Poll

Is the small launcher sector dying?

Yes
41 (42.3%)
No
26 (26.8%)
Maybe
30 (30.9%)

Total Members Voted: 97

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


Author Topic: Is the small launcher sector dying?  (Read 17519 times)

Offline Tywin

« Last Edit: 03/18/2023 09:31 am by Tywin »
The knowledge is power...Everything is connected...
The Turtle continues at a steady pace ...

Offline M.E.T.

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2294
  • Liked: 2894
  • Likes Given: 504
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #1 on: 03/18/2023 11:16 am »
Only hollow satisfaction comes from “I told you so”. Rather, I remain perplexed by the fact that so many very smart people, on this site and elsewhere, could not see the self evident truth on this issue years ago.

To adapt an old adage, “It’s the business case, stupid.” In this case, it’s just not there. And never was, once SpaceX reflew a used booster.

Offline DeimosDream

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 124
  • Atlanta
  • Liked: 102
  • Likes Given: 46
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #2 on: 03/18/2023 11:49 am »
Small launch is growing, not dying. The sector has increased up to a grand total of 14 successfully launches in 2022, with more expected in 2023.

Unfortunately even a +100% increase split between Alpha/Astra/Electron/Epsilon/LauncherOne/Minotaur/Pegasus/Prime/RS1/RFA-One/Skyroa/SSLV/Spectrum/Terran-1 is an average of only 2 flights each.

The sector isn't dying, its just getting ready for a rather large pruning. This particular race has a lot of entries but not very many podium spots.

Offline spacenut

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 5180
  • East Alabama
  • Liked: 2587
  • Likes Given: 2895
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #3 on: 03/18/2023 11:55 am »
When Starship and New Glenn get flying with full reuse.  The small launch sector will be a nich market.  Larger fully reusable rockets can have rides for satellites on their way to doing something else, and at a lower cost because it is hitching a ride.  Larger launch vehicles will open space up to larger projects and exploration and larger satellites that can do more. 

Offline Robotbeat

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 39248
  • Minnesota
  • Liked: 25187
  • Likes Given: 12102
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #4 on: 03/18/2023 12:45 pm »
Small launch is growing, not dying. The sector has increased up to a grand total of 14 successfully launches in 2022, with more expected in 2023.

Unfortunately even a +100% increase split between Alpha/Astra/Electron/Epsilon/LauncherOne/Minotaur/Pegasus/Prime/RS1/RFA-One/Skyroa/SSLV/Spectrum/Terran-1 is an average of only 2 flights each.

The sector isn't dying, its just getting ready for a rather large pruning. This particular race has a lot of entries but not very many podium spots.
I think most of those companies which survive will do one of two things:
1) go up-market to medium or heavy launch, satellite building, or components for both. Or defense-oriented applications (hypersonics).
2) be used as flagship domestic launchers for smaller nations and so receive national support.

Full and rapid reuse would be possible (YES, even for small lift, and I wish people would stop claiming physics or whatever doesn’t allow it for small lift… in some ways there are actually more reuse mode options at the small end), but it’d take an extremely aggressive approach and would be tough to justify economically except at the very upper end of 1-2 ton.
Chris  Whoever loves correction loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.

To the maximum extent practicable, the Federal Government shall plan missions to accommodate the space transportation services capabilities of United States commercial providers. US law http://goo.gl/YZYNt0

Offline TrevorMonty

Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #5 on: 03/18/2023 01:36 pm »


.

Full and rapid reuse would be possible (YES, even for small lift, and I wish people would stop claiming physics or whatever doesn’t allow it for small lift… in some ways there are actually more reuse mode options at the small end), but it’d take an extremely aggressive approach and would be tough to justify economically except at the very upper end of 1-2 ton.

RL are showing that reuse for 300kg LVs is possible and surprising themselves and everybody else in the processing. I don't think anybody thought reusing small booster after water landing was worthwhile but here they are going down that path. Not sure it will be rapid reuse.
Stoke are trying for full and rapid reuse. I think their US reentry technology will be superior to SS's tiles.


Online chopsticks

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 1057
  • Québec, Canada
  • Liked: 1075
  • Likes Given: 164
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #6 on: 03/18/2023 03:19 pm »


.

Full and rapid reuse would be possible (YES, even for small lift, and I wish people would stop claiming physics or whatever doesn’t allow it for small lift… in some ways there are actually more reuse mode options at the small end), but it’d take an extremely aggressive approach and would be tough to justify economically except at the very upper end of 1-2 ton.

RL are showing that reuse for 300kg LVs is possible and surprising themselves and everybody else in the processing. I don't think anybody thought reusing small booster after water landing was worthwhile but here they are going down that path. Not sure it will be rapid reuse.
Stoke are trying for full and rapid reuse. I think their US reentry technology will be superior to SS's tiles.

Agree. The total number of launches is increasing, but it seems like the rate of growth for small launchers is less than for the medium lift vehicles. I do think that a small reusable launcher definitely has a niche though, as long as it can be cost-competitive.

Offline Tywin

Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #7 on: 03/18/2023 03:49 pm »
In my opinion, the US market shows the way, Virgin Orbit is almost broke, Astra is going that way, and Rocket Lab with great reliability so far is NOT making money with Electron....

