Bloostar artist concepts.
According to a SpaceWorks study published in 2014, over 2000 nano/micro-satellites under 50 kg will need to be launched by 2020. Several of the companies interested in fulfilling that need presented their ideas at the International Astronautical Congress in Israel, including Zero 2 Infinity launching its new SmallSat launcher called Bloostar.
The one commonality between all the companies? None have yet to launch and most are still looking for funding to complete development of their launchers.
Virgin Galactic's presentation didn't include any new information, but at a SmallSat plenary held the day before, they did release the news that they would be launching two Planet Labs technology demonstration nanosats.
Dynetics, unlike its competitors in this field, is an experienced company having worked on many space projects over the years including NASA's current Space Launch System. They're attempting to develop a mobile satellite launcher for payloads up to 25 kilograms. While they've made progress on their launcher engine, they still need about $40 million to complete development of the system, including first launch, according to Steve Cook, Vice President of Corporate Development.
Interstellar Technologies Inc from Japan is a two year old startup that was initial funded from a student association and has completed two attitude control tests. Their goal is to develop the "worlds smallest launcher" for 50 kg payloads at a cost of $2.5 million. They too are looking for funding to move forward.
After the session concluded Zero 2 Infinity held a press conference to formally introduce Bloostar.
Bloostar is a three-stage rocket launched from a balloon which releases it at about 20 km altitude. The balloon will be launched near the Canary Islands from a boat. According to Jose Mariano Lopez-Urdiales, their CEO, this is an ideal location as the winds are stable for launching balloons. He also cited substantial cost-savings from not having to pay for a range.
Bloostar can carry payloads up to of 150 kg and can be configured to carry multiple smallsats on each launch. The cost at this time is $4 million per launch, though a bulk buy will get the customer a discount. Zero 2 Infinity says they have seven letters of intent from potential customers and have several investors already from their previous projects.
Bloostar faces several technical issues launching from a balloon. This includes; how will they make sure the rocket launches in the right direction and how to deal with propellant boil off as the balloon floats up to launch altitude. They had the answers to these and other questions posed to them and are confident that their models say the system will work.