SpaceX has made changes to its rideshare program, making it more affordable and more trips available for commercial companies to have their small satellites deployed in space.
The smallsat program was first announced by SpaceX earlier this month, but Today’s revamped version will provide launch opportunities at least once per month starting in March 2020, for $1 million for a 200-kilogram smallsat delivery.
“Earlier this month, SpaceX announced the Smallsat Rideshare Program and received a lot of interest and great feedback from customers,” the company said in a statement. “As such, we have updated the terms of the program and have made the service even more compelling with reduced pricing and increased flight opportunities.”
Three weeks after the space company’s initial announcement, SpaceX has slashed nearly half the price for their smallsat delivery rate. Today’s move suggests that SpaceX is entering the market of small-satellite launches, using a strategy pioneered by Seattle-based Spaceflight.
Primarily, Spaceflight is a launch service and mission management provider that offers routine, cost-effective access to space through organizing rideshare measure between commercial companies who want a satellite or any payload deployment but doesn’t have a rocket in their disposal with space companies looking for paying customers to contribute to the costs of launch.
Initially, SpaceX’s offer was $2.5 million to launch a payload weighing up to 150 kilograms (330 pounds) to sun-synchronous orbit, provided the launch was under contract at least a year in advance. From six to 12 months in advance, the price increased to $3 million. A 300-kilogram satellite could launch for $4.5 million if ordered a year in advance or $6 million between six and 12 months in advance.
Now, SpaceX is willing to provide their deployment services at a base price of $1 million for launching up to 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of ESPA-class payload, with the charge for extra mass priced at $5,000 per kilogram (2.2 pounds).
Comparatively, SpaceFlight’s offer for the same 200-kilogram payload would cost nearly $6 million.
Other than the price difference, the original proposal also offered a limited number of dedicated Falcon 9 launches to sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) with the first scheduled for between November 2020 and March 2021. Subsequent launches were tentatively planned for early 2022 and early 2023.
SpaceX now plans to provide three dedicated SSO launches a year, starting in 2020. Also, SpaceX will offer additional rideshare services, taking advantage of excess capacity on Falcon 9 launches of Starlink satellites and other, unspecified missions to SSO or different polar orbits.
If a satellite operator had to miss a launch, the money that was paid out could go toward a later mission, subject to a 10% rebooking fee, SpaceX said.
A schedule posted on SpaceX’s website lists 29 launches from March 2020 through December 2021 that are available for rideshare missions. Seven of the launches are listed as going to SSO. The company adds that it will offer additional launches “in 2022 and beyond.”
“In addition, SpaceX will offer launch opportunities to mid-inclination as often as a monthly basis on Starlink missions, as well as missions to sun-synchronous and/or polar orbits,” the company said.
“Mid-inclination,” would likely refer to launches where Starlink satellites are the primary payloads, and they will accept satellites depending on the vacant weight a Starlink launch has available.
Starlink is a satellite-constellation SpaceX is currently building, which will be a total of 11,940 satellites in low Earth orbit that will provide global broadband Internet access.
In addition to its expanded rideshare launch program, SpaceX also announced an agreement with in-space transportation company Momentus. SpaceX identified Momentus as its first customer for a dedicated rideshare mission.
“We are showing that ridesharing from the Falcon 9 will be a game-changer. By ferrying payloads to multiple orbits from a single launch, we multiply the capability of an already very impressive system,” said Mikhail Kokorich, chief executive of Momentus, in the statement announcing the agreement.
Kokorich means that their spacecraft would be able to carry satellites with a total mass of up to 250 kilograms and deliver them to custom orbits after deployment from the Falcon 9.
Due to SpaceX’s prominent success with space launches and rocket reusability, it uniquely places the space company in the position where it can put forward a profitable business model for customers looking for relatively affordable and reliable SmallStats deliveries and deployment.
Now, with the collaboration of Momentus, SpaceX’s program beats out the rest in the industry.