Instead, we see Rocket Lab, ABL Space, Firefly and Relativity betting on semi-heavy rockets, because that's where the money is....

Even Stoke Space, I don't think you can say their rocket is Small Launcher, because I think it will put over 2 tons in LEO....

To me the market is dead between these semi heavy rockets and space tugs that drop you into precise orbit, there is no niche market for small launchers....
The knowledge is power...Everything is connected...
The Turtle continues at a steady pace ...

Offline Tywin

Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #8 on: 03/18/2023 03:57 pm »
For example, TLON Space's Aventura I, rocket, with 25 kg at LEO, for me its challenge is not to make it reliable but to make it profitable, which I see as impossible, with the conditions of the world market.

https://tlon.space/aventura-i/

Unless Argentina keeps it as Italy is doing with the Vega as a strategic national asset....

We see in Spain how PLD Space, has moved the Miura V (before Arion 2) from less than 300 kg to LEO to 900 kg to LEO, but even with this improvement, for me they are very late to the market...

https://arc.aiaa.org/doi/pdf/10.2514/6.2018-2467

The small satellites of NewSpace, what they want is reliability and cheap economy of their payloads to LEO and they can get that in the rideshare of SpaceX or in the future semi-heavy ones of the companies mentioned before...
The knowledge is power...Everything is connected...
The Turtle continues at a steady pace ...

Offline RedLineTrain

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2415
  • Liked: 2373
  • Likes Given: 10139
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #9 on: 03/18/2023 07:17 pm »
The small launch sector might never die because even if the business is bad, in order to make a large rocket you need first to create a Minimal Viable Product that is a small rocket.

And there's no natural bridge between a small rocket and a large rocket.  You go from $100-200 million investment for a small rocket to $3-4 billion investment for a large rocket.  That chasm will be difficult to manage, especially in this venture funding winter and SpaceX's falling marginal cost to launch.

Lastly, even in a healthy small launch sector, almost all contenders will die.  Company X, Y, or Z dying is not an indication that the sector is dying.  Therefore, you may be unable tell to that the sector is dying until it has already been dead for a while.
« Last Edit: 03/18/2023 07:32 pm by RedLineTrain »

Offline butters

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2398
  • Liked: 1691
  • Likes Given: 596
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #10 on: 03/18/2023 09:01 pm »
Demand for dedicated small launch may be increasing, but the market potential will fall way short of the projections of any of the small launch providers, and that will raise questions of whether it makes sense to service this relatively niche market. There's demand, but maybe not enough to justify supply from a purely commercial perspective (national interests may dictate otherwise).

To make the obligatory aviation analogy: Nobody makes 50-seat jets anymore. There's barely any Fokker F28s left in service, and the CRJ-100/200s are declining in number every year. The only modern 50-seat airliner is the ATR-42 turboprop, which isn't a particularly big seller. Moving down into the 19-seat category, there's not many Twin Otters or Dornier 228s flying scheduled service, and only bright spot here is the popularity of the Cessna Caravan as a short-hop cargo feeder for the likes of FedEx and UPS.

It's even difficult to develop a 76-seat jet that anybody will buy nowadays, because nobody wants to invest in engines for this class. There are zero orders for the Embraer E175-E2, because the high-efficiency P&W geared turbofan engine is too heavy for the airframe to fit within MTOW limits for this class. The Honda regional jet was canceled before it entered serial production. Bombardier cracked this nut with what's now called the Airbus A220, with more fuel capacity relative to passenger capacity, defying the term "regional jet" and the US scope clauses.

Airlines are finding that the B737/A320 class is economical enough for "skinny" routes with relatively low demand. Southwest Airlines built their entire business model on idea that this class of aircraft can serve all of their needs, and that efficiencies of operating a single type outweigh the potentially lower load factors. And passenger airlines can generate extra revenue by filling spare load capacity with freight.

The launch service analogy here is that medium-class rockets are the B737/A320s of this industry. They offer the most flexibility to serve the widest spectrum of market demand. They might not be the most cost-effective solution for every mission, but they are the most cost-effective over the whole launch manifest, offering the best amortization of development costs and fixed operating costs.

Much like customers with special requirements can charter a private jet like a Gulfstream or a Citation, there is demand for dedicated small launch, but it's a niche market with relatively low volumes and premium price points, for customers that want to go wherever they want, whenever they want, without having to rub shoulders with the unwashed rideshare masses.

Private aviation did not become a mass market way of life as Cessna and Piper might have dreamed in the early 1960s. It was the Boeing 747 jumbo jet, more than any other type, that ushered in the era of affordable access to air travel. It was economies of scale. And the minimum viable scale has been increasing over the decades to the point where 90-110 seats is about as low as it makes sense to go for commercial aviation.

I don't know if or when the launch industry will get to the point where we're writing obituaries lamenting the disappearance of 50-ton rockets like we talk about 50-seat airliners today. But we're asking these questions today about 1-ton or 3-ton rockets, and even 8-ton rockets might be at the low end of minimum viable for the commercial mass market. As demand increases, as the cost of developing increasingly sophisticated rocket engines to compete with the likes of Raptor becomes more daunting, the industry will focus on the most flexible systems.

