Poll

Is the small launcher sector dying?

Yes
40 (43.5%)
No
24 (26.1%)
Maybe
28 (30.4%)

Total Members Voted: 92

Voting closes: 03/21/2024 09:29 am


Author Topic: Is the small launcher sector dying?  (Read 12306 times)

Online chopsticks

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Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #40 on: 04/17/2023 11:32 am »
I definitely don't see Rocket Lab abandoning Electron in the next 5 years or so. Rocket Lab is in this unique position where, unlike all these other small launchers, Rocket Lab has already invested the time and money into Electron and has gotten to a point where abandoning it wouldn't be very enticing, I mean what other small launcher can you say has not only proved itself to be a reliable vehicle, but has also scaled up its facility's to support a launch cadence of once every 1-2 weeks, has 3 operational launch pads around the world, and (hopefully) is able to reuse its first stage. and not to mention photon. Rocket Lab has already put in the dev work for Electron,

The only real issue with Electron would be the operational cost, but even then Rocket Lab has also shown that Electron can be somewhat financially sustainable. I mean sure they aren't making money with the thing yet, but they're also not losing $100M on it per year like other small launchers (last year for example, they stated they only had a gross loss of 7m for electron), and if they're actually able to increase cadence just a little bit more and start making money on the damn thing, then that just becomes another incentive to keep Electron alive.

Rocket Lab is in a very strong position right now in the small dedicated launch market. And it's not like Neutron would be able to replace Electron, they'd just be abandoning the small dedicated launch market, and for what reason? even if this was just some niche market, it'd be a niche market Rocket Lab controlled.

Question : Which company has made the most revenue from small launch since Electronís first flight in 2017?

I donít have the exact answer, but I can do a rough estimate.
Wouldn't that be Electron? I thought none of the other small launchers were close to viable.

Certainly not Astra or VO. Firefly flew once so far, Terran 1 is dead, not sure what's happening with ABL, who else is there?

Offline tbellman

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Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #41 on: 04/17/2023 11:40 am »
Question : Which company has made the most revenue from small launch since Electronís first flight in 2017?

I donít have the exact answer, but I can do a rough estimate.
Wouldn't that be Electron? I thought none of the other small launchers were close to viable.

Certainly not Astra or VO. Firefly flew once so far, Terran 1 is dead, not sure what's happening with ABL, who else is there?

SpaceX with their Transporter rideshare program.

They are not using a small launcher, but the launched satellites are small.

Offline soyuzu

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Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #42 on: 04/17/2023 12:05 pm »
My poll answer is "no", the small launch sector is not dying.  Just during the first 3.5 months of this year (2023) we've seen at least eleven of these small launchers fly, totaling 13 flights and 10 successes.  They include SQX-1, Shavit-2, Electron, KZ-1A, CZ-11, SSLV, RS-1, Ceres-1, TianLong-2, Terran-1, and LauncherOne.  Some may be faltering, but more are coming. 

 - Ed Kyle

It would be better to have a more detailed picture for each of these launches before jump to any conclusion.

Terran-1 LauncherOne: faltering

Ceres-1, SQX-1: OEM rockets mainly used to appease VC. Will falter once larger, in-house developed liquid rocket is ready, just like Landspace with their ZQ-1.

TianLong-2: effectively a medium sized rocket that is underperforming currently, will growth to 4t LEO soon.

Shavit-2, KZ-1A, CZ-11, SSLV: Government funded project

So this leaves us with only Electron and RS-1

Given how many commercial small launcher projects we have several years ago, this clearly shows that at least the commercial part of small launcher sector is dying.
« Last Edit: 04/17/2023 12:05 pm by soyuzu »

Offline trimeta

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Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #43 on: 04/17/2023 01:22 pm »
The question is, if Electron continues launching because Rocket Lab has reached the point where they make some minimal profit annually (or gain other fringe benefits from continuing to launch), but it doesn't pay back its development costs and no one else enters the market, does that mean the small launch sector is alive or dead? Characteristically, the poll question doesn't make it clear what's actually being asked...

