Achieving the full promise of small satellites will require the availability of reliable U.S. launch vehicles with a full range of performance capabilities. This is currently not the case: There is a significant gap in capability between the Pegasus/Athena/Taurus launch vehicles and the Delta II. Plans to fill this gap by numerous suppliers are encouraging, as are the efforts by launch vehicle suppliers to provide a range of fairing sizes to accommodate a larger percentage of potential missions. Foreign launch vehicles may also ultimately play a role in filling this gap, should U.S. policy change.
Early experience with the new small launch vehicles has included a number of failures—probably due in part to a desire to minimize development costs for these commercial ventures. Continued development should overcome the difficulties and yield a suitable balance between cost and reliability. However, it will take some time—and, likely, some additional failures—before any of these launch vehicles establish a reliability record approaching that of the Delta II.