Spacelift Washington: Excess Launch Capacity Exceeds One Third of Market

By frank_sietzen
June 17, 2001
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Spacelift Washington

Spacelift Washington Archive

The excess capacity in worldwide space launch services is now at 35 percent and will grow higher in the years ahead, according to a recent study by the McLean, Virginia firm of Booz-Allen and Hamilton, Inc. Details of the study, which looked at the entire U.S. Space Industrial base, was given recently by former Air Force Gen. Thomas Moorman, Jr. to the House Science Committee’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics.

According to Moorman’s testimony, satellite production excess capacity now stands at 50 percent. Space launch excess capacity is at 35 percent, and will increase as new launchers come online for commercial sale. “By the middle of the decade, worldwide launch capacity could be more than twice the projected demand under a conservative scenario,” Moorman told the Hill. “Using an unadjusted projected launch demand, it is estimated that overcapacity will be at 41 percent,” he added. When demand is adjusted downward based on historical actual versus projected launch percentage, -according to Moorman the actual amount of scheduled payloads launched into space is only 75 percent of each annual manifest- excess capacity grows to 56 percent.

What will this mean? Well, don’t expect much growth in price per payload poundage. And while one would think this stark fact would deter additional providers from entering the market, don’t count on it. Japan will shortly flight test the H-IIA booster from Tanegashima Island. That launcher, roughly competitive to the Ariane 5 and larger mid-sized EELVs in the Atlas V and Delta IV stables, will be commercially available. However, few expect that, given restrictions on production, still-high price and launching restrictions, the vehicle will make much of a dent in global launch contracts. And India is still trying to find secondary customers for its GSLV launcher, which might fly one or two times per year.

Overall, recent launch market projections have been bleak. The latest is a Futron Corp.-generated study for the U.S. Commerce Department Office of Space Commercialization. The study, “Trends in Space Commerce”, looks at both satellite and launch services. The data quoted in the study includes information from the Satellite Industry Association reports. For 2001, the study projects world commercial and civil governmental and quasi-commercial launches at 39 commercial and 33 civil government/quasi commercial. For 2002 the study calls for 47 commercial and 21 civil/quasi launches. For the U.S., the Commerce report says 16 commercial launches in 2001, 18 in 2002 and 9/7 civil & quasi-commercial launches during the same period.

Revenues will continue to grow, albeit slowly. The report says that total revenue from worldwide launches will reach $7.04 billion in 2001 with the U.S. share $2.64 billion. Some 19,700 people are employed in the U.S. in the space launch services field, out of a worldwide total of 40,000. That number, which has been slowly increasing each year since for the past several years, will decline somewhat in 2002, the Commerce Department says.

Still, new service providers keep coming. One of the newest is an Australian provider that proposes to launch a Soyuz variant called Aurora from Christmas Island. But what customer will fly from that Pacific Ocean site? And who might stand to lose if the project ‘takes off’? Details in our June 25th column.

Related links

  • 15 May 2001: Testimony of Gen. Thomas S. Moorman Jr., USAF (Retired) before the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics

  • U.S. Commerce Department Office of Space Commercialization

  • Trends in Space Commerce (Adobe Acrobat)

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