The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency developed three of the five cubesats to be lofted from the J-SSOD, but TechEdSat will be the first U.S. cubesat deployed from the Japanese exposed facility. A Vietnamese cubesat is also scheduled for a deployment arranged by Nanoracks, a U.S. company that hopes to provide more cubesat deployments from the ISS (AW&ST June 25, p. 44).
With increasing military interest in cubesats and small satellites in general, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) has awarded $46 million in 18-month Phase One contracts under its Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (Alasa) program to Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Virgin Galactic. The goal is to launch payloads weighing less than 100 lb. to low Earth orbit on 24-hr. notice for no more than $1 million (AW&ST June 25, p. 33).
Announced at the Farnborough air show, the unmanned LauncherOne smallsat vehicle (see photo) will use the same WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft that Virgin Galactic plans for its SpaceShipTwo human suborbital missions (AW&ST July 9, p. 119).
Virgin says its plans call for first flight of the smallsat launcher in 2015 and commercial flights beginning by 2016. With suborbital passenger flights on SpaceShipTwo possible by the end of 2013, the smalsat launches would be another revenue source for the startup.
Even without the million-dollar launches envisioned by Darpa, there is already a wide variety of small, relatively low-cost vehicles available for smallsats, including the Russian Dnepr, Rokot and Kosmos 3M; the U.S. Pegasus and Minotaur; India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle; and eventually, perhaps, launchers under development in Argentina, Brazil, South Korea and even China.