For space tech startups and other companies doing research in space, actually securing launch services to get into orbit is often the biggest hurdle. To address this need, Elon Musk’s SpaceX has recently launched the Small Sat Rideshare programme. Through the programme, small satellite operators with light payloads will be able to to book a spot on regularly scheduled Falcon 9 launches.
Rideshare launches are typically dependent on one or two main customers paying the bulk of the bill, and smaller payload operators are forced to tag on for the ride. However, if the primary operator needs to delay the launch, all the operators on board are affected.
With this new programme, customers are guaranteed a spot on a regularly scheduled launch. This also gives small satellite operators more flexibility, as they can carry out research and other activities without being at the mercy of a more expensive customer’s schedule.
SpaceX is expanding its launch services to directly address the needs of small satellite operators through reg ularly scheduled, dedicated Falcon 9 rideshare missions → https://t.co/jqQxEdt4xp pic.twitter.com/3gzOPxdVkW
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) August 5, 2019
“If you are ready to fly during the scheduled launch period, you will fly,” the Small Sat Rideshare programme assures on its website. “Dedicated rideshare missions will not be delayed by co-passenger readiness.”
As of now, prices are determined by weight and time to launch. The space exploration company is currently offering spots 12 months or more in advance and 6-12 months before launch. TechCrunch stated that launch services with a shorter turnaround time might become available in the future, but the prices for such an option have yet to be disclosed.
Launches start at a price of $2.25 million for payloads up to 330 pounds (150 kg) or $4.5 million up to 660 pounds (300 kg). As a reference point, the lowest cost for a SpaceX launch is currently about $57 million.
Customers will need to provide their own ESPA-compatible deployer. If operators need to delay their launch, they may also need to pay a rebooking fee for a relatively last-minute cancellation. However, SpaceX aims to provide a flexible model.
“Passengers who run into delays that prevent them from launching can apply 100% of monies paid towards the cost of rebooking on a subsequent mission,” SpaceX assures.
At present, operators have three launches to choose from over the next few years. The first launch is scheduled to occur between November 2020 and March 2021, the second will be in the first quarter of 2022 and the third will take place in the first quarter of 2023.