches
Small (mini- and micro-) satellites are cheap. Launches on commercial vehicles are not so cheap, and have to be paid for in real money. Dedicated small launch vehicles are relatively expensive in dollars per kilogram in orbit. Piggy back launches on larger vehicles potentially offer lower costs if a compromise can be reached on the destination. The ASAP-5 secondary launch platform, developed by Astrium Ltd, offers a standardized platform from which micro-satellites can ride with primary spacecraft. An R&D programme is underway in Astrium to improve this capability by reducing mass and costs, and providing a shock-free separation system. It is hoped to be able to supply this capability on a range of launchers. Economic investigations suggest that it is possible to offer low specific prices to secondary satellites, and to provide a cost advantage to the primary customer, if more than 200 kg of secondaries is flown on a given launch. The talk will end with a look forward to the world of Reusable Launch Vehicles. Because of the economics of these vehicles it is possible to offer a constant specific price over a wide range of payload masses, down to about 800 kg. This will still mean that micro-satellites have to be launched as secondaries, but should greatly expand the opportunities for such missions.