Aircraft

Swiss company aims to fly satellites into space

Swiss company aims to fly sate...
S3's planned satellite-carrying shuttle, being carried itself on an Airbus A300
S3's planned satellite-carrying shuttle, being carried itself on an Airbus A300
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S3's planned satellite-carrying shuttle, being carried itself on an Airbus A300
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S3's planned satellite-carrying shuttle, being carried itself on an Airbus A300
After separating from the A300, the shuttle would fire up its engines and proceed to 80 kilometers (50 miles), at which point the satellite would be launched from its cargo bay
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After separating from the A300, the shuttle would fire up its engines and proceed to 80 kilometers (50 miles), at which point the satellite would be launched from its cargo bay
The planned first spaceport in Payerne
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The planned first spaceport in Payerne
S3's upper stage engine would propel the satellite from the shuttle and into orbit
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S3's upper stage engine would propel the satellite from the shuttle and into orbit

If you want to launch a satellite in the usual way – on top of a rocket – it will typically cost you at least US$50,000,000. Newly-inaugurated aerospace firm SwissSpace Systems (S3), however, claims that it will be able to put your small satellite into orbit for about 10.6 million bucks. Why so cheap? S3 is planning on flying satellites into space, using an airliner and an unmanned shuttle.

The launch system would incorporate an Airbus A300, an existing commercial aircraft that’s already certified for zero gravity flights. Mounted on the back of the A300 would be the shuttle, and contained within it would be a satellite weighing no more than 250 kilograms (551 lbs).

The airliner would take off from a designated spaceport, and release the shuttle at an altitude of 10,000 meters (32,808 feet). The shuttle would then start its engines and climb up to 80 kilometers (50 miles), at which point the satellite would be launched from its cargo bay. From there, the satellite’s upper stage engine would take it into orbit, while the shuttle would glide back down to the spaceport for reuse.

After separating from the A300, the shuttle would fire up its engines and proceed to 80 kilometers (50 miles), at which point the satellite would be launched from its cargo bay
After separating from the A300, the shuttle would fire up its engines and proceed to 80 kilometers (50 miles), at which point the satellite would be launched from its cargo bay

According to S3, not only would its system require considerably less fuel than conventional rocket launches, but also – if need be – the launch could be called off at any point, with the shuttle returning to earth still carrying its payload. Additionally, because the A300 could take off from any runway capable of accommodating it, multiple spaceports could be established in a variety of locations around the world. This means that clients wouldn’t need to transport their satellites great distances in order to have them launched.

The first of these spaceports is planned to open in the Swiss city of Payerne by 2015, with the first test launches scheduled to take place by the end of 2017. Additional ports are planned for Malaysia and Morocco, with other locations pending.

Virgin Galactic is said to be working on a similar system, in which satellites would be flown to a launch altitude aboard the company’s WhiteKnightTwo aircraft. Stratolaunch Systems also has something in the works, although it will require the construction of the largest aircraft ever flown.

Source: Swiss Space Systems via Daily Mail

20 comments
Ian Mitko
So if the control of the shuttle isn't perfect it will hit the fuselage, vertical stabilizer, or horizontal stabilizer? Remember how the SR-71 crashed releasing the drone and it didn't have a vertical stabilizer in the center or a horizontal stabilizer. This is profoundly stupid as white knight 2, stratolaunch, and other concepts do the same thing dropping the vehicle and rocket from the Bottom..... Remember the B-52 dropping the X-1 and x-15s. That was way ahead of this....
Slowburn
I like it but I think you could get more altitude out of the mothership. However the fact the A300 is already certified for zero gravity parabolic flights suggests that they won't be flying straight and level when launching the shuttle. re; Mitko Ian NASA launched the Space Shuttle Enterprise off the back of a 747 repeatedly without incident. Also the cost of designing, building, and certifying a plane so the shuttle could be unnecessarily dropped from underneath would be staggering.
Joel Detrow
I've known for years that this makes so much more sense than shooting a rocket directly from the ground, but apparently it's taken this long to realize that.
Gildas Dubois
It needs a different design and be dropped.
Slowburn
Mike I should have added that the SR-71 tried to launch the drone at speeds over Mock 2. The shock waves bounced the drone around like a rock in a clothes dryer until it knocked the tails of the mothership. Last time I looked the A300 is a subsonic airplane.
sunfly
This is an improvement over Virgin's design. My only question is can White Knight II or similar vehicle from other companies lift this new ship?
Slowburn
re; sunfly Weight wise probably but this shuttle lacks the hardpoints to be mounted underneath. Besides being dropped from underneath means that the mothership is in the way and you have to waste energy letting it get out of the way.
korolexa
Virgin with its LauncherOne will be the first by 2016 with the same usful mass of 250kg and price under $10m http://www.virgingalactic.com/launcherOne/performance-and-specification/ http://www.gizmag.com/virgin-galactic-launcher-one/23276/ moreover S3 has to develop their own shuttle ...
Bob
I'm curious why the airliner is only taken to 32,808 feet when many are capable of going to 50,000 feet with a full load. With some modifications that altitude could be increased somewhat. I am also wondering about the problems with a piggy back launch of the shuttle and its proximity to the vertical part of the tail. The pictures above look more like a pipe dream to interest investors than a viable plan. I also suspect that the satellite with the attached rocket will drop from the bottom of the shuttle rather than the top. It also makes no sense to build and launch from a spaceport anywhere away from the equator where the added velocity of the earth's spin could be used to its greatest advantage.
christopher
Wow - $10M to $50M for a satellite launch? Australians are paying $2000M ($2bn) for two of these (for NBN) - somebody is making a really nice commission on that!