The concept of ridesharing is the new normal for countless people every day. Whether it’s catching an Uber to work or taking a Lyft home from the bar, rideshare services have made getting around far more convenient in the past few years. Now, SpaceX wants to do the same thing for the satellite industry.
It announced Monday that it will launch (pun intended) a rideshare program called SmallSat designed specifically for small satellite companies. By splitting the cost of a rocket launch, they will have an easier time getting to orbit.
Just like the business world, the spaceflight industry isn’t built to help the little guy succeed. Although there are plenty of talented engineers and scientists working with smaller companies, typically only large corporations can afford to regularly send their payloads into space. Thanks to SpaceX, there will be a lot more opportunities for everyone else.
Prior to the rideshare program, small companies needed to hitchhike aboard a rocket carrying a primary payload for a bigger operator. Since the larger company pays the majority of the bill, it remains in control. Therefore, the small operator goes on a schedule that may not be ideal. For example, if the primary payload’s launch is delayed, the tagalong will also be delayed.
With SpaceX’s new program, small satellite operators can now share the cost of a Falcon 9 rocket launch. This means no longer being tethered to another company’s schedule. Even if one of the companies backs out, the launch will still go up.
SmallSat is designed with flexibility in mind. After all, part of the goal is breaking free from the rigidity of traditional launches. With that being said, the rideshare program will operate on a pre-determined schedule that gives hopeful companies 12 or more months to book a spot.
Thanks to the sharing model they will also see a big discount. When booked in advance, small payloads of 330 pounds or less will cost just $2.25 million while larger loads of up to 660 pounds will cost $4.5 million. While this might sound steep, it’s important to keep in mind that the cheapest traditional SpaceX launch costs about $57 million.
On top of this, SpaceX wants to give potential customers extra peace of mind with a generous rebooking policy. If a company needs to withdraw from its launch, 100 percent of payments made thus far will be put towards the cost of booking another flight.
Of course, SpaceX will also benefit nicely from the arrangement. By opening the door to space launches for small companies, it will likely see a significant uptick in business. This is the type of program that is truly a win-win for everyone. Since space exploration has historically been a team effort, this collaboration is nice to see.