Swiss Company Plans To Build Smallsat Launcher

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WASHINGTON — A Swiss startup company announced plans March 13 to develop a launch system featuring a reusable air-launched suborbital vehicle that will be able to place small satellites into orbit for approximately $10 million per launch.

The Sub Orbital Aircraft Reusable (SOAR) system, unveiled by Swiss Space Systems at a press event in Payerne, Switzerland, will consist of an Airbus A300 aircraft, a suborbital winged “shuttle” vehicle and an expendable upper stage. The A300, carrying the shuttle atop its fuselage, will take off and fly to an altitude of 10,000 meters. The shuttle will release and ignite its rocket engines, ascending to 80 kilometers before releasing an upper stage that will place the satellite into orbit. The shuttle will glide back to a runway landing.

SOAR will be able to launch satellites with masses of up to 250 kilograms into orbit for 10 million Swiss francs ($10.6 million) per flight, according to the company. Test flights of SOAR, from the airport in Payerne, are scheduled to begin by late 2017. The company also is considering flying the vehicle from proposed spaceports in Malaysia and Morocco.

Company spokesman Gregoire Loretan said March 14 that the suborbital shuttle will be remotely piloted, and that there are no plans at this time to use the vehicle to carry people for space tourism or other applications.

Swiss Space Systems estimates the development cost of SOAR at 250 million Swiss francs, and has partnered with several companies and organizations, including aerospace firms Dassault Aviation and Sonaca. Loretan said the company has raised “a large part” of its development budget through private investors, but declined to identify the investors or the specific amounts of funding raised to date, citing nondisclosure agreements.