BIS Nanosat Launch Vehicle Feasibility Study

This study will explore the technical and economic feasibility of a relatively cheap launch vehicle (the BIS NLV) for placing very small satellites into Earth orbit. They say it can’t be done – is that true, and if so, why?

The study will address the overall purpose of such an endeavour, as well as the technical feasibility.

The technical background and project summary are provided below, but for a start, we are looking for BIS members to join this new project. It is an opportunity to be in at the start of a new BIS initiative.

All are welcome. As a project in the “start-up” phase, help and ideas are needed – we are at the “brainstorming” stage! The intention is that the project will run for 18 months at the most, so a quick start is needed.

For further information or to volunteer, contact the project leader Robin Brand, by emailing [email protected] – now!


These images from early work for the study show simulated trajectories for a ‘reference’ BIS Nanosat launch vehicle. The first shows a launch from Stornoway (a British spaceport candidate), the second shows the first full orbit after such a launch. The images were generated using the ESA promoted ‘ASTOS’ trajectory simulation software (


Nanosat/Picosats are very small Earth orbiting satellites, in the 10 to 0.1 kg class. CubeSats are an example. For example, the KickSat-1 “mother ship” that in April 2015 attempted to deploy the even smaller “Sprites” that BIS members worked on, was a 3U CubeSat of mass 5.5 kg.

Unfortunately, that mission failed, and the team are now awaiting another launch opportunity via a NASA ‘piggy-back’, or secondary payload launch. They are still waiting.

This illustrates the problem. ‘Piggy-back’ launches are relatively cheap, but the user has little control over launch schedule, orbital parameters, or indeed launch opportunities. However even the smallest commercial launch vehicle is too large and expensive for the launch of just one, or even lots of, very small satellites.

Hence there have been many attempts to design and develop smaller and cheaper launch vehicles for small satellites, but so far these appear to have all foundered on what might be called “economies of scale”, or scaling effects, it seems that smaller launch vehicles for smaller payloads don’t have proportionally lower launch costs.

Project Summary

Name: BIS Nanosat Launch Vehicle Feasibility Study

Dates: Started 16 March 2016, anticipated end date 2017

Summary: A feasibility study to determine how cheaply access to space could be for small space satellites

Project deliverables: To involve BIS members, enhance the BIS, and produce a feasibility report

Long-term goal: To provide cheaper access to space by the physical development, test and deployment of a BIS Nanosat launch vehicle

Technology timeframe: Near-term

BIS involvement: A BIS project

Current BIS activity: Project in the start-up phase, interested BIS members being sought

Progress so far: Proposal accepted by the BIS Technical Committee 16/3/16

BIS leader/contact: Robin Brand

Further information: Email [email protected]

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