Virgin Galactic, Firefly and Rocket Lab Each Win NASA Venture Class Launch Award

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One of the great things about the emerging cubesat launch market is that NASA is able to help no less than three different companies get off the ground by booking a launch for less than $18 million.

On June 12th, NASA’s Launch Services Program announced that it was establishing a new class of launch vehicles, Venture Class,  to support the booming cubesat industry for what it calls “U Class payloads.” According to the proposal, the agency wanted to award one or more firm, fixed price contracts for either a single flight carrying 60 kg. or two flights carrying 30 kg each to LEO. Location and timing are up to the vendor, but the launches must occur before April 15th, 2018.

Yesterday, the space agency indicated that it will hold a press conference next week to announce the award winners, but as it turned out the awards were already published.

  • Virgin Galactic/LauncherOne     $4.7 M
  • Firefly Space Systems/Alpha       $5.5 M
  • Rocket Lab/Electron                     $6.95 M

Notably, the awards are all less than what each of the companies has suggested its retail price for launch will be, suggesting that perhaps other, commercial cubesats may be co-manifested. Then again, that’s why you have press conferences. In the meantime, consider this: NASA, without spending any development dollars, is playing an important role in helping virtually an entire industry segment, one that consists of four companies (it has a separate arrangement with Generation Orbit and GOLauncher) demonstrate their vehicles for approximately the same cost as mission assurance for a SpaceX Falcon 9 or better yet, half the cost of a single Orbital ATK Pegasus.

The press conference will be held  at 1 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, Oct. 14, at Kennedy Space Center, and will air on NASA Television as well as NASA.gov.

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