This topic covers the launch procurement process, launch service providers, and the legal obligations of the launch provider versus the satellite manufacturer. There is a myriad of launch service providers and determining which is best suited for your mission needs can be challenging. In addition, launch procurement involves complex legal, regulatory, and liability issues which impact mission confidence and should be clearly understood by smallsat project leadership and stakeholders.
Resources in this topic area are primarily documents providing guidance on the launch procurement process and websites that compile names of and/or links to various launch providers.
If your smallsat is from an accredited educational institution or non-profit organization, search for free launch opportunities through government programs. Proposals for the CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) are due in early November, with award announcements typically released in August.
Consider early on in the program whether your mission can be flown via rideshare or if a dedicated launch is needed. Each option will involve different potential issues and considerations that will have to be addressed. For example, a rideshare launch will require you to address do no harm requirements, which could significantly influence spacecraft design.
Understanding when liability transitions from the satellite manufacturer to the launch service provider is an important factor to consider in the launch procurement process.
Launch and in-orbit insurance can be a great way to mitigate risk of launch failure. It is recommended to decide if an insurance broker is required early in the satellite procurement/development process.
This website provides regularly updated resources and news articles from NASA's CubeSat Launch Initiative ... (CSLI). The CubeSat Launch Initiative provides a low-cost pathway to space for smallsats and CubeSats developed by NASA Centers, educational institutions, and non-profits. These government ride-share launches have flown over 100 cubesat missions through the Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) program.
This resource provides an overview of the legal and regulatory issues related to small satellite missions ... and provides useful examples and processes on how to handle them. Section 4 of the document outlines launch services, space insurance, and in-orbit legal and policy issues.
This resource provides legal information related to the satellite manufacturer and launch provider's ... liability. Due to the high-risk nature of satellite missions, it is essential to understand who is liable and when liability is transferred from one entity to the next. This document discusses launch service contracts and the responsibilities of stakeholders from preliminary acceptance to on-orbit operations.
This guide is a detailed follow-up to the "Satellite Systems Procurement: A Brief How-To Guide" document ... from Hogan Lovells, discussing the liability and obligations of satellite manufacturers and launch providers. Hosted payloads are discussed in detail including contractual agreements, financial terms, and insurance considerations between the third parties and the manufacturer of the satellite bus.
This resource lists the typical launch cost, number of CubeSats launched, and some additional contract ... details for CubeSat launch providers, brokers, and mission integrators.
This annual state-of-the-art report from NASA provides "a survey of small spacecraft technologies sourced ... from open literature" with an introduction to each technology, development status and performance metrics for procurable systems, and descriptions of new technologies with reference missions. Section 10.4.3 covers integration hardware technologies.
This conference paper provides an overview and requirements for integrating a small satellite with the ... United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V launch vehicle. The Aft Bulkhead Carrier (ABC) system was designed to mount multiple smallsats under 176 lbs. This paper provides a useful example of the technical and logistical process of working with a launch provider as a smallsat developer. In addition, this paper includes a summary of the smallsat users guide for the ABC - a good example of what should be offered by any launch provider.
This conference paper describes "a method for Rideshare Mission Assurance (RMA) that seeks to allow missions ... with different risk tolerances to fly together on a single launch, while shielding each mission from external risks to on-orbit performance." The framework concisely presented in this paper is useful for any smallsat team that plans to utilize a rideshare launch because they will often be flowed similar requirements to ensure that their satellite meets "do no harm" requirements.
This guidebook is a "collection of of recommended best practices and ready references to expedite research ... and technology (R&T) development projects" for NASA's Small Spacecraft Technology (SST) program. This resource is specifically targeted at SST projects; however many of the sections include best practices that can be valuable to a general smallsat audience. This section of the guidebook addresses obtaining a launch.