Online chopsticks

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Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #44 on: 04/17/2023 02:33 pm »
Question : Which company has made the most revenue from small launch since Electronís first flight in 2017?

I donít have the exact answer, but I can do a rough estimate.
Wouldn't that be Electron? I thought none of the other small launchers were close to viable.

Certainly not Astra or VO. Firefly flew once so far, Terran 1 is dead, not sure what's happening with ABL, who else is there?

SpaceX with their Transporter rideshare program.

They are not using a small launcher, but the launched satellites are small.

That's not what he said. (Yeah, I know that's what he was hinting at but he was trying to make it fit his agenda) A rideshare mission isn't a small launch - small launch implies a small launch vehicle.

If you could launch a thousand tiny sats on a Starship: I would call that "small launch".

Offline the_big_boot

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Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #45 on: 04/17/2023 03:47 pm »
I definitely don't see Rocket Lab abandoning Electron in the next 5 years or so. Rocket Lab is in this unique position where, unlike all these other small launchers, Rocket Lab has already invested the time and money into Electron and has gotten to a point where abandoning it wouldn't be very enticing, I mean what other small launcher can you say has not only proved itself to be a reliable vehicle, but has also scaled up its facility's to support a launch cadence of once every 1-2 weeks, has 3 operational launch pads around the world, and (hopefully) is able to reuse its first stage. and not to mention photon. Rocket Lab has already put in the dev work for Electron,

The only real issue with Electron would be the operational cost, but even then Rocket Lab has also shown that Electron can be somewhat financially sustainable. I mean sure they aren't making money with the thing yet, but they're also not losing $100M on it per year like other small launchers (last year for example, they stated they only had a gross loss of 7m for electron), and if they're actually able to increase cadence just a little bit more and start making money on the damn thing, then that just becomes another incentive to keep Electron alive.

Rocket Lab is in a very strong position right now in the small dedicated launch market. And it's not like Neutron would be able to replace Electron, they'd just be abandoning the small dedicated launch market, and for what reason? even if this was just some niche market, it'd be a niche market Rocket Lab controlled.

oh hey, they also just announced they're creating an electron variant for hypersonic testing, I don't really see a company doing something like that if they planned on dropping the vehicle anytime soon.

Offline Tommyboy

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Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #46 on: 04/17/2023 08:38 pm »
Question : Which company has made the most revenue from small launch since Electronís first flight in 2017?

I donít have the exact answer, but I can do a rough estimate.
Wouldn't that be Electron? I thought none of the other small launchers were close to viable.

Certainly not Astra or VO. Firefly flew once so far, Terran 1 is dead, not sure what's happening with ABL, who else is there?

SpaceX with their Transporter rideshare program.

They are not using a small launcher, but the launched satellites are small.

That's not what he said. (Yeah, I know that's what he was hinting at but he was trying to make it fit his agenda) A rideshare mission isn't a small launch - small launch implies a small launch vehicle.

If you could launch a thousand tiny sats on a Starship: I would call that "small launch".
Even excluding the Transporter missions, I still think SpaceX wins considering they launched IXPE (325kg). IIRC the whole Electron program is still cashflow-negative, while the F9 program is certainly cashflow positive and the IXPE launch itself as well.

Offline M.E.T.

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Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #47 on: 04/19/2023 04:52 am »
Question : Which company has made the most revenue from small launch since Electronís first flight in 2017?

I donít have the exact answer, but I can do a rough estimate.
Wouldn't that be Electron? I thought none of the other small launchers were close to viable.

Certainly not Astra or VO. Firefly flew once so far, Terran 1 is dead, not sure what's happening with ABL, who else is there?

SpaceX with their Transporter rideshare program.

They are not using a small launcher, but the launched satellites are small.

That's not what he said. (Yeah, I know that's what he was hinting at but he was trying to make it fit his agenda) A rideshare mission isn't a small launch - small launch implies a small launch vehicle.

