You’d be forgiven for giving up on new rockets after years of hype for small launch companies have ended in bankruptcies and anomalous debuts. But, if you can hold out hope a little longer, 2024 actually could be the year.
The months ahead could see the debut of as many as 15 new vehicles, which could change the fundamentals of space business and potentially drive competition in an industry largely ruled by a monopoly.
Who’s who: Here’s the list drawn from Space Foundation’s quarterly Space Report (plus one bonus vehicle), in rough order of how likely we think they are to succeed based on how far along platforms are in the development process and other logistical hurdles companies have to overcome before taking flight:
ULA Vulcan. It happened! With its maiden flight under its belt, the national security-focused US launcher can focus on increasing cadence (and who its next owners will be).
Orienspace Gravity-1. It also happened! The most powerful solid rocket ever built launched from a ship in the Yellow Sea, adding another vehicle to China’s stable.
Mitsubishi H3. The Japanese heavy-lift vehicle failed on its debut in 2023, so there are high hopes that engineers can get it to orbit this year.
Blue Origin New Glenn. With new CEO Dave Limp at the helm, Blue has been teasing us with hardware pictures—but can they get the long-delayed vehicle to the pad?
Arianespace Ariane 6. Europe’s latest rocket, now four years behind schedule, underwent a successful hot-fire test in November that should tee it up for a debut this year.
ABL Space’s RS1. The Lockheed Martin-backed small launcher saw its first flight attempt fail in 2023, but is looking for success this year.
Galactic Energy Pallas-1. The Chinese firm raised $154M in December to tee up the first launch of its medium lift rocket, expected in Q3 2024.
Rocket Factory Augsburg RFA-1. The German rocket-maker’s small launcher is expected to lift off for the first time from Scotland’s SaxaVord Spaceport this summer.
ISAR Aerospace Spectrum. This German firm is expecting to launch a medium-lift rocket from Norway’s Andoya Spaceport sometime this year.
HyImpulse SL-1. Our final German firm expects to start suborbital flights from Saxavord Spaceport this year ahead of an orbital try sometime in 2025.
Skyroot Aerospace Vikram-1. This start-up in Hyderabad, India, revealed their small rocket for the first time in October and forecast a debut flight in early 2024.
Gilmour Space Eris. The Australian firm is seeking a launch license and planning a wet dress rehearsal for their small launch vehicle in March.
Skyrora XL. This UK firm says it expects its debut orbital launch before the end of the year.
Orbex Prime. The UK-based firm is developing its own spaceport, but it’s not clear if it will launch this year.
TLON Aventura-1. Argentina’s own rocket start-up is mulling over a potential orbital flight in 2024.
Budget launch: Lowering the cost of space access has been the watchword in the industry for the last decade, and Spacex’s reusable Falcon 9 has done that—but only up to a point. SpaceX’s prices still reflect their near-monopoly on spaceflight in the West—a NASA science mission launching this spring on a previously-flown booster sold for $80M, despite only costing SpaceX ~$30M.
Satellite operators hope that a handful of competing vehicles could help force launch prices down industry-wide if they can absorb some pent-up demand. But analysts have long argued that there isn’t room for all of these rocket makers to succeed financially, so which ones beat out the field (and who potentially teams up through mergers and acquisitions) could have big implications for investors.
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