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Wikipedia writes to say

...The Space Race sparked unprecedented increases in spending on education and pure research, which accelerated scientific advancements and led to beneficial spin-off technologies. ...

A few such technologies may be

  • Meteorology
  • Remote Sensing
  • Communications
  • Science Missions
    • ISS
    • Hubble
    • DSN

Perhaps communications, and remote sensing Satellites form the bulk of any commercial launch payload.

In the early days few organizations/nations were capable of deploying to orbit. As of 2013 several nations may contract to deliver a payload to orbit ; USA, Russia, India, France, Japan to name a few. Similarly Lockheed, Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, Sea Launch form a small sample of private organizations headed into orbit - if not deep space, or transplanet.

With a virtual smörgåsbord of options to choose from, these few factors came to mind that may be relevant

  • Track Record of the launcher
  • Cost per kilogram to orbit
  • Insurance/Liability in the event of failure to fulfil commitment

Questions:

  • Does cost to orbit make/break the sale for a satellite launch service?
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  • $\begingroup$ No, as with any other service, if you expect more you are willing to pay more. A few tens of millions in launch cost for a more reliable lift are well worth the cost if you are launching a unit with a cost of construction in the hundreds of billions. On the other hand if you are spending a couple hundred million to build the satellite, then saving 20 or 30 million can make a huge difference in your budget. $\endgroup$ – James Jenkins Sep 15 '13 at 17:58
  • $\begingroup$ @JamesJenkins: Were there any launch units that cost hundreds of billions? The whole Apollo program cost $170bln but that was distributed between 20 different launches. $\endgroup$ – SF. Sep 16 '13 at 7:50
  • $\begingroup$ @SF. The reference to hundreds of billions was incorrect. I check my reference again, I misread it. Seems like the upper end costs are just over a billion curiosity.discovery.com/question/satellites-cost (Waleed Abdalati, NASA Chief Scientist) $\endgroup$ – James Jenkins Sep 16 '13 at 10:39
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There are a number of factors when choosing who to launch your satellites. Some of the key factors are:

  1. Cost
  2. Time schedule (Will they keep their schedule to build your rocket?
  3. Payload capacity (Both size and weight)
  4. How closely they can get you to your desired orbit.
  5. ITAR or other export restrictions (It's easier to launch from the US if your satellite was built in the US)
  6. Track record (New rockets, or recently re-designed rockets, are usually cheaper for a few flights). This factors significantly in to the insurance cost as well.

Of these, you first select the rockets that meet your orbital insertion requirements for your mass, and then you pick either cost or launch schedule, depending on which is more important depends for the company or organization. I won't give any specifics away, but there are some launch providers which are known to have a lower cost, but you aren't guaranteed the launch window you want, while others have a higher cost, but they will launch closer to your launch day. The rockets launched with the cheaper rocket launch service tend to be small companies, whereas the ones launched more reliably tend to be larger organizations.

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    $\begingroup$ Note Time Schedule also means when will they be able to launch your satellite. The demand does exceed supply in case of the most popular providers, and that results in a waiting queue. Each launch takes days to prepare. $\endgroup$ – SF. Sep 16 '13 at 7:33

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