A new Swiss-based company said Thursday it would offer low-cost satellite launches which it claims could be a quarter of current market rates.
Swiss Space Systems-S3 said its goal was to offer launches for 10 million Swiss francs (8.1 million euros, $10.5 million) using unmanned suborbital spaceplanes that could carry satellites weighing up to 250 kilos (550 pounds).
“Our mission is to give access to space,” the company said in a statement.
“Our aim is to democratise access to space by enabling emerging markets, countries, universities and research institutes to do what has not been possible for them up to know: deploy their own satellites,” it added.
The company, which is led by Swiss astronaut Claude Nicollier, said it had a budget of 225 million Swiss francs and aimed to begin test launches in 2017.
Swiss Space Systems said it had already secured technological cooperation deals with key players in the sector including the European Space Agency, Dassault Aviation, the Von Karman Institute and Sonaca.
Suborbital planes used to launch the satellites would themselves be ferried to an altitude of 10,000 metres (32,800 feet) by a special Airbus A300 jet that is already certified for zero-gravity flights.
The spaceplanes would then climb to 80,000 metres (262,500 feet) to place the satellite in orbit, before gliding back to an earth-based “spaceport”.
The company said it planned to open such a spaceport by 2015 at the Payerne airfield in western Switzerland, which has already been used by the Solar Pulse sun-powered aircraft of Swiss astronaut Bertrand Piccard.
Swiss Space Systems said that the plan’s low-cost character was rooted in the reusable nature of the spaceplane and other launch facilities and that fuel-consumption would be far less than that of conventional systems.
Countries including Malaysia and Morocco have already expressed an interest in partnership deals that could see them host additional spaceports, it said.