The increasing popularity of using dedicated miniaturised cubesat-class spacecraft for scientific, commercial and military use has meant that many more “launch opportunities” will be needed. NASA knows this itself as its success in promoting cubesat construction by offering launches via its Cubesat Launch Initiative has left it with the problem of actually finding launch opportunities for them. For while some of these nanosats in the size range of 1-10kg will be accommodated via piggy back rides on large launch vehicles, NASA wants to encourage the development of a dedicated commercial cubesat launch vehicle and has announced its NASA Launch Services Enabling eXploration & Technology (NEXT) programme/competition tor just this purpose.
The other way of getting Cubesats into orbit is to eject them from the International Space Station’s JEM module via the airlock and a Small Satellite Orbital Deployer attached to the JEM robotic arm. Courtesy: NASA
Cubesats are a pain to launch
While the traditional method for launching such microsatellite and nanosatellite spacecraft is to have them hitch rides as secondary payloads on large launch vehicles, there are downsides to this approach. Apart from launch providers having to incur the cost of designing and operating specialist adaptors, sometimes their core ...