Ultralight launch vehicles: why space swallows fly

(ORDO NEWS) — What do boxing and space launch vehicles have in common? And there, and there, ultra-lightweight players are as interesting as heavyweights. Ultralight launch vehicles have their own advantages and their own intense struggle for the result and a place in the sky.

How today they take victory in the launches of small satellites, what are the development vectors in the ultralight weight, who are the favorites – this is what today’s review of Naked Science is about. And a little about ballistics.

Ultralight carrier and its payload

All spacecraft are put into orbit by people with launch vehicles. These are large technical devices whose job is to accelerate the cargo to a given orbital speed. They create movement – an arrow of speed with a given value, direction in space, height, geographic point and time.

With the accuracy of the parameters of the resulting movement within the specified values. The insertion accuracy can affect the efficiency of the spacecraft; we will consider examples of such efficiency below.

Launch vehicles have many characteristics, the main of which is the mass of the payload. This is the largest mass of cargo that a rocket is capable of putting into low (about 200 kilometers) near-Earth orbit with an inclination of a few tens of degrees, or the maximum calculated payload when launching a rocket from its southernmost launch.

The fuel consumption of the rocket for launch depends on the height and inclination of the orbit. Sometimes you have to give up part of the load in order to take more fuel. Therefore, for different altitudes or characteristic orbits (for polar orbits, for geostationary orbits), different payloads are given. The masses of payloads form a wide range, differing at its edges by about six hundred thousand times.

The endless love of people for classification has not bypassed the carrying capacity of launch vehicles. The largest loads, over a hundred tons, put superheavy carriers into orbit. At the other end of the range are payloads of hundreds and tens of kilograms (or even less).

A conditional boundary of 500 kg of cargo mass separates light launch vehicles from heavier classes. But the load after all can weigh only a few kilograms. Are there really such small launch vehicles? There are, and they are called “ultralight”.

In the lightest category of carrying capacity, ultralight launch vehicles are distinguished.

True, there is no official, generally recognized document or decision of an authorized supranational organization that accurately determines the maximum mass of an ultralight launch vehicle. This is the same conventionality as the division of aircraft, submarines, engines and other equipment into generations that are now popular – a sort of pseudo-categories that have spread widely with the light hand of journalists and writers.

We will not classify large and multi-ton military intercontinental missiles converted for launch into orbit as ultralight launchers. Yes, they formally correspond – they have a very small payload, but they were created for completely different, non-market tasks, and do not illustrate the current vector of development of ultralight carriers.

In the information space, there are values ​​​​of the maximum payload for ultralight launch vehicles and 250 kg, and 100 kg, and others. And we will not determine here the exact maximum weight of the cargo and justify our choice in detail. Let the benchmark be 50-250 kg. Whether this is a lot or a little is a rhetorical question. For the spool is small, but expensive; loads and much smaller masses can solve a huge number of important tasks.

Advances in technology make it possible today to work with miniature devices, reducing the mass of satellites. Gyroscopes and accelerometers are now in almost any mobile phone. In the same phone you will find both optical cameras and data transmission devices.

Equip a mobile phone with a system of orientation in space, thermoregulation and energy – here you have a platform for a tiny spacecraft. It immediately becomes clear why cubesats are so popular in the last decade (from the English Cube Satellite – a cubic satellite), satellites with a cube-shaped body with an edge length of 10 centimeters.

Ultralight launch vehicles why space swallows fly 2               PhoneSat 2.5. Cubesat developed at NASA Ames Research Center, California.

                                          Launched in March 2014 Photo: NASA.

For ease of development and operation of such satellites, standards were created (for example, the mass is not more than 1⅓ kg). One cubic unit is designated 1U – 1 Unit. Cubesats can be combined into bundles of two, three or more satellites, creating modular designs, designated from 2U to 16U.

