Smallsat industry considering standardized “launch unit”

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Capitalism in space: The emerging smallsat industry is considering establishing a standard “launch unit,” similar in concept to the standardized container system used by the shipping industry on Earth, to ease payload scheduling and installation on rockets.

“Developing a standard Launch Unit, or Launch-U, for mid-sized smallsats — approximately the size between a toaster and a small refrigerator — will enable rideshares to be configured more quickly and efficiently, resulting in more launch opportunities at a lower cost,” Aerospace representatives said in a statement. “Aerospace [Corporation] is driving the Launch-U conversation by assembling representatives from industry, academia and government to set the mid-size smallsats standard.”

For example, this standardized container concept would make it easier for a smallsat to switch launch rockets should its initial ride get delayed.

The industry has already attempted some standardization with the cubesat idea, which universities have been using now for several decades, a standard-sized satellite structure that is ten centimeters to a side. This launch unit concept would add the standardization to the launch vehicle, creating a standard slot within rockets that could easily take on new satellites.



  • Call Me Ishmael

    “…a standard-sized satellite structure that is four centimeters to a side.”

    Isn’t that 10 cm = four inches?

  • Whoops. Thank you. I have corrected the post, changing 4 to 10.

  • Localfluff

    Containerization is great for shipping because the same container is used many times on different trucks, ships, cranes. But if I understand this correctly, these launch units would only be used once and the benefit is that they have lower handling costs for a second launch attempt if the first one is cancelled (not just delayed a few weeks). But standards have other advantages. I bet it will be based on dodecahedrons instead of cubes.

    A good thing with standards is that there are so many to choose from… Shipping containers come in many different variations, although they can (almost) all be handled with any truck, crane or ship. Concerning reusability. Less developed countries that export mostly bulk cargo, such as ore and rice, import almost all of its containerized industry goods. So their ports are filled with empty containers, waiting for demand to make it worth to ship them oversees empty.

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