Design, Performance, and Responsiveness of a Low-Cost Micro-Satellite Launch Vehicle


A configuration is presented for a low-cost Micro-Satellite Launch Vehicle (MSLV), the Mini-Sprite. This 3-stage configuration exploits Scorpius® technology that is largely developed: all-composite cryogenic tanks; pressure-fed, ablative, LOX/kerosene engines; a High Performance Pressurization System; and a GPS-based, “plug-and-play” avionics system. The Preliminary Design Review has been completed for the larger Sprite, a Small Launch Vehicle (SLV). Indeed, the SR-M suborbital rocket, essentially a “pod” of Sprite, has already been built; it is a larger version of a “pod” of the Mini-Sprite.
Performance estimates show that the Mini-Sprite can deliver payloads well into the micro-satellite payload range of 10 to 100 kg and completely covers the nano-satellite payload range of 1 to 10 kg to modest orbits. The Mini-Sprite delivers about 100 kg to LEO.
The potential market for CubeSats and other SmallSats has been estimated to be as much as 30 to 70 satellites per year. The Scorpius® micro-satellite launch vehicle will provide a cost effective means for delivering these payloads to orbit. The DoD’s Space Experiments Review Board (SERB) list alone has dozens of payloads that could be
accommodated by micro- or nano-satellites launched on the Mini-Sprite MSLV. This vehicle will demonstrate both the feasibility and utility of launch on-demand, which will have applicability to military tactical, science, technology, and educational missions for commercial, DoD, NASA, and university users.
Recurring price for the launch of the Mini-Sprite vehicle is $3M. Development time is 20 months. Development costs are also very low. The low cost of the vehicle permits a production line and establishment of an inventory of vehicles, if desired.
Assuming progress in lowering the time and cost of range operations, launch from ready inventory of the low-cost Mini-Sprite is achievable in less than 24 hours.
The Mini-Sprite is scalable to small- through medium-lift launch vehicles, Sprite, Liberty, and Exodus, which exhibit the same technologies, design, and responsiveness at a correspondingly low cost.
This paper addresses the capabilities and launch missions of the Mini-Sprite.

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Bauer, T., R. Conger, J. Wertz, and N. Sarzi-Amade. 8th Responsive Space Conference, Los Angeles, CA. March 8–11, 2010.