Cogniscent of its growing backlog of cubesats in its Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ElaNa) programme, NASA has awarded for three individual flights on three small launch vehicles currently underdevelopment.  The total value of the contracts is US$17.2 million. The three winners of the Venture Class Launch Services contracts were:  US$5.5 million contract to Firefly Space Systems,  US$6.9 million to Rocket Lab USA, and US$4.7 million to Virgin Galactic. Firefly Space Systems’ Alpha two-stage rocket which was originally planned to use Liquid Oxygen (LOx)/Methane as propellants along with a first stage engine in a plug cluster aerospike arrangement, will now initially be LOx/Kerosene powered with a claimed Sun-synchronous orbit payload capability of 200kg.  Firefly has not yet announced its launch site(s). Rocket Lab USA’s LOx/kerosene powered three-stage Electron rocket is claimed to be able carry 110kg to a Sun-synchronous low Earth orbit.  This rocket was originally planned to be launched from New Zealand. The flight will be the rocket’s planned fifth mission in its launch schedule.

Electron rocket. Courtesy: Rocket Lab

Electron rocket. Courtesy: Rocket Lab

Virgin Galactic’s air-launched two-stage LOx/kerosene-burning LauncherOne which is claimed to be able carry 200kg to a Sun-synchronous low Earth orbit.  Initial flights of this launch system will take place from the Mojave air strip in California.