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Satnews Daily
August 6th, 2018

A New, Launch Unit Standard for Smallsats Introduced by Aerospace Corporation

The Aerospace Corporation (Aerospace) has revealed the details of a new smallsat standard called a Launch Unit (Launch-U) during a briefing at the Small Satellite Conference in Logan, Utah.

This standard provides major benefits to the smallsat industry — manufacturers, launch providers, and satellite users — by increasing access to space and decreasing launch costs. This standard also enables the space community to come together to work innovative solutions for sharing costs, adopting new business models, and adapting to regulatory or statutory changes.

The space community was in search of a standard to make launching small satellites more flexible. Given Aerospace’s role as an objective technical advisor, the community identified the corporation as the ideal partner to work across all elements of the space enterprise, from satellite and launch manufacturers to service providers and government officials.

Carrie O’Quinn, the senior project engineer for Aerospace’s Research and Development Department and the Launch-U lead, emphasized that currently there are no industry standards for satellites between the size of a cubesat (approximately the size of a toaster) and an EELV Secondary Payload Adapter (ESPA) class satellite, which is about the size of a large dorm refrigerator. Carrie related that the Launch-U standard seeks to change this through the company's volume recommendation of 45 x 45 x 60 cm,. That’s roughly the size of two carry-on bags strapped together. The Aerospace Corporation also addresses a mass range, fundamental frequency, and loads in the recommendations.

Carrie then added that the group’s vision for the Launch-U standard is the solution the industry is looking for, stating that this is not envisioned to be a requirement levied on spacecraft developers, but rather a standard that is embraced by all as a game-changer. Launch vehicle providers, integrators, and aggregators can begin considering how Launch-U satellites will affect their business models, once implemented. For example, these companies might publish information on Launch-U launch costs, as Spaceflight Industries and other commercial entities currently do for cubesat launch costs.

The space access industry is altering in an exceedingly rapid pace and is driven by smallsat and small launch vehicle development, the increasing popularity of multi-manifest missions, and a widespread interest in reducing launch cost and timelines while deploying even more spacecraft. Currently, industry experts estimate that 6,000 to 20,000 smallsats could be launched over the next 10 years.

For industry, the next step is to develop hardware and other technical solutions needed to support the Launch-U. O’Quinn emphasized that each stakeholder plays a specific role in implementing the Launch-U. Satellite manufacturers could also build to the Launch-U standard and make it available to the community at large.

Executive Comments

Steve Isakowitz, the Aerospace President and CEO, stated the the company is proud to partner with industry, government, and academia to develop the first official Launch Unit standard. The Launch-U team’s efforts will help to reduce the complexities on the satellite and launch vehicle sides and will also lead to shorter integration timelines and increased access to space.

Dr. Randy Villahermosa, the GM of Aerospace’s Innovation Initiatives, noted that the Launch-U concept was born out of the industry’s continuous requests for help. The goal, he said, was to create a standard that industry would view as enabling rather than an impediment to growth. Aerospace was a key broker in making this a reality.

For more information about the Launch-U standards, please visit: www.aerospace.org/launch-u

For a realistic and helpful understanding of the business and financial side of the smallsat industry, attend Satellite Innovation from October 8 through 11 at The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. This event features more than 120 industry leaders and subject-matter experts who will relay their personal experiences and who will offer attendees their advice on how to leverage new and innovative ideas to ensure business success in the future. For additional details, please visit satinnovation.com.