Small Rocket Launches are Turning Into Big Business

AlphaAtlas

[H]ard|Gawd
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While enormous rockets like the Falcon Heavy and the BFR tend to dominate the headlines and the public's imagination, the New York Times asserts that the small rocket industry is experiencing a kind of renaissance. Tasks that previously required car-sized satellites can now be accomplished by something the size of a microwave, and many projects now call for swarms of satellites in low Earth orbit, as opposed to behemoths sitting at a fixed point over Earth in geosynchronous orbit. While small payloads that hitchhike on large launches still offer lower overall launch prices, the scheduling for these kinds of launches can be inconvenient for businesses, which is opening a large hole in the market for smaller companies to enter. Rocket Lab, which was founded by a somewhat disgruntled SpaceX employee, is one such company, and they just completed their first successful commercial launch.

Check out a video of the 56-foot Electron rocket here.

Space Angels, a space-business investment firm, is tracking 150 small launch companies. Chad Anderson, Space Angel's chief executive, said that although the vast majority of these companies will fail, a small group possess the financing and engineering wherewithal to get off the ground. Each company on Mr. Anderson's list proffers its own twist in business plan or capability: Vector Launch Inc. aims for mass production; Virgin Orbit, a piece of Richard Branson's business empire, will drop its rockets from the bottom of a 747 at 35,000 feet up; Relativity Space plans to 3-D print almost all pieces of its rockets; Firefly Aerospace will offer a slightly larger rocket in a bet that the small satellites will grow a bit in size and weight; Gilmour Space Technologies is a rare Australian aerospace company; And Astra Space Inc., which is operating in stealth mode like a Silicon Valley start-up, saying nothing about what is doing.
 
On the one hand, smaller satellites are cool. I have some fond memories of science class experiments made for tiny boxes. On the other hand, I can't help feeling that we're just adding to the massive amount of junk up there. I bet space alien yelp says "earth. humans. bunch of slobs. 2 stars."
 
good for them.

Watching the video though, their control room clearly outlines one issue that has always bummed me out about IT

LOL
 
On the one hand, smaller satellites are cool. I have some fond memories of science class experiments made for tiny boxes. On the other hand, I can't help feeling that we're just adding to the massive amount of junk up there. I bet space alien yelp says "earth. humans. bunch of slobs. 2 stars."

One of the advantages of low-cost launchers is you can launch a swarm of disposable satellites into low orbits where drag will bring them down in a decade rather than thousands of years from now. Plus you can achieve better speeds/lower latency.

Before now it made more sense to use larger satellites in higher altitude/geostationary orbits because each launch was a huge investment.
 
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