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Space startup Launcher to fly an orbital platform filled with CubeSats on a SpaceX rocket in 2022

An illustration of the Launcher Orbiter spacecraft in its modular CubeSat deployer configuration (90U available), deploying two
An illustration of the Launcher Orbiter spacecraft in its modular CubeSat deployer configuration (90U available), deploying two (Image credit: Launcher)

Startup space company Launcher has a new satellite platform that will carry stacks of CubeSats into space, the company announced after a nearly $12 million funding round.

The platform, called Orbiter, will send up to 330 pounds (150 kg) of mass to orbit. Initially, it will be used for rideshare missions that send fleets of small satellites into orbit, with a larger satellite riding aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Launcher's debut mission will take off aboard a Falcon 9 in October 2022.

"With Orbiter, small satellite constellation developers can take advantage of the rapid cadence and unprecedented price point of the SpaceX rideshare program to build their constellation at optimum cost and timing," Hawthorne, Calif.-based Launcher stated in a press release (opens in new tab).

Related: See the evolution of SpaceX's rockets in pictures

Orbiter will also serve as the third stage of Launcher Light, a small rocket that Launcher hopes to get into low Earth orbit in 2024. The company said customers may want to consider Launcher Light for "additional orbits and schedules." 

The rocket's comparatively diminutive size (at 50 feet (15 meters)) allows full dedication to a single small mission, as opposed to SpaceX's Falcon 9 (230 feet or 70 meters), in which Orbiter must fly as a rideshare vehicle.

Whatever option customers choose, most of the Orbiter components are designed and built by Launcher for "competitive pricing for its customers", the company added. Orbiter can also change the satellites' orbital velocity by roughly 0.3 miles (500 meters) per second, allowing the machines to go slightly higher or lower in their orbits.

Launcher Light will compete in a crowded, small rocket market that includes Rocket Lab's Electron and Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne. Back in 2018, however, Max Haot, the founder and chief executive of Launcher, told SpaceNews that the company is not prepared to rush into space. However, he added that Launcher Light does have the advantage to optimize for performance instead of asking its customers to make changes for their payloads.

"We have a very long-term view, 10 to 20 years," Haot said in the interview. "We don't believe that the people that got there a few years before will be the winners. We believe that the ones operating with the highest margin will be the winner."

Earlier this month, Launcher announced that it raised $11.7 million in a Series A funding round, co-led by Boost.VC and Haot, who put in $5 million from selling his Mevo camera business to Logitech. The company is also working on developing an E-2 engine for Launcher Light.

Haot said the extra money will help boost Launcher Light into orbit, along with funding the hiring of an additional 40 employees in 2021, almost double its current number of 30, according to Ars Technica. By flight time three years from now, Launcher plans to have 150 people on staff.

"Compared to our competitors, we are in the kindergarten of fundraising," Haot told Ars Technica. "This is a major acceleration of funding for us."

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Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she tackles topics like spaceflight, diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc (opens in new tab). in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Her latest book, NASA Leadership Moments, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.