Offline DeimosDream

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 124
  • Atlanta
  • Liked: 102
  • Likes Given: 46
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #11 on: 03/19/2023 04:47 am »
I don't like the jet analogy. 'Nitch' is a bit too dismissive of the vibrant private/executive jet business. They may have more downtime (less reuse) and move only a fraction of the cargo/passengers as the big workhorses, but if you look at airframe production over 40% of new civil jet aircraft manufactured were small business jets with 5-20 seats (in 2021 approximately ~700 vs ~1000 Airbus/Boeing/Embraer deliveries in the west).

Another point against the jet analogy is that the private jet general aviation business is less consolidated than the airline/cargo commercial buisness. There are about twice as many small business jet manufacturers as there are commercial jet airline/cargo manufacturers, even if we exclude piston and turbo-props.

Using jet aviation as a template would suggest the market will eventually support more small lift rocket vendors selling personalized solutions than it will big high-efficiency rockets manufacturers.
« Last Edit: 03/19/2023 04:49 am by DeimosDream »

Offline TrevorMonty

Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #12 on: 03/19/2023 08:39 am »
The A380 is end of life ie SS equivalent.

Offline spacenut

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 5180
  • East Alabama
  • Liked: 2587
  • Likes Given: 2895
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #13 on: 03/19/2023 01:32 pm »
The A380 is end of life ie SS equivalent.

The problem I read about the A380 was the lack of airports that could handle this big jet.  Only a handful in the entire world.  It was cheaper to use a slightly smaller jet that could take off and land at 90% of the airports.  A380 was created to fly between large hub airports with people changing planes to get to their destinations.  There are now more worldwide airports and now one can go straight to their destinations without changing planes using smaller planes. 

SS is just beginning, and it seems to not be that hard to build launch facilities and a landing pad anywhere.  It will grow due to orbital refueling, until large in space nuclear spacecraft are developed.  Also because of finishing the Starlink launches. 

Offline AmigaClone

Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #14 on: 03/19/2023 01:39 pm »
I don't like the jet analogy. 'Nitch' is a bit too dismissive of the vibrant private/executive jet business. They may have more downtime (less reuse) and move only a fraction of the cargo/passengers as the big workhorses, but if you look at airframe production over 40% of new civil jet aircraft manufactured were small business jets with 5-20 seats (in 2021 approximately ~700 vs ~1000 Airbus/Boeing/Embraer deliveries in the west).

Another point against the jet analogy is that the private jet general aviation business is less consolidated than the airline/cargo commercial buisness. There are about twice as many small business jet manufacturers as there are commercial jet airline/cargo manufacturers, even if we exclude piston and turbo-props.

Using jet aviation as a template would suggest the market will eventually support more small lift rocket vendors selling personalized solutions than it will big high-efficiency rockets manufacturers.

Personally, I'm in favor of the jet aviation analogy. Granted, in my case I would compare the private jet general aviation business to sounding (suborbital) rockets with the small orbital launchers being the equivalent to regional jets (under 100 passengers).

There is room for several launch providers in this category - although I suspect most if not all would benefit from also having a larger launch vehicle as well.

Offline lightleviathan

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 158
  • Liked: 135
  • Likes Given: 41
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #15 on: 03/21/2023 12:14 pm »
I don't think it's dying per say, but the oversaturated market is having bankruptcies, (which we all knew was going to happen) so only Rocket Lab, Relativity, Firefly, ABL, and maybe Astra will survive. But these companies might consolidate further, with ABL going to Lockheed (speculation) and Firefly going to Northrop. (more speculation)

Offline Zed_Noir

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 5418
  • Canada
  • Liked: 1789
  • Likes Given: 1288
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #16 on: 03/21/2023 05:34 pm »
I don't think it's dying per say, but the oversaturated market is having bankruptcies, (which we all knew was going to happen) so only Rocket Lab, Relativity, Firefly, ABL, and maybe Astra will survive. But these companies might consolidate further, with ABL going to Lockheed (speculation) and Firefly going to Northrop. (more speculation)
Doesn't matter the future status of Rocket Lab, Relativity, Firefly, ABL or Astra. They are all moving toward a medium class launcher.

None of the current US SmallSat launchers will be around in 3 to 5 years, IMO.

There isn't too many future viable uses for a SmallSat launcher that makes economic sense. When "Raidshare" rides is available frequently with more than adequate payload capacity.
 

Offline TrevorMonty

Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #17 on: 03/21/2023 06:34 pm »
I don't think it's dying per say, but the oversaturated market is having bankruptcies, (which we all knew was going to happen) so only Rocket Lab, Relativity, Firefly, ABL, and maybe Astra will survive. But these companies might consolidate further, with ABL going to Lockheed (speculation) and Firefly going to Northrop. (more speculation)
Doesn't matter the future status of Rocket Lab, Relativity, Firefly, ABL or Astra. They are all moving toward a medium class launcher.

None of the current US SmallSat launchers will be around in 3 to 5 years, IMO.

There isn't too many future viable uses for a SmallSat launcher that makes economic sense. When "Raidshare" rides is available frequently with more than adequate payload capacity.
Rideshares are a compromise, satellites still need to get to target orbit from dropoff orbit. That requires extra DV via tug or additional fuel and maybe propulsion, none of which is free. Not every rideshare will get you in range of target orbit which means more time on ground waiting for right ride. Satellites don't earn money sitting around waiting for rides to space in mean time salaries and bills need to be paid.