It is clear that the cost of launching a U1 cubesat is very small, that is, it fits into the first tens of thousands of dollars. This makes the launch of such a satellite available to a very wide range of owners and operators. The cost of its manufacture is also not as high as that of spacecraft weighing several tons.

Cubesats can be launched as a trailing load of large rockets, and in large numbers in one launch. A hundred cubesats will give a total starting net weight of only 130 kg.

Plus, the small weight of the adapter is an auxiliary structure for attaching the cubesats in the rocket and properly separating them in orbit. Today, many hundreds of cubesats have been launched into space, not only into near-Earth orbits, but also into interplanetary flights.

But cubesats are not the limit of miniaturization. More recently, an even smaller standard of satellites has appeared, these are actually “pocket” cube devices, with an edge length of only five centimeters and a mass of no more than 250 grams.

The cost of launching such a microsatellite is only a few thousand dollars. Using the architectural solutions of cubesats, pocket cubes continue the line of reducing the cost of access to space for the widest range of users.

Ultralight launch vehicles why space swallows fly 3FossaSat 1 developed by Fossa Systems in 1P PocketQube format. The purpose of the launch was to test a new experimental RF chip (named LoRa) and solve educational problems. Equipped with deployable antennas. Weight 200 grams, Launched on December 6, 2019 by an Electron launch vehicle as a tail load.

Of course, small spacecraft can be larger, still remaining in the small category – for example, weighing tens of kilograms. From microwave to refrigerator in space. Their on-board equipment and flight tasks performed vary widely.

This includes shooting objects on Earth in various ranges, and educational university programs, the development of communication systems, various technological tasks such as the calibration of ground-based observation systems for near-Earth space, and much more.

The bird can be seen in flight, or Orbit and its effectiveness

“To understand all the beauty of Leila, you need to look at her through the eyes of Majnun,” as Ferdowsi wrote. To get a feel for the possibilities of ultralight launch vehicles, let’s take a short excursion into orbital ballistics. And then we will return to missiles, already with a ballistic understanding of their capabilities.

The effectiveness of a satellite is determined not only by its filling, but also by how exactly its path in space is arranged.

These key geometric parameters of the orbit will set the features of movement along it – the flight speed, the period of revolution, the features of precession (the gradual rotation of the orbital plane in space), the passage of the flight path along the Earth’s surface, and other moments.

From what height and at what angle to shoot the terrain and objects on it? The lower, the better and more detailed you can consider the details of interest – the distance matters. And the higher, the larger the sub-satellite viewing spot.

But also up to a certain limit – after all, the edges of the view are drowning in atmospheric haze, not revealing details in it. What is the best balance between field of view and image detail for a given satellite, its hardware, and its mission? Selecting this balance will determine the optimal shooting height – that is, the optimal flight altitude.

Ultralight launch vehicles why space swallows fly 4                                                     Cubesats in Earth orbit. Image: ESA/

What geographic area is the filming in? A small satellite can be launched to observe a particular area. And the smaller the satellite and the cheaper its launch, the more affordable such a solution for a particular area.

This may be the water area of ​​a given sea – to control fish resources, weather conditions, ice conditions or vessel traffic. Or we need, for example, to monitor the state of agricultural land in a separate region. Accurately and quickly map regional fires. control the mountains. But you never know there are important regional tasks!

In this case, it is necessary to ensure that the flight of the satellite is such that after passing the equator it rises (or, in the southern hemisphere, descends) to the desired geographical area. Reached the latitude at which the target area lies, up to its northernmost (or southern) borders.

This will set the inclination of the plane of the satellite’s orbit – it must be no less than the geographic latitude of the area. After all, if the inclination of the orbit is insufficient, then the satellite simply “will not reach” this latitude, and will not pass over the target. The inclination can be made greater than the latitude of the survey area – then the satellite will cross the given area obliquely, rising to the polar zone or descending from there.

Ultralight launch vehicles why space swallows fly 5              The shift of the ISS track to the west in one orbit lasting one and a half hours. Source: ESA.

