“There is no other Russian-government small launcher,” Freeborn says. “There will be an interest by the Russian government to keep Rokot going,” he adds, until the next-generation light launcher enters service near decade-end.
In July, Vladmir Popovkin, head of Russian space agency Roscosmos, suggested that a next-generation light launcher could enter service before mid-decade. “We will launch the light version and the heavy version of Angara both next year, with probably an experimental payload because the launches are very risky,” he said on the sidelines of the Farnborough International Airshow.
The submarine-launched Volna, managed by Russia's Makeyev State Rocket Center, was never a major market force. It appears to be out of the game following a botched effort this year to make good on a contract with ESA to launch its European Experimental Reentry Testbed (Expert) technology demonstrator.
In India, meanwhile, the Polar Service Launch Vehicle (PSLV) is building an impressive track record in the smallsat arena. But the rocket is in high demand in India, and it remains unclear whether New Delhi can throttle up the PSLV's launch cadence.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) plans to introduce a next-generation solid-rocket launcher dubbed Epsilon that will launch from the Uchinoura Space Center in the summer of 2013, carrying the planetary observatory Sprint-A.
Epsilon Project Manager Yasuhiro Morita says modifications are under way at Uchinoura to make the site more efficient for small missions weighing 1,200 kg to low Earth orbit (LEO) and 450 kg to SSO. Morita says the three-stage Epsilon design includes an autonomous checkout system and mobile ground-tracking and control, along with more user-friendly characteristics that include lower acoustic vibration levels at ignition, a new vibration attenuator to improve the sinusoidal vibration environment, and accurate orbit injection using a liquid-propelled upper stage.
Japan approved development of the next-generation launcher in 2010 with a target cost of $271 million. Morita says launch costs are expected to be high initially, at ¥3.8 billion ($49 million) in 2013. But JAXA plans a two-step development process to improve Epsilon's cost and performance. A second flight of the rocket slated for 2015 will offer a payload-carrying capacity of 550 kg to SSO. By 2017, the agency will introduce a post-Epsilon rocket using lighter materials that can perform launches at the lower price of roughly $39 million.
For its part, China, which supports multiple Long March rocket variants with growing domestic demand, is now eyeing small satellites for LEO missions as a market niche. The Long March 6 and 7 rockets are being developed to deliver Earth-observation and other LEO payloads, and Beijing has already booked a launch slot for Venezuela's VRSS-1 satellite.
“Because of the proliferation of space technologies, more and more countries are developing their own satellites,” said Fu Zhiheng, vice president of China Great Wall Industry Corp. during a satellite finance conference in Paris last month. “I think there is a need for small-satellite launch services, and we are making efforts in that [area].”
Fu said the company has signed a contract with a Spanish company, Galactic Suite, which is competing for the $30-million Google Earth Lunar X Prize competition to put a small rover on the surface of the Moon by 2014.