With dedicated launch satellite only needs enough DV for station keeping, reducing build cost. Satellite owner controls launch dates, if there are delays getting satellite ready for launch not problem. They still have option of rideshare but will need to pay extra for space tug.

Which ever path satellite operator chooses there are compromises.

Offline Robotbeat

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 39248
  • Minnesota
  • Liked: 25187
  • Likes Given: 12102
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #18 on: 03/21/2023 06:41 pm »
I bet Electron will still be around in 3 years and probably 5, too. When you have a launcher that actually exists and has an okay track record (not great, not terrible in the case of Electron) at a price per launch lower than medium/heavy launchers, it can stick around for quite a while. Heck, I don’t think Pegasus or Minotaur is quite dead yet, is it? (EDIT: Pegasus isn’t officially dead yet and there’s at least one more Minotaur IV launch, I think this year.) Electron is significantly cheaper that those and with booster reuse could last for well over 5 more years or longer as there is a lot of inertia in the launch realm.

RocketLab’s primary revenue will have hopefully long since transitioned to satellite hardware and Neutron, but reusable boosters could allow Rocket Lab to launch Electron for quite a while after having freed up the vast majority of the factory space for other projects.

The same could’ve happened with Falcon 1/1e if parachute recovery had worked and if F9 had gone directly to full thrust capability instead of v1.0.

Falcon 1 never launched successfully very many times and only ever from a logistically challenging island. The gap in capacity between F1 and F9 v1.0 is smaller than Electron and Neutron, plus Neutron is probably 2 years from launch, maybe more, whereas there was only 9 months from F1’s last flight until F9’s first flight.

Electron also has a third stage capability which works well for the niche of tiny deep space missions, which is a boon to NASA planetary exploration (where launch windows can be narrow and not well suited to rideshare… although it’d be in NASA’s interest to find a solution to that).

F9v1.0/(F1) payload to LEO ratio is about 15:1. neutron/electron to LEO ratio is about 50. SpaceX decided to just fly F1 payloads on Falcon 9, whereas the gap in capability and early cost is greater for Rocket Lab, plus Electron has a decent cadence already and Neutron doesn’t have any big NASA space station cargo contracts that are pulling for it to be completed.
« Last Edit: 03/21/2023 07:01 pm by Robotbeat »
Chris  Whoever loves correction loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.

To the maximum extent practicable, the Federal Government shall plan missions to accommodate the space transportation services capabilities of United States commercial providers. US law http://goo.gl/YZYNt0

Offline Robotbeat

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 39248
  • Minnesota
  • Liked: 25187
  • Likes Given: 12102
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #19 on: 03/21/2023 07:03 pm »
The history of Minotaur and Pegasus show that stuff can stick around for a lot longer than you might think makes any sense, especially with defense missions.
Chris  Whoever loves correction loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.

To the maximum extent practicable, the Federal Government shall plan missions to accommodate the space transportation services capabilities of United States commercial providers. US law http://goo.gl/YZYNt0

Offline DeimosDream

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 124
  • Atlanta
  • Liked: 102
  • Likes Given: 46
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #20 on: 03/21/2023 08:51 pm »
My 5-year NorthAmerican/European prediction is a down selection to 1 each micro/small on each continent.

Astra vs Electron vs Launcher One: Electron seems to be the winner and looks like it will stick around. Astra's v3 was too unreliable and the pivot to v4 came too late: capital is now too expensive. Launcher One was too niche and expensive.

Orbex vs Skyrora: Predicting a down select to one. Skyrora seems to have the upper hand.

Alpha vs RS-1 vs Terran-1. Predicting a down select to one. Not sure who survives the attrition and corners this payload segment as the last small-lift standing. Alpha was first to market but also has the highest sticker rate. RS-1 has the best business plan, but with an unfunded(?) medium lift plan has the least reserves to survive a battle of attrition for market share. Terran-1 has the most part commonality with the Medium version which I thought indicated it would stick around, but some of their comments on Terran-1's maiden flight objectives/outcomes make me think their commitment to keeping Terran-1 flying vs using it as a stepping-stone to Medium might be softening.

RFA-One vs Spectrum: Predicting a downs elect to one. I had thought RFA had the lead, but OHB is selling all/part of its stake makes me think it could be ISARs game.

Offline Zed_Noir

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 5418
  • Canada
  • Liked: 1789
  • Likes Given: 1288
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #21 on: 03/21/2023 10:42 pm »
I bet Electron will still be around in 3 years and probably 5, too. When you have a launcher that actually exists and has an okay track record (not great, not terrible in the case of Electron) at a price per launch lower than medium/heavy launchers, it can stick around for quite a while. Heck, I don’t think Pegasus or Minotaur is quite dead yet, is it? (EDIT: Pegasus isn’t officially dead yet and there’s at least one more Minotaur IV launch, I think this year.) Electron is significantly cheaper that those and with booster reuse could last for well over 5 more years or longer as there is a lot of inertia in the launch realm.
<snip>
Think Rocket Lab will quickly phased out the Electron once the Neutron comes online. Don't think Rocket Lab want to support 2 launch systems simultaneously.

