Several companies across the world are trying to enter the market for space research by sending out small and large payloads into space for both scientific and commercial purposes which could reshape the industry in the days to come. In the past small satellites have shared rides with others on large rockets but now startup rocket launch companies feel that these should not be forced to depend on large payloads to hitch a ride into space.
As per a 2018 survey around 34 small satellite launchers are under various stages of development but only a few are ready to fly. Those who can be included in the list are Virgin Orbit, Rocket Lab, Firefly Aerospace and few others.
Virgin Orbit – Its Launcher One rocket is ready for its first flight which is likely to be launched from Boeing 747. This rocket will push small satellites into orbit from several thousand feet above earth.
Rocket Lab – Its Electron Rocket has already launched 25 satellites into space in five sorties for both government and private firms. Others in various stages of readiness are Firefly Aerospace, Stratolaunch and Vector.
According to CEO of Bryce Space and Tech, if there is no urgency to put satellites into orbit within a fixed schedule then it would make financial sense for their owners to hitch a ride instead of using small launchers as they may not have sufficient business to sustain their models. In other words the small satellite launch industry could soon witness an upheaval with few maintaining their status while others merge or close business. Sending clusters of satellites together could also be confusing business as four months after 64 satellites were deployed into space by Falcon 9 rocket around more than a dozen are yet to be identified. Satellite operators are unable to identify theirs from the ground even though all were deployed as designed.