The first tests of an ultralight rocket prototype for launching small satellites into orbit, which the companies participating in the Aeronet-NTI competition are working on, may take place in 2026-2027. This was announced on Thursday, January 27, by the Head of the Aeronet direction of the National Technological Initiative (NTI) for private cosmonautics, Roman Zhits.
It is noted that the competition among Russian developers involves the creation of a rocket and an interorbital small upper stage, which will put objects with a payload of about 250 kilogrammes into orbit. The customer of the development is the Autonomous NPO Analytical Centre ‘Aeronet’.
“If appropriate funding is found, the prototype of the tugboat will begin testing in space in 2024-2025, and the prototype of the rocket, the first test launches, will begin in 2026-2027,” Zhits said at the media conference organized by the NTI Platform.
At the first stage of the competition, the jury, which includes representatives of Roscosmos, the Skolkovo Foundation and a number of other organizations, selected six companies that submitted their engineering notes for the rocket, and five companies that developed solutions for the creation of the block.
In April 2021, the experts selected the three best applications in each category, which passed to the next stage of the competition. And now, by the end of March of this year, the participants should complete the work on the preliminary development projects.
“By the Cosmonautics Day this year [April 12], we will announce two winners for [developing] advance projects in the categories of an ultralight rocket and a tugboat. Then they will continue a more serious study of draft designs, at the end of which one best project of a rocket and a tugboat will be selected,” the representative of the NTI’s Aeronet said.
According to the expert’s estimations, the launch cost of the launch vehicle should not exceed $3 million, which is about two times lower than the current cost of launching such missiles in the world.
“The price was chosen not randomly, but based on the fact that now […] the most successful ultralight rocket that is operated in the world, for which there is a high demand, [is] the Electron rocket of Rocket Lab. Their launch price, depending on the configuration, varies, according to open sources, from $5 million to $6 million,” the expert said.