In addition to reaching the desired latitude, the satellite should not pass too far west or east of the target area. Otherwise, the area will be visible to the satellite only as a line far in the haze of the horizon, or not visible at all.

How often will the satellite pass near the area, and where exactly? After all, the flight path – a line of sub-satellite points on the surface of the Earth – in most cases does not pass through the same place on the Earth. The earth rotates, and this gives two path shifts at once with each orbit of the satellite.

First, the Earth simply scrolls east a little in one orbit of the satellite. It rotates 15 degrees in an hour. A low-orbit satellite (let’s take a height of 320 km) makes an orbit in an hour and a half – during this time the planet will turn 22.5 degrees.

At these degrees, the satellite, having arrived at the same latitudes, will pass to the west of its previous path. For the equator, this will be 2505 km – not a small shift at all. For latitude, for example, Krasnodar, the displacement will be 1774 km: between adjacent turns of the route, almost five Kubans or one and a half Black Seas will fit.

How many times per day will the satellite pass over or near the target area? The task is optimized by choosing the working orbit of the satellite. It will become the target orbit for the ultralight launch vehicle.

Sun-synchronous – a very popular orbit

Secondly, the rotation of the Earth stretches it, like a rubber ball, in an equatorial direction. Therefore, the equatorial radius of the Earth is 21 km larger than at the poles, where oblateness occurs. And along the equator, the “equatorial hump” stretches around the Earth.

If the orbital plane of the satellite crosses the equator obliquely, at an oblique angle, then the “equatorial hump” of the Earth approaches the satellite from one side (right or left) earlier than from the other, and from this side it turns out to be closer to the satellite.

The huge mass of the “equatorial hump” with its gravity attracts the satellite to itself, pulling it sideways from the direction of flight and thereby shifting the point of intersection of the equator towards itself. And right after the equator, the satellite passes next to another, the remaining part of the “equatorial hump”, which has now become near.

And he is already experiencing its sideways deflecting gravity, exactly the same, because the “hump” is the same everywhere. The other part of the “hump” will deflect the trajectory in the other direction. And straighten the flight of the satellite exactly to the original direction. But the point of passage of the equator will already be displaced.

This will be repeated after half a turn on the other side of the Earth – there the point of passage of the equator will shift by the same number of kilometers (since the orbit is circular and goes at the same height). It turns out that both points of passage of the equator have moved for the revolution of the satellite by an equal distance in the agreed direction.

This means that the orbital plane rotated slightly in space and turned around independently of the rotation of the Earth, changing its position relative to the stars. This slow rotation of the orbital plane through space with each orbit of the satellite is called orbital plane precession, or simply precession.

If the Earth were a perfect sphere, there would be no precession. But the oblateness of the Earth at the poles causes the orbit to precess, that is, rotate in space over time. The rate of precession depends on the altitude of the flight and the angle at which the satellite crosses the equator – that is, on the inclination of the orbit. The rotation of the Earth and the precession of the orbit give the total displacement of the flight path along the earth’s surface in one revolution.

Precession is a serious thing. For example, by selecting its speed, one can set a complete rotation of the orbital plane in space in exactly one year. In this case, flying around the Sun in a year together with the Earth, the orbital plane, in accordance with this, makes one annual revolution in space itself.

From this consistency, the orbital plane will remain at the same angle to the Sun throughout the year – for example, always perpendicular to the direction of the Sun. Since the precession of such an orbit for a complete revolution takes exactly a year, and exactly coincides with one revolution of the Earth around the Sun, occurring synchronously with it, the orbit is called sun-synchronous.

A low-orbit satellite flying in such an orbit will never enter the Earth’s shadow, being illuminated around the clock. This will ensure a continuous flow of electricity from its solar panels and round-the-clock operation of the satellite without the need for batteries that take up space on board and part of the mass of the satellite.