A launch with the Pegasus is more expensive then a Falcon 9 launch. Plus the L-1011 Stargrazer launch aircraft is ancient and is not able to operated from many airports due to noise restrictions. The last remaining Pegasus launcher will be on display at a museum somewhere.
 
The Minotaurs are only use by the US government, not for commercial usage. The Minotaur-C isn't included in the restriction since it is a re-branded Taurus. However there hasn't been a new Minotaur-C launch contract announced for a while and not expect any more soon.

Offline Vahe231991

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 1689
  • 11 Canyon Terrace
  • Liked: 462
  • Likes Given: 199
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #22 on: 04/03/2023 03:59 am »
I bet Electron will still be around in 3 years and probably 5, too. When you have a launcher that actually exists and has an okay track record (not great, not terrible in the case of Electron) at a price per launch lower than medium/heavy launchers, it can stick around for quite a while. Heck, I don’t think Pegasus or Minotaur is quite dead yet, is it? (EDIT: Pegasus isn’t officially dead yet and there’s at least one more Minotaur IV launch, I think this year.) Electron is significantly cheaper that those and with booster reuse could last for well over 5 more years or longer as there is a lot of inertia in the launch realm.
<snip>
Think Rocket Lab will quickly phased out the Electron once the Neutron comes online. Don't think Rocket Lab want to support 2 launch systems simultaneously.

A launch with the Pegasus is more expensive then a Falcon 9 launch. Plus the L-1011 Stargrazer launch aircraft is ancient and is not able to operated from many airports due to noise restrictions. The last remaining Pegasus launcher will be on display at a museum somewhere.
 
The Minotaurs are only use by the US government, not for commercial usage. The Minotaur-C isn't included in the restriction since it is a re-branded Taurus. However there hasn't been a new Minotaur-C launch contract announced for a while and not expect any more soon.
The Minotaur I, II, IV, and V are small launchers only because the Minuteman and Peacekeeper ICBMs from which they are derived have heights shorter than the Firefly Alpha and Terran 1.

Offline Jim

  • Night Gator
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 37401
  • Cape Canaveral Spaceport
  • Liked: 21347
  • Likes Given: 428
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #23 on: 04/03/2023 02:25 pm »
The Minotaur I, II, IV, and V are small launchers only because the Minuteman and Peacekeeper ICBMs from which they are derived have heights shorter than the Firefly Alpha and Terran 1.

No, small is define by capability and not physical attributes.

Offline Vahe231991

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 1689
  • 11 Canyon Terrace
  • Liked: 462
  • Likes Given: 199
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #24 on: 04/03/2023 03:16 pm »
The Minotaur I, II, IV, and V are small launchers only because the Minuteman and Peacekeeper ICBMs from which they are derived have heights shorter than the Firefly Alpha and Terran 1.

No, small is define by capability and not physical attributes.
I see. I also should point out that Roscosmos tends to define small-lift launch vehicles as having a payload mass to LEO of up to 11,000 pounds, in contrast to NASA defining small-lift launch vehicles as having a payload mass to LEO of 4,400 pounds or less.   

Offline Jim

  • Night Gator
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 37401
  • Cape Canaveral Spaceport
  • Liked: 21347
  • Likes Given: 428
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #25 on: 04/03/2023 04:16 pm »
The Minotaur I, II, IV, and V are small launchers only because the Minuteman and Peacekeeper ICBMs from which they are derived have heights shorter than the Firefly Alpha and Terran 1.

No, small is define by capability and not physical attributes.
I see. I also should point out that Roscosmos tends to define small-lift launch vehicles as having a payload mass to LEO of up to 11,000 pounds, in contrast to NASA defining small-lift launch vehicles as having a payload mass to LEO of 4,400 pounds or less.   


Roscosmos doesn't really matter when discussing US rockets.   And it is not just NASA that defines classes.

Offline AmigaClone

Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #26 on: 04/03/2023 04:42 pm »
The Minotaur I, II, IV, and V are small launchers only because the Minuteman and Peacekeeper ICBMs from which they are derived have heights shorter than the Firefly Alpha and Terran 1.

No, small is define by capability and not physical attributes.
I see. I also should point out that Roscosmos tends to define small-lift launch vehicles as having a payload mass to LEO of up to 11,000 pounds, in contrast to NASA defining small-lift launch vehicles as having a payload mass to LEO of 4,400 pounds or less.   


Roscosmos doesn't really matter when discussing US rockets.   And it is not just NASA that defines classes.

NASA's definition is likely the most significant one for US launch providers. In addition to Roscosmos, I imagine that at least China, and India's equivalent organizations also define classes, with other national or international organizations doing the same.

Offline Jim

  • Night Gator
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 37401
  • Cape Canaveral Spaceport
  • Liked: 21347
  • Likes Given: 428
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #27 on: 04/03/2023 04:50 pm »
The Minotaur I, II, IV, and V are small launchers only because the Minuteman and Peacekeeper ICBMs from which they are derived have heights shorter than the Firefly Alpha and Terran 1.

