Launch vendors oppose ‘magic number’ for in-orbit price

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NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Companies offering small satellite launch services say there is no ‘magic’ price per kilogram that allows them to unlock greater demand, with customers willing to trade the price for responsiveness or other capabilities.

During a panel at the Satellite 2021 conference here on September 7, Dara Panahy of Milbank LLC asked a panel of launch and space transportation services companies about a perceived threshold of $ 2,000 per kilogram required for that launch companies are successful, citing research from McKinsey & Company published in 2020.

“It’s a magic number where economies of scale kick in one way or another, and we’ll have a doubling, tripling or quadrupling of the orbital trade market,” he said. declared.

Panelists, however, disagreed. “What we’re seeing in the industry is that there aren’t a lot of people who are committed to a dollar per kilogram measure,” said Lars Hoffman, senior vice president of global launch services at Rocket Lab.

He said Rocket Lab is seeing market diversification, with customers willing to pay more to get into a specific orbit on a set schedule. “They will pay the premium to have this service,” he said.

Rocket Lab has worked to speed up payload launch time to meet the demands of these customers. Hoffman said that while it typically takes 12 months between signing the contract and launching a dedicated microsatellite, he has reduced that timeline to just five months. Cubesats can be launched within six months and in some cases within three months.

Some launch companies make no effort to compete on costs. “We are not really a low-cost supplier. We aim to be the launch provider you go to when you need a last minute trip to space, ”said Jay Skylus, Managing Director and Founder of Aevum, a company developing an aerial launch system. which has not yet made its first flight.

This focus on responsiveness – the company aims for a three-hour timeframe for a launch – comes at a price. “We are not aiming for the price of $ 2,000 per kilogram,” he said. He estimated that the company’s Ravn X would cost $ 7,700 per kilogram. “This is not what we are going to charge our customers. We’ll probably charge three or four times.

“The customer is going to seek the highest possible value,” said Negar Feher, vice president of business development for space transportation company Momentus. The price that corresponds to this value depends on the needs of the customer: companies that just need to put a satellite into orbit will want to pay as little as possible, while those with specific needs will pay more.

This changes over time for individual customers, she argued, with companies looking to minimize costs when deploying their first demo satellites, then paying later to fill specific gaps in a constellation.

Momentus is trying to offer its customers the benefits of low cost launch and precise orbital insertion through its Vigoride line of tugs which will begin flights in 2022. The company plans to make these tugs reusable and capable of proximity operations, making it possible to recover a satellite launched during a low-cost carpooling launch and place it in a precise orbit.

“In our opinion, the cheapest option that will be reliable and efficient is the best option,” she said. “We expect it will eventually drop to $ 500 per kilogram as New Glenn, Starship and others come on board.”


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