Status and Trends of Smallsats and their Launch Vehicles — An Up-to-date Review

Timo Wekerle, José Bezerra Pessoa Filho, Luís Eduardo Vergueiro Loures da Costa, Luís Gonzaga Trabasso


This paper presents an analysis of the scenario of small satellite and its correspondent launch vehicles. The miniaturization of electronics, together with reliability and performance increase as well as reduction of cost, have allowed the use of commercials-off-the-shelf in the space industry, fostering the Smallsat use. An analysis of the launched Smallsats during the last 20 years is accomplished and the main factors for the Smallsat (r)evolution, outlined. Based on historic data, future scenarios for different mass categories of Smallsats are presented. An analysis of current and future launch vehicles reveals that we are currently in a phase of transition, where old launch vehicles get retired and new ones enter the market. However, the satellite launch vehicle business has been established to carry payloads of thousands of kilos into low Earth orbit and has not adjusted itself to the market of Smallsats. As a result, there is only 1 launch vehicle for dedicated Smallsat launches commercially available, but it carries a high price tag. Several small lowcost launch vehicles under development are identified and the challenges to overcome, discussed. Since these small launch vehicles have similar complexity as huge launch vehicles, high development costs are intrinsic, leading to a high specific price (USD/kg payload).


Small Satellite; Launch Vehicle; Access to Space

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