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RE: Delta 4 Heavy going up pretty empty?



Many Amsat people still harbor the quaint notion that putting a ham satellite
into orbit is no more complicated than standing along the side of the road
with your thumb in the air, waiting for a friendly truck driver to give you a
ride to the next town. The reality is more like this:

Imagine that you are the project manager for the new rocket. Your company has
bet the farm that this new rocket will work OK and be attractive to paying
customers. Your engineers are working 16 hour shifts seven days a week to get
the rocket ready. Everybody has their eye on you to make this flight happen
successfully and without incident. Your promotion and quite likely your
continued employment depends on getting this rocket into the right orbit,
soon.

Now a group of "amateur" satellite builders calls you one day and says "hey I
noticed you are launching an empty rocket into geosynchronous orbit, mind if
we hitch a ride?".

In addition to all your other problems, now someone wants to add another
component to your vehicle, one that has needs to be tested for shock and
vibration, out-gassing, electromagnetic compatibility, mass properties and
center of gravity, and a host of other requirements. They want to add an
additional layer of complexity to your already overburdened project, requiring
you to assign additional engineering manpower to evaluate the new satellite
and its test results and paperwork to make sure that it is not adding another
layer of risk to your project. And who the hell is "Amsat" and what's this I
hear about them building satellites in their "garages"? Everybody knows that
satellites are complicated, expensive, and built under sterile clean room
conditions by big companies and government agencies. What kind of crappy
satellite do you imagine those "amateurs" are building in their "garage"?

Oh, and they want to separate their satellite from the launch vehicle too, so
you will be expected to test and qualify their separation interface, and
certify that the satellite will not separate too early, like while the
aerodynamic shroud is still attached.

To avoid contributing to space junk most launches to geosynchronous transfer
orbit now have deliberately low perigees to assure that the spent rocket
stages will decay back into the atmosphere soon after launch. Any satellite
that Amsat wants to send to GTO will need to have some kind of propulsion
system. Adding a propulsion system increases the safety and certification
problems by an order of magnitude. 
 
Sometimes we do get lucky and somebody takes a chance on us. That is how Oscar
1 got into space 43 (not 45) years ago. That is why the relationship between
Amsat and the Ariane people has been so special over the decades. But you must
understand that that is the exception rather than the rule. In 1961 we were
pretty much alone in that market, but Amsat isn't the only player today. In
today's word, small satellites are a commercial market, with many
organizations trying to get a ride for their projects. If they give Amsat a
"free ride", everybody else will start bothering them for the same deal that
Amsat got. 

To most launch vehicle owners, secondary payloads are a lot of grief for very
little or no gain. Best to ignore them and maybe they'll go away.

Dan Schultz N8FGV
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