If you could launch a thousand tiny sats on a Starship: I would call that "small launch".

Semantics.

Small launch generates its revenue exclusively from launching small satellites. There is a limited pie of small satellites that require launching. So my question was - which launch provider has generated the most revenue from that pie?

That would be the dominant small sat launcher.

Offline edkyle99

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Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #48 on: 04/19/2023 01:47 pm »
Even excluding the Transporter missions, I still think SpaceX wins considering they launched IXPE (325kg). IIRC the whole Electron program is still cashflow-negative, while the F9 program is certainly cashflow positive and the IXPE launch itself as well.
I wonder.  On Transporter 7, SpaceX felt compelled to shave a few bucks by removing the second stage nozzle extension.  Why would they need to do so? 

 - Ed Kyle

Online kevinof

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Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #49 on: 04/19/2023 01:58 pm »
Even excluding the Transporter missions, I still think SpaceX wins considering they launched IXPE (325kg). IIRC the whole Electron program is still cashflow-negative, while the F9 program is certainly cashflow positive and the IXPE launch itself as well.
I wonder.  On Transporter 7, SpaceX felt compelled to shave a few bucks by removing the second stage nozzle extension.  Why would they need to do so? 

 - Ed Kyle
Because they are not “old space” - There is always an incentive to refine and reduce costs just as with any business and the Falcon 9 will be flying for many more years. And it’s probably more than “a few bucks”.

Offline jdon759

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Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #50 on: 04/19/2023 08:48 pm »
Even excluding the Transporter missions, I still think SpaceX wins considering they launched IXPE (325kg). IIRC the whole Electron program is still cashflow-negative, while the F9 program is certainly cashflow positive and the IXPE launch itself as well.
I wonder.  On Transporter 7, SpaceX felt compelled to shave a few bucks by removing the second stage nozzle extension.  Why would they need to do so? 

 - Ed Kyle
Because they are not ďold spaceĒ - There is always an incentive to refine and reduce costs just as with any business and the Falcon 9 will be flying for many more years. And itís probably more than ďa few bucksĒ.

Just enough to make the launch profitable, perhaps?

Offline Vahe231991

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Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #51 on: 04/19/2023 09:36 pm »
If there was an anyone who felt bad for Virgin Orbit filing for bankruptcy and thought that LauncherOne was going to be consigned to history's dustbin, they should think again:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2023/04/19/virgin-orbit-bankruptcy-plans/

Offline trimeta

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Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #52 on: 04/19/2023 10:41 pm »
If there was an anyone who felt bad for Virgin Orbit filing for bankruptcy and thought that LauncherOne was going to be consigned to history's dustbin, they should think again:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2023/04/19/virgin-orbit-bankruptcy-plans/
I don't see how they could ramp up to the cadence necessary to not lose money on every launch with just 100 employees. Maybe the military bails them out because throwing $100M/year towards "launch readiness" is worth having domestic air-launch capabilities. Maybe they find some sort of hypersonics use case. But I still don't see how they could possibly make money from launch.

Offline TrevorMonty

Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #53 on: 04/20/2023 12:44 am »


If there was an anyone who felt bad for Virgin Orbit filing for bankruptcy and thought that LauncherOne was going to be consigned to history's dustbin, they should think again:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2023/04/19/virgin-orbit-bankruptcy-plans/
I don't see how they could ramp up to the cadence necessary to not lose money on every launch with just 100 employees. Maybe the military bails them out because throwing $100M/year towards "launch readiness" is worth having domestic air-launch capabilities. Maybe they find some sort of hypersonics use case. But I still don't see how they could possibly make money from launch.

Will have to share to hypersonic market with RL HASTE.

Offline intrepidpursuit

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Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #54 on: 04/20/2023 07:33 pm »
I think small launch will continue to be dominated by companies that are new and making realistic goals. That will make it low cost and high risk but with great customer service. It would only be a long term visit business model for 2 launchers at best, but maybe that's okay.

