Generation Orbit is a new subsidiary of SpaceWorks Engineering. Headed by SpaceWorks veteran A.C. Charania, Generation Orbit plans to develop an air-launch system for nanosatellites.

Generation Orbit estimates there are 250 nanosatellite projects at the present time. It expects that there will be a market for 100 nano satellite launches per year by the end of this decade. Currently, most small satellites are launched as secondary payloads on rideshare missions, which means their operators have little or no control over launch schedule and orbital destination. Generation Orbit believes that air launch will provide more flexibility.

The company’s initial demonstrator, GO Launcher 1, would use existing solid-fueled upper stages. Go Launcher 1 could mature into an operational capability capable of delivering 1-10 kilograms to a 250-kilometer circular orbit.

GO Launcher 2 would be a larger system capable of placing 20-30 kilograms into a 450 km circular orbit. It might incorporate new technology.

Generation Orbit’s conceptual design appears quite open at the present time. The company’s website shows potential concepts based on the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II and F-15D Eagle, the Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker, and a Gulfstream II or III business jet.

Gulfstream, F-4 Phantom II, F-15 Eagle, and Su-27 Flanker

The F-15 option parallels a future concept being studied at at Premier Space Systems.

The Su-27 option might seem odd choice, given that Generation Orbit intends to operate in the US. The company hopes to fly from a variety of launch sites including the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, NASA Dryden Flight Research Center in California, Kennedy Space Center, and Cecil Field Spaceport in Jacksonville, Florida. 

There is at least one operation Su-27 in the United States at the present time, however. Reliable sources tell us that the registered owner is actually a dummy company owned by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen. There is no reason to believe he’s involved with Generation Orbit, however.

By coincidence, Paul Allen is also has an interest in air-launch projects, having financed the development of SpaceShip One and being the founder of Stratolaunch.

A.C. Charania has participated in workshops for NASA’s Nanosatellite Launch Challenge, so it seems a safe bet that Generation Orbit intends to compete for that prize.

Written by Astro1 on April 21st, 2012 , Innovation, Nanosatellites Tags:

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