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What are tentative launch costs for 1U/3U cubesat on popular launchers? I checked up ISRO, SpaceX and others. Only RocketLab provides exact cost for cubesat as a piggy-back launch: \$77k / \$240k for 1U/3U cubesats on its Electron rocket. Any idea about other launch providers?

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  • $\begingroup$ I have a non-expert hunch that anything far above $\mathbf{O}(\text{10}^5)$ $/U won't last much longer, and anything far below would be speculation or at least undemonstrated. One exception would of course be non-retail situations, where there are sponsors involved. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Feb 2 '17 at 23:48
  • $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of Barriers to launching a cubesat $\endgroup$ – superdesk Apr 28 '17 at 12:23
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For ISRO we have revenue details on few small satellites launched between 2013 to 2015 through an official response in Indian Parliament PDF

VELOX-1 (3U) satellite from Nanyang Technological University of Singapore was launched on 30 June 2014 aboard PSLV-C23 (core alone configuration) to a 660 km Sun-synchronous orbit for €140,000 as a ride-share.

Four LEMUR (3U) satellites from Spire Global were launched on 28 September 2015 aboard PSLV C30 (XL configuration) to a 650 km, 6° inclination orbit for €540,000 as a ride-share.

Details on primary payloads and co-passengers here

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polar_Satellite_Launch_Vehicle#Launch_history

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If the satellite isn't getting an academic free ride from the Air Force or NASA, then it is probably best to work through a payload integrator, who bundles several CubeSats into a single launch.

One major integration vendor is Spaceflight Industries (formerly Spaceflight Services). They start with 3U CubeSats for $295K (USD) to LEO. As the satellite gets larger, the price per U goes down. Spaceflight schedule and pricing They fly using several different boosters.

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In addition to differences in vehicle costs, flight cost per unit depend heavily on the destination and the configuration of the payload stack. For example, assuming 40% capacity loss to the adapter and CubeSat dispensers (wild guess), I estimate below that a dedicated rideshare flight on Virgin Orbit LauncherOne to 500km SSO could be estimated as \$110k/U, but same vehicle to 230km equatorial could be \$65k/U.

CubeSat Cost / Unit

NanoRacks: \$40k/U - \$80k/U | ISS Orbit, 408km, 52$^{\circ}$ inclination

Virgin Orbit: $110k/U | 500km, SSO

Vector Space Systems: $220k/U | 450km, SSO

Sources

NanoRacks: A couple years ago, NanoRacks told me, via email, that the costs to deploy from ISS were: \$80k/U. They also said they had a 50% educational discount, so the educational cost was \$40k/U.

RocketLab: As you mentioned, RocketLab is transparent with their costs. If you want to buy a slot, you can do so on their website now. I talked to them at SmallSat last Summer and they said this slot does not include the price of the dispenser, so RocketLab is BYOD, bring your own dispenser. They sell carbon fiber dispensers, but I can't remember if you're required to buy one or have the option to bring your own. I requested their user guide from their website and will edit my answer when I get it.

For the following, I assume 40% of capacity is taken by adapter and dispensers for CubeSats. I also assume that rocket is used for dedicated CubeSat rideshare with no middle integrator taking a cut. I use UnitMass = 1.33kg/U and $\frac{Cost}{Unit} = \frac{LaunchCost}{\frac{TotalMass}{UnitMass}}$. Note that this scenario would also include the cost of the adapter and dispensers, which I am neglecting here.

Virgin Orbit: Virgin Orbit is projecting a \$15M launch cost with 300kg capacity to 500km SSO on it's LauncherOne vehicle. This and other payload capacities can be found in its LauncherOne Service Guide.

Vector: Vector is estimating \$3M launch cost with a 30kg payload capacity to 450km SSO on it's Vector-R vehicle. This and other payload capacities can be found in the Vector-R Forecasted Launch Service Guide, available for download from the company's website.

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  • $\begingroup$ Helpful answer, still in the 100k$ ballpark. Any speculation on where Rocket Lab might end up? $\endgroup$ – uhoh Feb 11 '18 at 5:45
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    $\begingroup$ RocketLab is totally transparent, so no need to speculate. However, I'm pretty sure they are BYOD, bring your own dispenser. I've added this to my answer. $\endgroup$ – Patrick Walton Feb 11 '18 at 13:57
  • $\begingroup$ Silly me, the question is a year old now, and I hadn't read it again. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – uhoh Feb 11 '18 at 14:02
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    $\begingroup$ I didn't even realize it was a year old. I was just looking for a CubeSat question to dig into. Haha. Your question still spurred me to look into whether different companies would have dispenser costs on top. $\endgroup$ – Patrick Walton Feb 11 '18 at 14:04
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I recall a youtuber who was getting a cubesat into orbit say it was costing him about $10k. You'll have to do some hunting, as I don't recall the specifics of the video, but I do remember that detail, and that he was a student.

Clearly this is a bargain price, as a picosat costs about $8k to get up there. So I would bet you won't see a price like that except as a piggyback, done at the gracious behest of a large organization.

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    $\begingroup$ Most likely Interorbital Systems. Interorbital has been selling \$10k tickets for more than 5 years without coming anywhere close to delivering. I've never heard any other picosat/CubeSat class launch that low. $\endgroup$ – Patrick Walton Feb 11 '18 at 5:18
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The cost of a CubeSat depends on the mass and size of the CubeSat and launch vehicle being used. It can range between on average between 10,000 USD and 500,000 USD. CubeSats sizes range from 0.5U to 27U, with 1U being defined as 10cm x 10cm x 10cm. There are mass requirements that CubeSats must stay under, however, waivers can be signed to allow for a higher mass cubesat. A CubeSat being launched on a Falcon 9 will have a much smaller launch cost when compared to one being launched on a Delta V.

Also the many companies and NASA is willing to launch certain CubeSats for free depending on the type of research being conducted. Currently CubeSats between 0.5U to 6U have only been launched. There are plans for people to launch larger CubeSats of 6U+.

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