Commercial Suborbital Sounding Rocket Market: A Role for Reusable Launch Vehicles

To read the full-text of this research, you can request a copy directly from the author.


Space advocates adopted the tenet that the way to reduce the cost of space access is to fly reusable vehicles so development and production costs could be amortized over many flights. Some have also suggested that commercial suborbital flights, both for scientific payloads and for human space flight participants, may provide a path in which a revenue stream can be ultimately used to fund orbital and deep space operations. Some aspiring space launch providers (NewSpace) have incorporated in order to develop and fly such vehicles. This paper examines the economic and business conditions for reusable suborbital sounding rockets. Given current market size and pricing, the global nonmilitary suborbital sounding rocket market is less than 60 flights of perhaps 200-kilogram payloads annually at roughly $1 million each. High demand elasticity (increased demand with lowered prices) at a price of significantly less than $250 per kilogram of payload might increase the market to possibly 1500 flights annually. The business case for developing and flying reusable sounding rockets for this market cannot be closed with investor capital unless flight rates are markedly higher than at present. This paper discusses potential approaches to closing the business case.

No full-text available

Request Full-text Paper PDF

To read the full-text of this research,
you can request a copy directly from the author.

... First, the cost of flying payloads on these launch vehicles is over an order of magnitude lower than the traditional launch systems (Jurist, 2009). Such a reduction in cost facilitates space access for many smaller or nontraditional organizations as well as enables lower cost and more frequent opportunities. ...
Full-text available
Multiple private companies are building suborbital reusable launch vehicles possessing vastly different designs. Many of these companies originally focused on space tourism; however, revolutionary applications for scientific and engineering research as well as technology demonstrations and instrument development are emerging. The dramatic reduction in cost over traditional launch systems as well as a guaranteed (and rapid) safe payload return enable many new launch vehicle applications. These new capabilities will essentially move the laboratory environment up to the edge of space. To make use of these novel launch vehicles, the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory has established a Commercial Suborbital Program with a core system (JANUS) to support and enable many future suborbital missions. This program has already conducted six suborbital flight missions to establish vehicle interfaces and analyze the suitability and limits of each flight environment. Additionally, this program has also been selected by the NASA Flight Opportunities Program for five additional operational suborbital missions. Here we present the results of our completed missions as well as descriptions of future selected missions scheduled for 2021–2023.
... These young companies, labeled by some as 'NewSpace' companies, have brought attention to the fact that the way the mainstream aerospace sector approaches space access must change. [1][2][3] As an example, Lyke 4 identified that the U.S. Department of Defense's Transformational Satellite Communication System that was proposed in 2003 with a budget of $12 billion did not plan to launch its first satellites until eight years after conception. After project delays and budget overruns, the project was canceled in 2009. ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
In this paper we aim to demonstrate the emerging rapid design and build technologies that enable Surrey Satellite Technology LTD, SSTL, realize their hyper-arching goal of launching a satellite in six months and twelve days from initial concept. This aggressive end-to-end timeline includes concept development, design, optimization, fabrication, testing, verification and launch. The six AlSi10Mg alloy components to be delivered for implementation into the satellite are presented as a case study of the unprecedented end-to-end timeline and include four edge inserts, a mono-pole antenna insert and the star tracker camera bracket that are fabricated with the Additive Manufacturing process of Direct Metal Laser Sintering with an EOSM290 machine. Using OptiStruct software, the components are optimized for mass minimization and frequency response subject to provided constraints. Customized macrolattice structures are utilized within the edge inserts to provide lightweight support of horizontal load-bearing bonding surfaces. The optimized camera bracket was not subjected to the strict geometric constraints of the inserts, and hence the resulting topology optimized bracket emerged as an organic, bionic structure significantly lighter in weight than its un-optimized counterpart. Additive Manufacturing enables the concept of designing for functionality as opposed to designing for manufacturability, and hence the resulting components are impossible to manufacture from traditional manufacturing practices.
