Vector-R Rocket will Launch Small Satellites for Only $1.5 Million

By | May 04, 2017 07:47 PM EDT

Vector-R. (Photo : Vector Space systems)

Vector-R, a "smallsat" launch vehicle designed and built by Vector Space Systems based in Arizona, successfully flew for the first time on May 3 and opened the door to the cheapest prices on the launch market.

The block zero-version of Vector-R flew to less than 50,000 feet for regulatory purposes. The goal of the test flight was to test the rocket's avionics and software,

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The year-old start-up's target is the small satellite market and the prices it plans to charge seem appropriate for this growing segment. Launch costs range from only $1.5 million to $3.5 million.

Vector Space Systems is developing the Vector-R, which can loft payloads of up to 60 kg to low Earth orbit (LEO), and the larger Vector-H, which can handle payloads of up to 125 kg, said CEO Jim Cantrell.

Launches of the Vector-R are scheduled to begin in 2018 with Vector-H launches to follow in 2019.

Vector Space Systems plans to fly multiple times per week compared to traditional launch companies such as SpaceX and Arianespace, which aim for about a launch per month.

This early on, the company already has a manifest of 135 launch vehicles from 2018 to the early 2020s purchased by more than a dozen customers. Some companies have signed letters of intent, while others have signed firm contracts.

Vector Space Systems intends to launch over 100 times per year, a rate that will take market away from SpaceX and other launch providers.

Vector Space Systems was founded by Cantrell, John Garvey, Ken Sunshine and Eric Besnard.

The company's launch cost is less than three percent of that charged by SpaceX ($60 million) for a launch to LEO. This SpaceX price is currently the lowest in the market.

"There are attractive things about the lower end of the market," said Cantrell. "As soon as you can do real stuff with little satellites, it makes things cheaper.

"Which means you can find money to take bigger risks. Which in turn means you can be more innovative and far out in your business concept and application."

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