And below it, on the earth’s surface, there will always be the boundary of day and night – the terminator line. At all points of one half of the coil under such a satellite there will always be a local sunrise, on the other half of the coil – everywhere sunset. That is, always the same (either sunrise or sunset) local solar time at any selected sub-satellite point.

And for any other orientation to the Sun of the plane of the orbit with such a precession, this orientation will remain almost unchanged (“almost” will be small, cyclic, and will arise due to the slight elongation of the Earth’s orbit).

Under the satellite at each point there will be its own, always the same local solar time for this point. At a latitude of 30 degrees, it will always be the same. At a latitude of 50 degrees, it will be different, but also always the same for this point. And so in all sub-satellite points.

Solar time – local time, determined by the position of the Sun in the sky for an observer at a given point on Earth

Solar time is the time according to the sun, its angular rise above the horizon. A constant solar time will give a constant length of the sun’s shadow from any object. If the length of the shadow has changed, it means only one thing: a change in the height of the object.

The shadow has disappeared, or a new one has appeared, which means that the object has disappeared, or a new one has risen. These individual changes in the overall static pattern of shadows in a given area make it easy to select and find changes in surface objects in the observed sub-satellite zone.

Sun-synchronous orbits form a large family with altitudes from 250 – 300 (the atmosphere will not allow to go lower) to 1000 kilometers, more often the heights lie in the range of 500-700 km. Their inclination depends on the height, which provides the conditions of solar synchronism for this height.

The inclination is always slightly more than 90 degrees of the exact passage of the pole. For example, 96 or 98 degrees. Such orbits “fall over” over the pole to the west (in the northern hemisphere of the Earth), so the satellites move slightly opposite to the rotation of the Earth.

Choosing the right flight altitude and relating it to the desired inclination is a matter of choosing a specific sun-synchronous orbit that ballistically accurately ensures the fulfillment of the satellite’s flight mission.

But in order for the rocket to go west of the pole, and not east, it will have to fully compensate for its eastern speed – the ground speed of the starting point due to the rotation of the Earth. And then accelerate a little to the west, against the rotation of the Earth.

This additionally burns fuel compared to normal inclination launches. Therefore, the payload put into sun-synchronous orbits is always smaller. The rocket payload for these orbits is reduced from about 250 to 150 kg when launched at an altitude of 500 km, and to 100 kg for an altitude of 700 km.

And orbits synchronous to the rotation of the Earth’s magnetic field are magneto synchronous orbits? They make it possible to conduct long-term studies in one force tube of the Earth’s magnetic field. Appropriate accurate ballistics is needed here, giving a long movement of the device along the tube / magnetic field line without going beyond it.

The magnetic field of our planet is seemingly simple, but complex in detail. It is necessary to launch a satellite, taking into account these details, with such accuracy that its flight ballistically provides a solution to the flight research problem.

You can set synchronous orbits of a completely different type – for example, coinciding in time of one revolution with the daily rotation of the Earth. Such orbits (they are called diurnal-synchronous, or simply diurnal) are not necessarily circular.

They can be made fairly elongated elliptical, with a high apogee. On them, the satellite in one revolution will walk within the territorial limits of the same small area at the equator, and the flight path will draw a figure eight or an asymmetrical drop-shaped figure in it – but will never go beyond the boundaries of the region.

For example, the entire path of a satellite may be located within the state of Ecuador. And the satellite will only move along from one edge of the Ecuadorian border to the other, never crossing it. What could be interesting for Ecuador in terms of a continuous review of its territory.

Why an ultralight rocket and not a conventional one?

But enough about orbits – there are countless of them in the mass of all sorts of categories and classifications, much more than we have touched on examples.

Orbital ballistics is endless in its practical applications, and solves a lot of problems: gravimetric, weather, bioresource, fire, military, emergency, communication of all types and ranges, research, technological. And all of them require an optimal, precisely tuned for each task, specific orbit.

Let’s get back to our tiny spacecraft. It is unprofitable to spend a powerful rocket on their launch and its costly launch. Therefore, all this trifle is thrown into space along with the main payload of large rockets.