One of the major historical milestones of spaceflight, suborbital flights played a vital role in the development of technologies and procedures for the operation of spacecraft. Today suborbital flights still play an important part in scientific and commercial fields, and in this chapter, the basic terms and values will be defined and also explained in the historical context. Small launching system for scientific applications called sounding rockets have a significant importance due to an unbeatable flexibility and cost effectiveness and the new and emerging field of commercial human flights to the edge of space is growing as an economically sound business model for private participants. Either of them will be detailed in the appropriate sub-chapters, followed by an outlook on the future possibilities of suborbital flights.
Conference Paper
It is commonly assumed that microgravity environments are utilized only for space-based applications. However, microgravity platforms have been used for science and industrial applications long before a national space program was conceived. This paper will discuss microgravity platforms and their utilization as they are available now, explore technology that will grant access to longer durations of weightlessness, and further identify the community of users of these technologies in order to better understand the overall microgravity utilization market. The Emerging Space Industry Leaders (ESIL) workshop series is an ongoing effort supported by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation established to foster ongoing discussion and analysis of various segments of the commercial space industry. This paper is the result of the fourth workshop held in Louisville, Colorado June 1st and 2nd 2013 which set out to accomplish the following objectives: 1. Develop an understanding of the current microgravity utilization industry and identify any trends in users and applications. 2. Evaluate the microgravity utilization market through the application of Game Theory and the PARTS market model. 3. Identify favorable applications of microgravity platforms and outline key areas for beneficial partnerships in industry. To accomplish these objectives, this paper will provide an overview of the multiple platforms currently available for research and development to the scientific and industrial communities. Each platform varies in many factors that affect the research that can be done, such as quality of microgravity, cost of the platform, and others that must be taken into consideration when analyzing the utilization market. The paper will discuss currently available platforms such as drop towers, parabolic aircraft and orbital platforms, in addition to suborbital platforms that will come online in the coming years. Characterization of the microgravity utilization industry was done using a realization of game theory, the PARTS model, developed by Brandenburger and Nalebuff. While not analyzed mathematically, the PARTS model of game theory was used to identify the major factors governing the development and utilization of the microgravity market. From this analysis, two strategies were recommended. The first is to address existing misperceptions of the industry, which are inhibiting the market from growing. This strategy requires cooperation by the current suppliers, payload integrators and funding agencies. The second strategy focuses on creating new perceptions to stimulate market growth and does not require cooperation between entities. These strategies and implementation recommendations are discussed further in the paper.
Abeyratne R (2012) Aeronomics and law. Fixing anomalies. Springer, New York
Cheap, rapid orbital launch (Responsive Space) has been elusive. Three potential approaches, all with different policy and economic implications, are considered. The first, exemplified by Virgin Galactic's SS-2, evolves current attempts at suborbital space tourism or human- tended science involving brief flights with apogees above 100 km into point to point suborbital transport and eventually into orbital transport. The second, exemplified by SpaceX's Falcon series, evolves more traditional aerospace technology with improved management. This is intended to drive down launch costs on the margin and evolve eventually to the point where responsive and inexpensive space access is accomplished. The third, and in our opinion most viable short term approach, uses stated national security needs to accelerate development and to exploit currently existing or partially developed and demonstrated technology. We consider the potential synergism between the recently released US Air Force request for information on placing a small unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) anywhere in the world from the continental US within 2 hours and the Small Unit Space Transport and Insertion (SUSTAIN) requirement defined by the US Marine Corps. SUSTAIN specifies a needed capability to place a squad of 13 marines and field supplies anywhere in the world from the continental US within 2 hours. Potential solutions considered for SUSTAIN and rejected include: • A DC-X like vertical take-off rocket-powered vehicle that decelerates and lands under rocket power and then returns under rocket power without refueling and refurbishing cannot be developed and fielded in a 5 to 10 year period. • An aerospace plane that would most likely require development for more than a decade and would also require a landing field near the target area. • Placing and staffing a constellation of up to 12 space stations with re-entry vehicles. This is technically possible but economically implausible. Each requirement (the USAF UAV anywhere and SUSTAIN) can be met with launch vehicles from the Microcosm Scorpius launch system family, specifically the Sprite and Exodus vehicles. These vehicles can inexpensively
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.