The Institute of Aviation and the Warsaw University of Technology, at the request of the Polish Space Agency, have developed the feasibility study called Polish microlauncher – the perspective. The document is a valuable reference point for the discussion on the development of microlaunchers and the rocket technology in Poland. 

Microrockets, also known as microlaunchers, are small rockets designed to carry minor payload. Microrocket technologies, as well as reusable rockets, are developed as a part of the New Space Trend related to i.a. reduction of the cost of carrying light-weight payload into orbit. These rockets are widely used to carry satellites and scientific and technological experiments. For example, in April 2018, the New Shepard rocket, built by Blue Origin, was used to launch the NASA technological demonstrator  and three scientific experiments for the German Space Agency. Another example is the Rexus Programme, carried out i.a. by the European Space Agency, within the framework of which the European students can carry out experiments on board of the research rocket.

In 2015, the value of the international market of mini- and smaller satellite (of weight under 500 kilograms) was estimated at USD 140 million[1]. Due to the growing demand of the industry sectors related to the New Space trend, the market for such means of launching payload into orbit is growing dynamically. Currently, there are approximately 60 different microlauncher projects carried out all over the world[2]. Most of the microlaunch system concepts assume to acquire the ability of carrying payload within the 150-300 kilograms weight range, and over 60% of those concepts are related to rockets with the payload capacity over 150 kilos.

The development of microlaunchers in Poland is a chance for the domestic science and education, for it could lead to offering the service of launching satellites and experiments to orbit to students and scientists, who are currently buying this service abroad. It may also effect in providing solutions desired on the international market, thus increasing competitiveness of the domestic industry.

 

THE FEASIBILITY STUDY OF THE POLISH MICROLAUNCHER

The main purpose of developing the feasibility study commissioned by the Polish Space Agency was to  discuss the possible options, economic perspectives and the time horizon for creating the Polish microlauncher as well as to identify the potential of the domestic space sector in the field of developing the ways of carrying payload into orbit and to analyse the legal matters related to this topic.

The core element of the study, prepared by the consortium consisting of the Institute of Aviation and the Warsaw University of Technology, was the analysis of different options for obtaining autonomy in accessing the Earth orbits, including international cooperation and possibility of establishing the autonomous launching system, along with the cost analysis of such projects.                            

The study also included description of current trends and perspectives on the small satellite market  with reference to needs of the domestic market, as well as the assessment of potential launches of the small rockets from the Polish territory (the Baltic coast). Furthermore, the study included the analysis of the legal aspects related to constructing and operating the microlaunchers prepared by Barbara Skradzińska PhD – an expert specializing in public international law, including space law.

The feasibility study of the Polish microlauncher project is a starting point for discussion about the development of this technology in Poland. Within the framework of the National Space Programme 2019-2021, the Polish Space Agency has scheduled an extended study works in the field of orbital rockets, related to the further development of the domestic means of carrying payload into orbit, in particular with reference to the possible participation of Poland in the international projects related to construction of new launchers.       

 

THE SUBORBITAL ROCKET AS A STEP TOWARDS THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE POLISH MICROLAUNCHER

The development of the Polish small suborbital rocket is a prelude to providing the Polish microlauncher. The suborbital rockets are defined as objects that could possibly reach the altitude of 100 kilometres, the agreed-on boarder of space. Their usage will enable on-flight tests of technologies and conducting research in microgravity. Technologies and abilities developed during works on the small suborbital rockets might be used when designing the Polish microlauncher.

Currently, there are two suborbital rockets developed in Poland, which are closest to cross the agreed on boarder of space: the Amber (by the Institute of Aviation) and the BIGOS (by SpaceForest). Both prototypes have already been tested during test flights to the altitude of 15 kilometres. To allow the Polish prototypes to cross the border of 100 kilometres, it is essential to provide them with both - the necessary funding and the access to the testing range along with an open airspace.

The Polish Space Agency has included tests of small rocket systems and technologies among five large projects scheduled to be implemented within the framework of the National Space Programme (Krajowy Program Kosmiczny - KPK) 2019-2021. Over this period of time the Polish suborbital rocket is to cross the border of 100 kilometres and to perform at least two flights with a payload. Furthermore, within this three-year period, the KPK implies the development of a commercialization system for the domestic suborbital launcher. The budget for the implementation of this project in 2019-2021 has been estimated at PLN 6 million.   

At the same time, the Polish Space Agency takes actions in order to enable performing the suborbital rockets flights on the territory of Poland, using the sites and the infrastructure of the testing ranges belonging to the Polish Army.    

 

[1] https://www.pwc.fr/fr/assets/files/pdf/2018/11/space/pwc-micro-launchers-what-is-the-market.pdf,

[2] Counted at the beginning of 2018. Cancelled projects were omitted. Source: M. Tugnoli, M. Sarret, M. Aliberti, European Access to Space: Business and Policy Perspectives on Micro Launchers, Springer 2019, pages: 17-20.

 

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