Currently, these mini-satellites must go as piggyback secondary payloads on large rocket launch missions, giving the satellite owners little choice over the timing of a launch or the final orbital positioning, SPACE.COM reports.
"Getting reasonable cost access [to space] for small spacecraft is really critical," says Kris Kimel, president of Kentucky Space, a private-public consortium hoping to launch its first small orbital satellite in 2011. "We need to get that kind of access that allows us to relentlessly innovate and quite frankly to fail more."
A start-up company called NanoLauncher proposes to provide that access using existing technology in the form of decommissioned military aircraft that will carry the satellites on a small rocket to be launched at high altitude to head to Earth orbit.
Jets under consideration for the NanoLauncher program include the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter and the McDonnell Douglas F-15D Eagle, which would take the small satellite slung underneath their fuselage on a rocket to an altitude of several miles up then launch the rocket to send the payload to its intended destination above Earth.
NanoLauncher says it expects to begin full-scale operations sometime in 2014.