Rocket Lab Introduces On-Line Launch Booking

Choose Your Seat Assignment Image credit : Rocket Lab Screen Capture

Choose Your Seat Assignment
Image credit : Rocket Lab Screen Capture

Yesterday, InnerSpace focused on air-launched solutions to the growing demand for small satellite launches.  And while winged rockets may conjure up fond memories for those who grew up reading classic science fiction from the golden era, an announcement from New Zealand born but LA based NewsSpace company Rocket Lab suggests that conventional vertically launched two-stage rockets are not about to become history.

In an announcement made at the annual SmallSat conference in Logan, Utah published in GeekWire, Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck unveiled the company’s on-line booking service for smallsat customers. It is in some ways a small step, and follow-up contact with the company is still required, but the very notion that anyone can look at given specific launch vehicle for a specific time and see what capacity remains is sign of just how far NewSpace has progressed in making access to space available to the public in a way that was unthinkable even a few years ago.

The entry of Rocket Lab, as well as other small launch providers such as Firefly also highlights a commonplace but nonetheless insteresting aspect of launch economics. At an offering price of $4.9 M for a maximum capacity of 220 lb. to LEO, Rocket Lab is hardly breaking ground where costs per pound are concerned, weighing in at just north of $22,000. However, because it has chosen to optimize capacity for small payloads, it is still able to offer launch costs as low as $50,000 for 1U cubesat and $180,000 for a 3U cubesat. Just as intriguing, a prospective flyer can also select their specific location in the payload bay layout. Combined with what are projected to be very short lead times and none of the complications of integrating into a flight with very expensive primary payloads going to different orbits, and the result is a sea change in how smaller operators can access space.

There are some storm clouds in this generally happy scenario.

How Rocket Lab as well as others will be able to compete against the $10,000 per pound, 100 lb. capability which is the target of DARPA’s ALASA program is an interesting question and one which some may find a bit troubling. With so much innovation going on in the small launch market, the DARPA program could be described as “picking winners,” rarely a popular proposition for those who aren’t picked. On the other hand, the DARPA program is aimed at answering a distinct government need, 24 hour call-up, which at least at this point is not a requirement for private industry.

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