See, that’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout.
United Launch Alliance made a gloriously clever marketing move last week. They’ve announced that their launches will start carrying CubeSats aloft aboard the Centaur upper stage and releasing them through a spring-loaded deployment tube. They’ll carry twenty-four per launch as a secondary payload.
They also said that they’ll take up a certain number of cubes for free, focusing on STEM projects selected by ULA and industry leaders.
Currently, these 4^3″ satellites have long launch waiting lists and high (for schools anyway) launch costs. By becoming a frequent-flying provider of piggy-back CubeSat flights, ULA will add to peoples’ options, apply downward pressure on the price for CubeSat launches, and help new ideas get out there to change the world.
Atlas rockets have some extra energy at launch that goes unused, so filling a corner of the second stage with a CubeSat launch tube costs them very little upfront.
While their rival, SpaceX, struggles to get safely back to flight, works on sticking their landings, builds a heavy rocket, and dreams of Mars, ULA pulls this great, Microsoft-esc market grab to build their NewSpace exposure. The students that get to fly their cubes on Centaur will remember when it comes time to fly full-size birds for who knows what industry they work for when they leave school. It builds the industry in ULA’s direction, and that is where a company’s long-term growth and market tenacity is made.
ULA has started thinking like a new company again. In a fast-moving industry, it’s the only way to survive.