Governmental organizations lure the creators of ultra-low RN with contracts, bonuses and simplified bureaucracy

Original author: Debra Werner
  • Transfer

RocketLab's ultra-small PH Electron did not reach orbit in May 2017, but the second launch in January 2018 delivered a cubesat for Planet and Spire into space. Photo source:

NASA Rocket Lab , US Air Force, USAF, National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are looking forward to the appearance new generations of ultra-small launch vehicles - and on the threshold of this they are already saving money and weakening departmental oversight.

“Everyone wants to get their own small rocket, because it’s good to fly alone, without fellow travelers,” Randall Riddle, engineer of the Launch Enterprise Small Launch and Targets Division Launcher Division of the Air Force Aerospace and Rocket Systems Division ( Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, SMC), began its speech at the 2018 Small Payload Rideshare Symposium Symposium on the Co-Launch of Small Exercises, which was held last month, June 13, at the Ames Research Center in Moffet Field, California.

“In the past, if you were a small participant in the“ big ”launch, the price fluctuations for a service could differ ten times, but now this is only a difference of two or three times. That's what happens if you can afford a “personal“ carrier, ”says Riddle.

Warren Frick, head of promising projects at the Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and head of the technical committee of the Small Payload Rideshare Association launch services: “The vast majority of small devices used to be sent into space by passing loads on heavy RNs; Today, a bunch of companies around the world are planning to offer customers dedicated load launches in sizes down to cubes, since most of the newly developed missiles have a load range from 200 to 500 kilograms. ”

Image source: original article

So far, there are only six PHs that are designed to output loads of about 1000 kilograms or less: Chinese Kaitouzhe-2, Kuaizhou-1A and Long March 11; Pegasus and Minotaur 1 from Northrop Grumman; and Electron from Rocket Lab, which brought out the first load just recently, in January of this year. Soon, many other operators will join them, including Virgin Orbit, Vector Launch, Firefly Aerospace and Stratolaunch.

Therefore, government organizations are looking forward to see what offers will come from emerging market participants regarding the price of services and the speed of access to orbit.

Independence Day

Air Force Lt. Col. A.J. Ashby, Head of Logistics at the Procurement Division of the Space Launch Office (NRO): “Microsatellites that cling to the main load depend on her as hitchhikers from a truck driver. Therefore, small missiles are a great opportunity to get behind the wheel yourself and go wherever and how you want, and when you wish. ”

Mary Fuller, NASA Mission Leader for the Kennedy Space Center launch services program: “It is extremely important for our scientists to conduct observations from certain orbits. In addition, NASA plans to conduct experiments with “constellations” of cubsats sent to small PHs. In case of loss of one of the loads, we risk much less. ”

At the event, representatives of USAF, DARPA and NRO also said that such missiles would also be useful in matters of national security.

Todd Master, project consultant at the DARPA Tactical Technologies Division: “Today we spend billions of dollars on building space technology, and this has been going on for five, six, eight, or even ten years. And I think you can see for yourself how with the progress of microelectronics, the focus shifts towards modular structures ( even the interpreter: I think it’s about Falcon 9 ) or even systems that are displayed individually and are being assembled into a larger object already in orbit. ”

Freedom of access to NOU

“If there are enough small carriers, the military could consider the task of massively delivering satellites to a low reference orbit,” says Todd Master, “After all, this gives resiliency and the ability to quickly recover losses in which the Armed Forces are extremely interested. This is what we do not have now - the ability to run the load at any time when it is needed. "

“In addition, ultra-small LVs will make the infrastructure more flexible. Although no one thinks about this, our main launch sites are concentrated in just two places, on the East and West coasts. Our company and some other newcomers want to offer alternative “routes” to orbit for the state in case something happens to the Vanderberg base or Cape Canaveral, ”adds Steve Nixon, vice president of strategic development at Stratolaunch; this firm, funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, plans to launch launches from the world's largest air-launch aircraft.

Image source: original article

To spur the development and production of such missiles, government offices offer lucrative contracts, prize contests, and also promise to rationalize paperwork.

"Monsters providing missions"

Purchasing venture category launches, NASA has signed contracts for the delivery of cubes with Rocket Lab, Virgin Galactic and Firefly Space Systems; the latter went through bankruptcy in 2016 and then reappeared on the market as Firefly Aerospace in 2017. The agency decided to revise the requirements and method of state control regarding these contracts.

"We are not going to turn the workflow into an endless series of meetings and approvals," explains Mary Fuller, "NASA only wants to provide recommendations and suggestions, but they [companies] are not obliged to strictly follow them."

NRO is also working to make the purchase of missiles less puzzling. A. J. Ashby: “Managing space launches no longer looks like a monolithic monster, whose only task is to provide missions. We want to make things easy with us. Instead of rolling out a list of all sorts of hard constraints every time, we will revise them every time, depending on the likely risk during the mission. ”
NRO is likely to receive funding for launching at least two rockets a year, comparable in class to the Minotaur. Ashby again: “Usually we get a budget only when we can prove that there is a mission assigned to the purchased launch; the fact that this time it turned out to win its own without specifics - proves that in some places there was clearly finally a shift in thinking ”.

SMC also expects additional funds. Randall Riddle: “As soon as the 2019 fiscal year begins, there will be a new line about money allocated to small RNs, and we are looking forward to it. We have already purchased nearly half a dozen launches, including through agreements under the “ Other Transaction Authority agreements , OTA), and in the next twelve months we will buy as many more.”

Defense and intelligence structures use OTA to sponsor the design of various prototypes. Such transactions, unlike standard procedures, are not subject to control by the Federal Acquisition Control Agency ( FAR).

DARPA, meanwhile, accepts applications for the next competition, with the help of which in 2019 it plans to accelerate the growth of the small media industry. Todd Master: "The main prize will be ten million dollars, and companies will have to ensure the launch of microsatellites within weeks or even days, without any specifics about the launch point, target orbit, or the nature of the load."

The article was first published on July 30, 2018 in the journal SpaceNews.

Also popular now: