NASA has awarded three companies more than $17 million in launch-services contracts to put microsatellites, or CubeSats, into low-Earth orbit.
Companies and facility locations included in the awards, announced Oct. 14, included:
- Firefly Space Systems, Cedar Park, Texas, $5.5 million
- Rocket Lab, Los Angeles, $6.9 million
- Virgin Galactic, Long Beach, Calif., $4.7 million
The first-time contracts represent the smallest class of dedicated launch services used by NASA. Previously, its CubeSats have been included in rideshare payloads packing miscellaneous cargo.
NASA launch-services director Jim Norman said the awards are part of the agency’s ongoing efforts “to promote the continued development of the U.S. commercial space transportation industry.”
NASA uses CubeSats for communications capabilities, space exploration, Earth observations and scientific experiments. The agency aims to put 50 small sats into orbit during the next three years.
“Emerging small launch vehicles have great potential to expand the use of small satellites as integral components of NASA’s Earth science orbital portfolio,” said Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division.
“Today’s CubeSat technology fosters hands-on engineering and flight research training. With the addition of reliable, affordable, and dedicated access to space on small launchers, constellations of (small sats) could revolutionize our science-based, space-borne, Earth-observing systems and capabilities.”