No, small is define by capability and not physical attributes.
I see. I also should point out that Roscosmos tends to define small-lift launch vehicles as having a payload mass to LEO of up to 11,000 pounds, in contrast to NASA defining small-lift launch vehicles as having a payload mass to LEO of 4,400 pounds or less.   


Roscosmos doesn't really matter when discussing US rockets.   And it is not just NASA that defines classes.

NASA's definition is likely the most significant one for US launch providers. In addition to Roscosmos, I imagine that at least China, and India's equivalent organizations also define classes, with other national or international organizations doing the same.

For the US, there also is the DOD and FAA.  NASA doesn't speak for the US space program (only the US gov't civilian program).

Offline Tywin

Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #28 on: 04/13/2023 04:36 pm »
Well, LauncherOne dead, Terran 1 dead, I'm starting to see a trend...
The knowledge is power...Everything is connected...
The Turtle continues at a steady pace ...

Offline ZachS09

  • Space Savant
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 8393
  • Roanoke, TX
  • Liked: 2339
  • Likes Given: 2053
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #29 on: 04/13/2023 04:58 pm »
Well, LauncherOne dead, Terran 1 dead, I'm starting to see a trend...

Terran 1 died for a good reason; it was just a one-off testbed for the bigger Terran R.

LauncherOne is a different story.
Liftoff for St. Jude's! Go Dragon, Go Falcon, Godspeed Inspiration4!

Offline trimeta

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 1661
  • Kansas City, MO
  • Liked: 2121
  • Likes Given: 57
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #30 on: 04/13/2023 05:59 pm »
Well, LauncherOne dead, Terran 1 dead, I'm starting to see a trend...

Terran 1 died for a good reason; it was just a one-off testbed for the bigger Terran R.

LauncherOne is a different story.
Then again, Astra's Rocket 4 is the same story as LauncherOne (or at least, it will be when Astra goes bankrupt before they even launch it).

Offline ZachS09

  • Space Savant
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 8393
  • Roanoke, TX
  • Liked: 2339
  • Likes Given: 2053
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #31 on: 04/13/2023 06:21 pm »
Well, LauncherOne dead, Terran 1 dead, I'm starting to see a trend...

Terran 1 died for a good reason; it was just a one-off testbed for the bigger Terran R.

LauncherOne is a different story.
Then again, Astra's Rocket 4 is the same story as LauncherOne (or at least, it will be when Astra goes bankrupt before they even launch it).

True, too.
Liftoff for St. Jude's! Go Dragon, Go Falcon, Godspeed Inspiration4!

Offline deltaV

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2097
  • Change in velocity
  • Liked: 560
  • Likes Given: 1838
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #32 on: 04/13/2023 07:40 pm »
Well, LauncherOne dead, Terran 1 dead, I'm starting to see a trend...
Companies dying is not good evidence of a sector dying. For example restaurants go bankrupt all the time yet the restaurant sector continues just fine.

Offline trimeta

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 1661
  • Kansas City, MO
  • Liked: 2121
  • Likes Given: 57
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #33 on: 04/13/2023 08:05 pm »
Well, LauncherOne dead, Terran 1 dead, I'm starting to see a trend...
Companies dying is not good evidence of a sector dying. For example restaurants go bankrupt all the time yet the restaurant sector continues just fine.
In a sense, this makes Relativity's abandonment of small launch even more significant: they didn't run out of money, they just looked at the market and decided it wasn't profitable for them to continue.

Of course, it's possible that their specific system was unprofitable for idiosyncratic reasons, and that this doesn't generalize.

Offline M.E.T.

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2294
  • Liked: 2894
  • Likes Given: 504
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #34 on: 04/14/2023 03:45 am »
Elon and Gwynne said about 5 years ago that they would all end up F9 sized eventually.

And here we are in April 2023.

How much investor money was flushed down the tube because people felt they knew better than SpaceX…
« Last Edit: 04/14/2023 03:46 am by M.E.T. »

Offline Eric Hedman

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2296
  • The birthplace of the solid body electric guitar
  • Liked: 1945
  • Likes Given: 1127
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #35 on: 04/15/2023 02:25 pm »
Elon and Gwynne said about 5 years ago that they would all end up F9 sized eventually.

And here we are in April 2023.

How much investor money was flushed down the tube because people felt they knew better than SpaceX…
Most VC funding in most industries gets flushed because it is often a crap shoot.  They count on the home runs here and there to cover the losses.  Predicting which way a market will evolve isn't the easiest thing to do. 

Offline edkyle99

  • Expert
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 15341
    • Space Launch Report
  • Liked: 8471
  • Likes Given: 1340
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #36 on: 04/15/2023 10:05 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
« Last Edit: 04/15/2023 10:09 pm by edkyle99 »

Offline AmigaClone

Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #37 on: 04/16/2023 03:09 am »
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

Personally, I would say the number of companies in the Small Launch Sector that are either failing or have decided to go for a larger launch vehicle is more a demonstration of the realistic size of that market as opposed to the size of that market that would need the proposed capabilities of those small launch vehicles.

Offline the_big_boot

  • Member
  • Posts: 32
  • Liked: 20
  • Likes Given: 13
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #38 on: 04/17/2023 04:53 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.

Offline M.E.T.

