At present, most small satellites are delivered as hosted payloads on large launch vehicles. Considering the current technological development, constellations of small satellites can provide a broad range of services operating at designated orbits. To achieve that, small satellite customers are seeking cost-effective launch services for dedicated missions. This paper deals with performance and cost assessments of a set of launch vehicle concepts based on a solid propellant rocket engine (S-50) under development by the Institute of Aeronautics and Space (Brazil) with support from the Brazilian Space Agency. Cost estimation analysis, based on the TRANSCOST model, was carried out taking into account the costs of launch system development, vehicle fabrication, direct and indirect operation cost. A cost-competitive expendable launch system was identified by using three S-50 solid rocket motors for the first stage, one S-50 engine for the second stage and a flight-proven cluster of pressure-fed liquid engines for the third stage. This launch system, operating from the Alcantara Launch Center, located at 2
20’ S, would deliver satellites from the 500 kg class in typical polar missions with a specific transportation cost of about US$39,000 per kilogram of payload at a rate of 12 launches per year, in dedicated missions. At a low inclined orbit, vehicle payload capacity increased, decreasing the specific transportation cost to about 32,000 US$/kg. Cost analysis also showed that vehicle development effort would claim 781 work year, or less than 80 million dollars. Vehicle fabrication accounted for 174 work year representing less than 23 million dollars per unit. The launch system based on the best concept would, therefore, deploy small satellite constellations in cost-effective dedicated launches, 224 work year per flight, from the Alcantara Launch Center in Brazil.
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