Despite the epidemic and general opinion that there is a substantial oversupply of these vehicles, the amount of small launch vehicle initiatives continues to grow. However, that growth may be diminishing.
Carlos Niederstrasser of the Northrop Grumman firm updated his annual survey of the small launch sector that he has conducted since 2015, following the development of the small launch vehicle growth efforts around the world, in a presentation at the 35th Annual Small Satellite Conference. Vehicles with a payload capacity of less than 1,000 kilos that are available to government or commercial customers are included in the survey.
Since the survey began in 2015 when roughly 30 cars were included, the number has increased to 155 vehicles, ranging from ten vehicles in operation to multiple dozen that have gone out of business, he said. During a seminar session on August 11, he remarked, “I was really anticipating to see a decrease in the amount of latest launch vehicles which we were witnessing coming out of the woodwork over the last few years.” “It turns out that the slowdown did not occur.”
However, there were some developments in the industry. He discovered that the number of cars in active development had decreased significantly from the previous year to 48. The quantity of vehicle designs on a “watch” list that has not joined active development has also decreased. More than 40 automobiles have been certified as obsolete, up from approximately ten last year. “Given the difficulties in putting one of these vehicles into service,” he continued, “this is not surprising.”
One reason has proved prevalent in the failure of launch vehicles: financing. “You stay alive if you have money. You have to shut down shop if you run out of funds,” he explained. There were no other notable trends in terms of vehicle kinds or nations where they are being developed.
The United States possesses the most vehicles in service or under development, responsible for 22 of the 58. However, six of the ten active small launch vehicles are Chinese because of the emergence of small launch ventures such as Galactic Energy and iSpace in China. After government reforms enabled commercial launch projects in India, the country is emerging as a new hub of launch operations, with 4 small launch vehicles that are under production by businesses.
Niederstrasser said in a prerecorded clip presentation that the slowing expansion in the number of automobiles was bringing “some sort of realism” to the market but that he couldn’t rule out any consequences from the pandemic. “I believe we will have to wait a year or two to find out.”
He remarked during the conference event that he didn’t expect many launch businesses to merge because it’s tough to find two firms with complementary technology and enough resources to develop them. “I think most of these little rivals will have a hard time finding both of those items,” he said.