Offline trimeta

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Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #55 on: 04/20/2023 08:09 pm »
I think small launch will continue to be dominated by companies that are new and making realistic goals. That will make it low cost and high risk but with great customer service. It would only be a long term visit business model for 2 launchers at best, but maybe that's okay.
Is there a market for low cost/high risk small launch, if 1-2 companies remain in this market at higher cost but with long track records of success? The only customers which would seem like a good fit for low cost/high risk are those where the payload itself isn't very expensive (so they're not worried about losing it), and I would imagine that for most of those applications, they don't care what orbit it's in either. So a rideshare would be the low cost/low risk solution.

This does raise the question of how any new companies could gain the experience with small launch necessary to go on and build a bigger rocket, but there's always Relativity's approach: build the small rocket but only launch it once or twice, just to gain experience you'll need to go bigger.

Offline FutureSpaceTourist

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Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #56 on: 04/22/2023 04:11 am »
Small launch (payload) sector is healthy and growing, but I think small launchers are dying (so I voted yes).

From Falcon 1 onwards, I donít believe any small launcher will generate enough revenue to recoup its development and ongoing operational costs. Rideshares on larger LVs will continue to offer the lowest launch prices and I donít think there are enough customers willing/able to pay notably higher prices for dedicated launches.

Historically, Minotaur and/or Pegasus may have been net profitable - I just donít know the details - but they are not price competitive now and unlikely to win any new launches.

Offline Nomadd

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Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #57 on: 04/22/2023 04:18 am »
Even excluding the Transporter missions, I still think SpaceX wins considering they launched IXPE (325kg). IIRC the whole Electron program is still cashflow-negative, while the F9 program is certainly cashflow positive and the IXPE launch itself as well.
I wonder.  On Transporter 7, SpaceX felt compelled to shave a few bucks by removing the second stage nozzle extension.

 - Ed Kyle

 Why would they spend money they didn't need to?
« Last Edit: 04/22/2023 05:57 pm by Nomadd »
Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who couldn't hear the music.

Offline joek

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Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #58 on: 04/22/2023 04:33 am »
I wonder.  On Transporter 7, SpaceX felt compelled to shave a few bucks by removing the second stage nozzle extension.  Why would they need to do so? 

"Compelled" and "need" are unduly suggestive. They're desperate? They're scraping the bottom of the barrel? More likely the simple answer: another typical SpaceX refinement-interation-improvement to drive down cost and complexity.

Offline trimeta

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Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #59 on: 04/22/2023 04:49 am »
Small launch (payload) sector is healthy and growing, but I think small launchers are dying (so I voted yes).

From Falcon 1 onwards, I donít believe any small launcher will generate enough revenue to recoup its development and ongoing operational costs. Rideshares on larger LVs will continue to offer the lowest launch prices and I donít think there are enough customers willing/able to pay notably higher prices for dedicated launches.

Historically, Minotaur and/or Pegasus may have been net profitable - I just donít know the details - but they are not price competitive now and unlikely to win any new launches.
I do think Electron at least is on the cusp (and may be past it) of "generate enough revenue to recoup its ongoing operational costs." Of course, I omitted "development" for a reason. From a purely financial perspective, the program as a whole wasn't worth starting, except insofar as it enabled (and continues to enable) other lines of business which may actually be profitable overall.

This does suggest that unless other companies can reach a similar state, they won't continue to launch small-lift rockets. And the conditions seem hard to reproduce: you'd need to have started early enough when small launch did seem like a good idea, but also have advanced to the point where you're at least covering your ongoing operational costs, and have another, actually-successful division that brings in real money to keep the company going.

The only way I see that happening is if someone like Redwire or Planet Labs purchases Virgin Orbit to have in-house launch capabilities to complement their existing business, but VO seems to be years away from at least breaking even per-launch. And all other small launchers are even farther away, making continued investment a money sink.

 

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