A commercially driven design approach to UK future small payload launch systems

Stuart McIntyre, Travis Fawcett, Thomas Dickinson, Michael West, Christie Alisa Maddock, Alessandro Mogavero, Lorenzo Ricciardi, Federico Toso, Konstantinos Kontis, Kin Hing Lo, Sriram Rengarajan, David Evans, Andy Milne, Simon Feast

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Miniaturisation of satellite componentry, increasingly capable small sensors and substantial increases in processing capacity and transmission bandwidth are driving rapid growth in small payload development and consequential launch demand. The advent of horizontal take-off spaceports opens the door for a new generation of small payload launch systems that will fulfil this demand. However, the key to a launch system's success is its ability to provide a return on the substantial costs of development while delivering pricing levels commensurate with the needs of launch customers. Therefore, commercially led design approaches are needed to refine and optimise the design of the new small payload launch systems required. This approach was embodied in an ongoing UKSA funded NSTP2 project titled Future UK Small Payload Launcher (FSPLUK). The approach is first founded upon a bespoke and specific market assessment. This characterises, segments and quantifies the commercial opportunity and establishes principal desired system performance requirements. An assessment of available technologies at differing TRLs permits initial vehicle configuration options to be developed and technically assessed. Technically viable options are then assessed in terms of commercial viability with the best advanced into more detailed technical assessment and system optimisation. The resultant vehicles are again tested for commercial viability and, if successful, emerge as recommended development avenues. Using these methods, it has been possible to iterate design concepts from apparently simple yet economically sub-optimised stacked launcher systems through several design iterations to a resultant highly flexible and economically efficient conceptual design. The key finding relates to the inter-relationship between payload flexibility, in permitting maximised flight rates from a reasonably complex but highly reusable first stage design, and low disposable upper stage unit cost. This has driven the resultant system to feature an air launched integrated re-usable first stage vehicle, configured with a flexible internal payload bay from which one or more upper stages are deployed. This configuration maximises commercial utility and reusability. The resultant high flight rate allows development costs to be efficiently amortised with minimised direct launch costs. The configuration therefore meets low cost per kg price targets while delivering a positive return on development expenditure over life. It also provides a flight proven vehicle platform with available internal real-estate for application as a hypersonic air test platform for new propulsion systems, such as SABRE. The commercially led approach has created the foundation for viable and economically justifiable development.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2016
Event14th Reinventing Space Conference - Royal Society, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 24 Oct 201627 Oct 2016


Conference14th Reinventing Space Conference
Abbreviated titleRI Space
CountryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • small payload satellite market
  • launch vehicles
  • launcher systems

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