If RLVs show such promise, why aren’t investors more interested? A major concern is the uncertain size of the market. Most proposed RLVs are best suited for launching small satellites into low orbits (typically less than 1,500 kilometers). Hundreds of these satellites will form the infrastructure of the global telecom systems for companies like Iridium, Globalstar and Teledesic. But with Iridium facing financial problems and with Teledesic’s design in flux, demand for RLVs is uncertain. The proposed RLVs are not powerful enough to lift heavy communications satellites 36,000 kilometers up into geosynchronous orbit for broadcasting television and other signals-the faster-growing segment of the business.
Still, developers of RLVs are not daunted. Gary Hudson, CEO of Rotary, notes that RLVs like Roton would be capable of servicing satellites already in orbit and delivering crews to the International Space Station, not just launching satellites.
If RLVs can deliver on their promise of low-cost space access, they may open up markets such as rapid cargo delivery or space tourism. Attempting to predict such a future, says RLV advocate Max Hunter, would be like “explaining Hollywood to Queen Isabella.”