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2294
  • Liked: 2894
  • Likes Given: 504
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #39 on: 04/17/2023 09:01 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 Electron’s first flight in 2017?

I don’t have the exact answer, but I can do a rough estimate.

Online chopsticks

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 1057
  • Québec, Canada
  • Liked: 1075
  • Likes Given: 164
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 Electron’s first flight in 2017?

I don’t 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

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 642
  • Sweden
  • Liked: 957
  • Likes Given: 1
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 Electron’s first flight in 2017?

I don’t 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

  • Full Member
  • **
  • Posts: 271
  • Liked: 403
  • Likes Given: 213
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

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 1661
  • Kansas City, MO
  • Liked: 2121
  • Likes Given: 57
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

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 1057
  • Québec, Canada
  • Liked: 1075
  • Likes Given: 164
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 Electron’s first flight in 2017?

I don’t 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

  • Member
  • Posts: 32
  • Liked: 20
  • Likes Given: 13
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

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 308
  • The Netherlands
  • Liked: 373
  • Likes Given: 598
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 Electron’s first flight in 2017?

I don’t 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.

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2294
  • Liked: 2894
  • Likes Given: 504
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 Electron’s first flight in 2017?

I don’t 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

  • Expert
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 15341
    • Space Launch Report
  • Liked: 8471
  • Likes Given: 1340
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

Offline kevinof

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 1594
  • Somewhere on the boat
  • Liked: 1869
  • Likes Given: 1262
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

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 115
  • Liked: 105
  • Likes Given: 108
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 “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”.

Just enough to make the launch profitable, perhaps?

Offline Vahe231991

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 1689
  • 11 Canyon Terrace
  • Liked: 462
  • Likes Given: 199
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

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 1661
  • Kansas City, MO
  • Liked: 2121
  • Likes Given: 57
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

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 721
  • Orlando, FL
  • Liked: 561
  • Likes Given: 400
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

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 1661
  • Kansas City, MO
  • Liked: 2121
  • Likes Given: 57
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.

Online FutureSpaceTourist

  • Global Moderator
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 47341
  • UK
    • Plan 28
  • Liked: 80166
  • Likes Given: 36301
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 don’t 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 don’t 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 don’t know the details - but they are not price competitive now and unlikely to win any new launches.

Offline Nomadd

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 8830
  • Seoul
  • Liked: 60371
  • Likes Given: 1294
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

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4851
  • Liked: 2775
  • Likes Given: 1092
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

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 1661
  • Kansas City, MO
  • Liked: 2121
  • Likes Given: 57
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 don’t 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 don’t 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 don’t 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.

Offline Galactic Penguin SST

Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #60 on: 04/22/2023 05:14 am »
There doesn't seems to be many new small satellite launchers LSPs getting inroad in the US after the 6 established in the 2010s have flown so far (and at least 2 of them have been struggling despite reaching orbit more than once). The most famous of them - Launcher - has now dropped out and I don't think anyone else in the US planning for small launchers are even close to getting a try so far (Stoke Space for example is skipping the small category IIRC).

The interesting thing to watch for is whether dedicated small sat LSPs can survive elsewhere on the globe. Europeans certainly want a few (see ESA funding, even if that's meager) but I am not sure who's going to make it, if any. The forerunners so far seems to be Isar Aerospace, RFA, and if UK included Orbex and Skyrora, but each of them seems to have major problems of their own (would have bet on Orbex until their CEO's recent sudden leave). There might be enough room there for 1-2 but I'm not sure.

It's even less clear in Asian-Pacific countries, I know that one Japanese company that might be flying soon (funded by e.g. Canon) but they seems more of a government oriented LSP using solid motor powered rockets. The closer relative to the US ones - Interstellar Technologies - is nowhere close to an orbital launcher IMHO. There might be some surprises out there like the Korean company that recently test flown their hybrid fuel motor or the similar Gilmore in Down Under, all of which are hard to judge status.

And there's of course the absolutely chaotic Chinese market which no-one seems to really understand what's going on, with 3 LSPs reaching orbit lately and many more seemingly having notable progress. Of course their "private LSP" definition might be very much different from any other places on Earth so they might as well be treated as launching from Mars in some senses.
« Last Edit: 04/22/2023 05:17 am by Galactic Penguin SST »
Astronomy & spaceflight geek penguin. In a relationship w/ Space Shuttle Discovery. Current Priority: Chasing the Chinese Spaceflight Wonder Egg & A Certain Chinese Mars Rover

Offline Craigles

Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #61 on: 04/23/2023 04:04 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
SpaceX would not modify the M1D-Vac without a 'smart requirement' need. One such need is to address the versatility of the small launcher sector. A small stage closely derived from F9 could add versatility for tugboats and dispensers while leveraging SpaceXs kg/$ efficiency.
I'd rather be here now

Offline c4fusion

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 175
  • Sleeper Service
  • Liked: 112
  • Likes Given: 169
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #62 on: 09/06/2023 12:36 pm »
Looks like more nails into the small sat launcher dream, this time from Tory Burno:

https://www.twitter.com/torybruno/status/1698121784003015116

Quote
Incorrect.  The small LV market has almost completely collapsed.  There was a brief tick up with small sat experiments and demos, but those quickly moved over to heavy launch vehicles as ride-shares at lower cost.  There will be room for 1 or 2 micro launchers, but no more.

