Responsive Launch With the Scorpius Family of Low-Cost Expendable Launch Vehicles


Scorpius® is a family of low cost, expendable launch vehicles under development by Microcosm. The first orbital vehicle in the family is the Sprite Small Launch Vehicle (700 lbs to a 100 NMi circular orbit due East from the launch site), currently scheduled for its initial test flight in 2006. One of the top-level requirements on the entire vehicle family is to be able launch within 8 hours of arrival of the payload at the launch site or a formal request for launch for those payloads stored at the site. This paper addresses the economic, technical, regulatory, philosophical, and cultural hurdles to be overcome to achieve this objective and how we are going about getting over (or burrowing under or going around) these to get there.
The most fundamental hurdle is economic, i.e., the launch vehicle itself must be sufficiently low cost to allow it to be built to inventory. The cost of the Sprite vehicle is about $2 million which represents an interest cost for vehicles in inventory of about $15,000 per month per vehicle which we believe would be acceptable in most business models.
The technical hurdle is overcome largely by designing the vehicle from the outset to be moved and launched expeditiously—i.e., stored as an assembled launcher to which the payload is attached and the completed vehicle is then transported to the pad, fueled, and launched.
The most serious difficulties are largely the regulatory, philosophical, and cultural hurdles that dictate that launches in the West simply aren’t done in a few hours, even though this has been done in Russia for many years. In the U.S., there needs to be time for approvals, notices to air and ship traffic, and the cultural impediment that says that the payload “must” be checked out on the launch pad. These challenges are perhaps the biggest and must ultimately be addressed jointly by the launch provider, the customer, and the government.

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Conger, Robert, J. R. Wertz, “Responsive Launch with the Scorpius Family of Low-cost Expendable Launch Vehicle Family,” 1st Responsive Space Conference, Redondo Beach, CA, AIAA-LA Section/SSTC 2003-5001, April 1–3, 2003.