It is reasonable to attach the addition of microsatellites to the ballistics of a large load – the powerful Bolivar will take out both three and ten, if these ten are crumbs. But Bolivar will form a sky path of a large payload precisely in her interests – after all, for her sake, he goes into flight. And fellow travelers will fly along the same road, dispersed along with the main load.

To what extent will the orbit of the main apparatus correspond to the flight tasks of a trifle? The question is rhetorical – if you don’t want it, don’t start it; wait until you find a launch of a large load, suitable in terms of ballistic parameters for the flight task of your small device.

You can wait for such a launch for several years, or you can not wait at all. Small vehicles have to adapt to the planned launches of their older brothers, changing their preferences and restructuring their flight missions, with a possible decrease in their effectiveness. Otherwise, you can wait too long, with the risk of not realizing your small-sized project at all.

Here, a low-capacity rocket with a cheap launch would have helped in order to bring a small single or group cargo into the orbit it needed. And without long waiting for a passing train. After all, the current situation or the task for which small satellites are launched may change, and its relevance will end. The customer often needs to solve a flight problem in the next three months, and next year it will no longer be of interest to him.

Therefore, a separate and inexpensive launch of a carrier in the interests of small spacecraft would greatly expand their use – and hence both development and production. At the same time, the easy accessibility of such launches will lead to a manifold increase in the use of outer space and the data extracted from it.

Ultralight launch vehicles why space swallows fly 6    Launch of the smallest ultralight launch vehicle SS-520-4 on February 3, 2018 with a TRICOM-1R cubesat.

An ultra-small launch vehicle has a number of obvious operational advantages associated with its relatively small size and weight. The length of such a rocket is 10–20 meters, the diameter is about one meter, and the launch weight varies around a dozen tons.

Such a launch vehicle would require a small launch facility, compact assembly and testing buildings, refueling and other infrastructure. Its transportation is not difficult either. Less weight and dimensions of the structure – less material consumption of the product and the time to manufacture a copy of the rocket, the cost of its production.

But the ultralight rocket has a key disadvantage. This decrease in the design perfection of a rocket with a decrease in size is the very factor that works in plus with an increase in the size of a rocket. And with a decrease in engines, the percentage of gas-dynamic losses in them increases.

Simply downsizing a rocket would reduce its efficiency, which would increase the cost of launching a kilogram of payload into orbit. This is contrary to the idea of ​​​​the availability of launching ultralight missiles.

This contradiction can be resolved only by searching for new design and technological solutions. It is in them that today lies the key to the creation of efficient ultralight launch vehicles that make space widely accessible to small satellites and small organizations and individuals. And all the developers of ultralight space rockets follow this path.

Search for structural trump cards

One such solution is to make rocket fuel tanks not from metal, but from lighter composite materials based on carbon filaments. Composite walls formed by winding high-strength filaments have long been used in solid fuel engines.

But the use of such tanks for kerosene and liquid oxygen began in the ultralight launch vehicle Electron of the American company Rocket Lab. This made the tanks lighter than metal tanks, enhancing the design sophistication of the rocket.

Ultralight launch vehicles why space swallows fly 7Rocket Lab’s Electron ultralight launch vehicle. The body of the rocket is black due to the use of a carbon fiber composite. Photo: Rocket Lab

It also uses another novelty: a non-turbo pump unit pumps fuel into small Rutherford engines. At small sizes, it becomes too complicated and insufficiently effective gas-dynamically. Instead, fuel components are supplied by electrically driven pumps powered by lithium polymer batteries.

Moreover, they are used alternately, with the discharge of discharged batteries in flight. The use of electric pump units simplified the engine and the control of the ratio of burned components, and reduced its dimensions. Electric pumps are now used in both Astra’s Rocket 3 Delphin engines and other ultralight rockets, making the advanced solution a standard.

