April 18, 2021

Significant interest in launch services for the SpaceX smallsat rideshare

SpaceX is experiencing an increased demand for its committed smallsat rideshare missions. On 9th February, during the SmallSat Symposium, a SpaceX official said that the company is planning to carry out other two rideshare missions later in the year after its Falcon 9 Transporter-1 broke the world’s record by placing 143 small satellites into orbit.

The senior manager of rideshares sales at SpaceX, Jarrod McLachlan, said that the customer demand is increasing day and night and soon they will have their rockets full. However, Jarrod did not speculate if the upcoming rideshare missions will carry more than 143 satellites on its Transporter-1, saying it all depends on clients’ mix together with their payloads. He said the company anticipates larger microsats that are likely to decrease the entire satellites’ number on future launches than Transporter-1.

Jarrod said that some customers are enhancing their spacecraft as well as constellation design. He added that since the company’s pricing is public, it enables people to be more innovative and creative. Jarrod said that future dedicated rideshare missions are expected to move to sun-synchronous orbit (SSO), which is customer-driven for that specific class of trajectories. SpaceX said that it also provides rideshare services to mid-inclination orbits by jetting satellites as subordinate payloads on Starlink launches.

Even though the launch of smallsats on more oversized launch vehicles is known by many, SpaceX ‘s prices and efforts have enticed many customers. This has posed stiff competition among the increasing number of small launch vehicle developers, which their prices are incomparable with SpaceX’s per-kilogram price for its rideshare clients. Many companies are now focusing on how they can meet specific customer needs. Stephen Eisele, vice president at Virgin Orbit, said that you require various types of mission solutions like Virgin Orbit to ensure this happens.

On 17th January, Virgin Orbit clearly illustrated its LauncherOne rocket on Launch Demo 2 mission. On a launch funded by NASA, the mission put into orbit ten cubesats. In a few months’ time, Virgin Orbit is expected to launch its LuancherOne mission that will carry the US Air Force payloads plus 3U cubesats from SatRevolution. SatRevolution is a Polish company that wants to develop a 14-satellite constellation intended to offer medium-resolution multispectral imagery. The deal was announced few days before the 9th February panel. However, details on when the satellites will be launched were not disclosed. Eisele said that they are happy that they will undertake all of them in a single launch.

 
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