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Launch Procurement

Scope and Description

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.

Best Practices and Lessons Learned

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Understanding when liability transitions from the satellite manufacturer to the launch service provider is an important factor to consider in the launch procurement process.
  • 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.



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.

White Paper
Hogan Lovells

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.

White Paper
Hogan Lovells

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.

White Paper
Secure World Foundation

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.

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Nanosats Database

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 an assessment of the current state of the smallsat ... industry, guidance, and best practices for all aspects of the smallsat development life-cycle. Section 11 of this NASA resource, titled "Integration, Launch, and Deployment", provides a high-level overview of this phase of the smallsat's life-cycle. Specifically, sub-section 11.4.3 details a variety of common integration hardware components used in integrating and deploying smallsats. Requirements and guidance are provided for cubesat dispensers, smallsat separation systems, ISS deployment, etc.

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.

Andrew Read et al.

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.

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