3D printing, which makes the main parts of the engine, has simplified and accelerated its production. One Rutherford engine is printed per day. The use of 3D printing is now becoming the standard for the production of engines for ultralight launch vehicles, and more recently, breakthrough technology has become commonplace and generally accepted.

Reusability is becoming the same common approach – first of all, the first stage, the largest and most expensive, where the main part of the engines is concentrated. The Electron rocket is currently operated in a disposable version, which is gradually being transformed into a reusable one.

The splashdown of the spent stage into the ocean on a controlled parachute has already been made. And in the future, they plan to pick up the stage in the air by helicopter at the stage of parachute descent, and deliver it to the base – and do without even landing the stage itself.

There is also a completely opposite approach – to make the rocket not just a one-time use, but such that after launch nothing remains of it at all. For example, California-based Astra makes its Rocket rocket from aluminum, approaching the thickness of rigid foil. The emphasis is on the most complete combustion of the spent stage in the atmosphere. And the small unburned residues will completely dissolve in the salty ocean water.

Ultralight launch vehicles why space swallows fly 8Test launch of Astra’s Rocket 3.1 ultra-light launch vehicle from its launch pad on Kodiak Island, Alaska. Photo: Astra.

Non-standard engine schemes will also be tested. For example, Firefly Aerospace developed its Firefly Alpha rocket with a wedge-air rocket engine in the first stage. It maintains the optimal regime for the expansion of outflowing gases over the entire range of altitudes of the first stage, from the start from the surface to shutdown in the upper stratosphere.

Such an engine is not aware of the starting over-expansion and altitude under-expansion modes, since the expansion ratio automatically adjusts to the current atmospheric pressure.

And although with the change of ownership, the company abandoned such an innovative stage, replacing the engine with a conventional oxygen-kerosene rocket engine, the development of such non-standard schemes illustrates the search for effective solutions for ultralight rockets.

An ultra-light carrier can be made from a high-altitude research rocket by equipping it with a high-altitude stage and developing a new scheme for its flight, process and control system. This is how the Japanese solid propellant ultralight launch vehicle SS-520-4 turned out.

With a launch weight of only slightly more than two and a half tons, on February 3, 2018, it launched a three-kilogram cubesat TRICOM-1R into orbit. Today it is the lightest operating launch vehicle.

It is also possible to use solid propellant engines from the stages of an intermediate-range ballistic missile, as envisaged in the design of the Chinese Kuaizhou-1A (KZ-1A) missile of the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC).

The rocket uses three solid propellant stages and a fourth liquid stage. Two solid-propellant engines are taken from the Dongfeng-21 medium-range ballistic missile. They launch a rocket from a car chassis, which simplifies transportation and launch maintenance.

Starting from a mobile installation is also used by the Chinese “Jelong-1” of China Rocket (a division of CASIC) – also a four-stage solid propellant carrier. The payload is placed unusually, between the third and fourth stages, which are in an inverted state and perform a 180-degree turn after separation from the third stage before starting the engine.

Air launch, with the release of a rocket from a carrier aircraft, has long been used by the Pegasus light solid-propellant cruise carrier rocket. However, the rocket, which has been flying for thirty years, was created using technologies of the then level (albeit innovative for its time), which made launching a kilogram of its payload the most expensive today.

Virgin Orbit’s new ultra-light launcher LauncherOne continued to use air launch. This fully liquid rocket successfully launched 10 cubesats into orbit in January 2021, 7 satellites in June last year, and 7 satellites on January 13 this year. Rocket launches from stratospheric balloons are also being considered, but such projects have not yet reached flight tests.

Ultralight launch vehicles why space swallows fly 9The launch of the LauncherOne launch vehicle from Virgin Orbit, the phase of dropping the rocket from the launch aircraft. Photo: Virgin Orbit.

The capabilities of ultralight rockets are also increased by equipping them with specialized space stages. These stages can transfer payloads to high elliptical orbits, to hyperbolic trajectories for interplanetary flights, or to place several different satellites into different orbits.