Offline DanClemmensen

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 5328
  • Earth (currently)
  • Liked: 4162
  • Likes Given: 1677
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #63 on: 09/06/2023 02:45 pm »
Looks like more nails into the small sat launcher dream, this time from Tory Burno:
Tory tweet:
Quote
Incorrect.  The small LV market has almost completely collapsed.  There was a brief tick up with small sat experiments and demos, but those quickly moved over to heavy launch vehicles as ride-shares at lower cost.  There will be room for 1 or 2 micro launchers, but no more.
Tory is not an unbiased expert. Tory is an excellent CEO and is doing the PR part of his job. This specifically includes emphasizing the things his company's only product (future Vulcan Centaur launches) is "better" than the competition.  Rideshare is "better" than small launcher.  SMART is "better" than landing a booster. Centaur is a "better" high-energy upper stage.   (Atlas V launches and Delta IV heavy launches are no longer products in the marketing sense, because no more can ever be sold).

Offline Robotbeat

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 39248
  • Minnesota
  • Liked: 25187
  • Likes Given: 12102
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #64 on: 09/06/2023 03:11 pm »
RocketLab’s Electron is launching a heck of a lot more often than Atlas V or Delta IV or Vulcan. 8 Electron (including HASTE) launches and we still have a third of the year left. ULA, among its launch vehicles, has only launched ONCE this year.
Chris  Whoever loves correction loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.

To the maximum extent practicable, the Federal Government shall plan missions to accommodate the space transportation services capabilities of United States commercial providers. US law http://goo.gl/YZYNt0

Offline TrevorMonty

Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #65 on: 09/06/2023 03:22 pm »
Electron launch manifests is growing as for other smallsat launches none are operational.
 
Hard to say if VO failure was from lack of demand or poorly managed financies. They didn't have huge manifest but that wasn't why they ran out of money. Didn't really allow for time and cash reserves needed to build up to an operationsl level plus delays from odd early not unexpected failure..

Smallsat operators want a reliable ride to space, until these new LVs are operating regularly and reliably its a huge risk booking a flight. With Electron and F9R rideshare customers know they will get to orbit safely and on schedule.  Electron will wait for them, F9R won't.

Back to the expensive taxi versus cheap bus ride scenerio . If you miss bus how much will delays waiting for another bus going to right location cost the business.
« Last Edit: 09/06/2023 03:24 pm by TrevorMonty »

Offline Proponent

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 7271
  • Liked: 2779
  • Likes Given: 1461
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #66 on: 09/11/2023 03:16 pm »
The industry isn't dying, but a shakeout is occuring, as often happens in new industries.

Offline the_big_boot

  • Member
  • Posts: 32
  • Liked: 20
  • Likes Given: 13
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #67 on: 09/11/2023 06:42 pm »
In a recent Jefferies conference, Rocket Lab stated that they are now fully booked for 20 launches next year for electron
https://wsw.com/webcast/jeff286/rklb/1852585?mobile=True

Offline trimeta

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 1661
  • Kansas City, MO
  • Liked: 2121
  • Likes Given: 57
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #68 on: 09/11/2023 07:36 pm »
In a recent Jefferies conference, Rocket Lab stated that they are now fully booked for 20 launches next year for electron
https://wsw.com/webcast/jeff286/rklb/1852585?mobile=True
Although at least one launch previously scheduled to launch in 2023 has been delayed to 2024, so in theory that could be at the expense of this year's 15 targeted launches.

Offline the_big_boot

  • Member
  • Posts: 32
  • Liked: 20
  • Likes Given: 13
Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #69 on: 09/11/2023 08:30 pm »
In a recent Jefferies conference, Rocket Lab stated that they are now fully booked for 20 launches next year for electron
https://wsw.com/webcast/jeff286/rklb/1852585?mobile=True
Although at least one launch previously scheduled to launch in 2023 has been delayed to 2024, so in theory that could be at the expense of this year's 15 targeted launches.
i doubt it, this isn't really news, kineis have been stating launch would be in 2024 for month now in articles, interviews and even on their own site (for example look at this article made by kineis back in june https://www.kineis.com/siae-2023-kineis-est-intervenu-sur-la-maitrise-du-risque-pour-les-entreprises-du-new-space/)

Quote
launch of the constellation of 25 nanosatellites, planned for 2024.


and as of 6 days ago, rocket lab is still standing strong targeting 15 launches this year. If the Kineis delay was an issue we should have heard about it months ago
« Last Edit: 09/12/2023 01:14 am by the_big_boot »

Offline Tywin

Re: Is the small launcher sector dying?
« Reply #70 on: 01/18/2024 12:45 pm »
Even before debut, they already thinking in something BIGGER!!!

https://twitter.com/AndrewParsonson/status/1747166564934209889

"no bucks, no Buck Rogers"

The knowledge is power...Everything is connected...
The Turtle continues at a steady pace ...

 

Advertisement NovaTech
Advertisement Northrop Grumman
Advertisement
Advertisement Margaritaville Beach Resort South Padre Island
Advertisement Brady Kenniston
Advertisement NextSpaceflight
Advertisement Nathan Barker Photography
1