Harris Spaceport Operations

A Spaceport for Smallsats

By Dan Gillen, Program Manager, Harris Spaceport Systems
Apr 3, 2017

In its 2016 report on the global small satellite market, research firm Azoth Analytics validated what many in the space industry have sensed for years: there is a rising demand for small satellites, and it is driven by “surging customer demand for Earth observation, communication, space observation, [and] technology demonstration.” In fact, the researcher stated, the market “is forecasted to grow at a CAGR of 19.54% during 2016- 2021F, on account of rising applications.”

With this kind of expected growth and the desire for the United States to maintain a leadership role in space, Congress’ Space Subcommittee held a hearing in April 2016 on The Commercial Space Launch Industry: Small Satellite Opportunities and Challenges. In a summary statement, Subcommittee Chair Brian Babin (R-TX) said the subcommittee found “[o]ne of the largest barriers that small satellite companies face is the cost of launch.”

Certainly industry is trying to do something about that. Rocket prices are dropping with increased competition and successful demonstrations of reusable launch vehicle technologies. Ridesharing—more than one satellite on a single launch vehicle—is another possibility, but faces its own limitations. The reality is that few options truly exist in the U.S. today for smallsat companies to get missions into space quickly and affordably. One of these is provided by Harris’ commercial space operations.

Dan Gillen at Harris Spaceport Operations.jpg

The Most Efficient Path to Polar Orbit

Most nano/microsatellites launch to a sun-synchronous or polar orbit. Harris Spaceport Operations, located at the southern tip of Vandenberg Air Force Base, is the only continental U.S. complex from which customers can launch their rockets directly at a pole without flying over any land masses while inside Earth’s atmosphere. This is an important safety consideration and cost-savings benefit.

By partnering with companies that produce solid rockets, like Orbital ATK’s Minotaur fleet, and through the use of an existing FAA Commercial Spaceport License, the Harris-operated spaceport has been able to provide affordable space launch opportunities to those who do not require more costly rockets or do not want the coordination hassles associated with “hitching a ride” as a secondary or tertiary mission.

Harris Spaceport Operations

On-site Processing Convenience

Many final launch preparations and checkouts cannot be completed until the satellite is at the launch site. For this reason, Harris Spaceport Operations includes a state-of-the-art integrated processing facility (IPF) that can accommodate all launch site processing and preparation activities, such as satellite fueling, battery installations, small explosives handling, radio frequency protection, and satellite encapsulation into nose cone fairings or other payload-carrying flight hardware.

With more than 12,000 square feet of on-site clean room space and three identical processing cells, the IPF supports multiple satellites simultaneously. Plus, customers have convenient access to several hundred office spaces so that office work and flight hardware processing can be completed in the same facility.

Ready for Launch

Harris has conducted nine successful launches and processed 15 satellites from the spaceport for government and commercial missions. With facilities and processes already in place to streamline costs, smallsat providers have a ready partner available to meet the needs of a new generation of spacecraft.


As published in the Harris Space and Intelligence Systems publication, Insights for a Better World, Ensuring Superiority in Space.