The already mentioned Rocket Lab has developed the Photon space stage for its Electron rocket. It forms the desired type of orbit for the payload, communication with the payload, telemetry reception and transmission to Earth, and performs other functions. “Photon” is created in two modifications.

One is low-altitude, for operation with a sun-synchronous orbit with a height of 550 km, the other is interplanetary, with the withdrawal of up to 40 kg of payload to the hyperbole of leaving the Earth. We already wrote about this in our material.“Space stage, or why is it needed and how does the upper stage work.” The Chinese Kuaizhou-1A can also form up to six different orbits in one launch with its space stage.

These are just a few examples of many areas in which the search for conceptual design and technological solutions for efficient ultralight launch vehicles with a low launch cost is currently underway. New ballistic solutions are also possible.

For example, launching an ultralight rocket at supersonic speed from a heavy supersonic aircraft or a hypersonic carrier vehicle.

Or the use of aerodynamic lift for launching into orbit by new winged space carriers. It is possible to reduce gravitational losses by launches with high overload; optimization of the distribution of the thrust value and the operating time of the first and second stages; decisions on the accuracy of the launch and other practical ballistics.

Launches of small vehicles on hyperbolic trajectories, to which there are very few left for ultralight carriers.

Prospects for ultralight carriers

In recent years, many start-ups for the creation of ultralight launch vehicles have appeared and closed. But it is not so easy to make a space rocket, even an ultralight one. Therefore, most projects do not bring their products to flight operation.

A long list of failed missiles and closed projects would take up a fair amount of the page, but it makes no sense to list the names of the retired ones. A number of existing projects have not yet reached the stage of flight tests or have not completed it with a successful launch into orbit.

These are the Russian Taimyr missile, the South Korean Blue Whale 1, the British Prime and Skyrora XL, the Indian Vikram I, the Brazilian VLM, the Japanese ZERO, the Philippine Haribon SLS-1, and many others. It is as difficult to correctly predict the success of the next candidate for the launch market players and the prospects for its rocket as the exact shape of the clouds over Plesetsk at noon next Tuesday.

There are still few working ultralight carriers today. The absolute favorite is Electron with 20 successful launches in the last 4 years (and three or four launches are planned for the current year). “Kuaizhou-1A” brings the number of successful launches from one and a half dozen. The rest are represented by single launches with the launch of the load into orbital motion, but the next launches are already being prepared.

We will not traditionally estimate the volume of the world market for ultralight launch vehicles. Its values ​​are constantly changing, and the usual relationship of development is formed: the demand of the launch market causes the development of rockets, the appearance of rockets creates a supply and a market for launches. The growth of its real volume will depend on how much the rocket scientists will be able to make their structures and processes in them efficient.

With the growth of the flight operation of the next ultralight carriers, the number of new developers will grow, they will be inspired by the example of the winners. And relatively small investment volumes for startups of ultralight rockets can be attracted much easier and in larger quantities (compared to financing medium and heavy launch vehicles).

Therefore, in the next decade, we should expect a wide race of those who wish and a race for the development of ultralight missiles. To a large extent, this is similar to the development of small aviation, which has become mass and creates a huge market for light transportation.

For some players, building a working ultra-light carrier could be a step towards medium rockets. The same Rocket Lab is already creating a medium-sized Neutron rocket with a payload capacity of 8 tons to low earth orbit.

Other owners of operating ultralight carriers have not yet announced the development of medium rockets. They just have to gain experience in space launches – an invaluable asset with which it is easier to turn to more powerful equipment.

One thing is certain: the development of ultralight launch vehicles is accelerating in a rapid tide, and over time more and more ultralight launchers will be taken into service.

This is unlikely to lead to saturation of the market for launches of small payloads – rather, on the contrary, it will rapidly expand this market. Today’s prospects for ultralight launch vehicles look promising. How they will be embodied, we will see in the next few years.


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