SpaceX Expands and Simplifies Small Satellite Rideshare Program

Last month, though, it was SpaceX — better known for launching large rockets than small — that made waves in the new space industry when it …

The market for small satellites — and the small rockets to launch them — is hot, hot, hot!

Hardly a month goes by without some new development in this space, whether it’s Rocket Lab reaching a new milestone in small rockets launched, or one of Sir Richard Branson’s “Virgin” companies announcing some new twist to the rockets story. Last month, though, it was SpaceX — better known for launching large rockets than small — that made waves in the new space industry when it announced an upcoming series of “regularly scheduled, dedicated Falcon 9 rideshare missions” that would carry exclusively satellites massing up to 150 kilograms and put them in orbit for “as low as $2.25 million per mission.”

At the time, I suggested SpaceX was attempting to disrupt the market for small rockets before it reaches critical mass, pre-empting a move to smaller rockets by offering similar services for cheaper prices. But there was still just one problem with SpaceX’s plan:

Even scheduling regular trips to orbit, SpaceX was only planning to launch dedicated rideshare missions once per year. For any small satellite operator needing to travel to space sooner, that wait might prove too long, opening up a niche for small rocket makers: rocket launches on demand.

Now SpaceX is moving to close that gap in service and eliminate that niche.

Time lapse photo shows trails of a rocket launching and landing to form an X in the sky

SpaceX is making its mark, and claiming all of space launch as its own. Image source: SpaceX.

Monthly rocket rides to space

In a quick tweak to its Smallsat Rideshare Program announced last month, SpaceX has confirmed that in addition to its annual mass satellite bus-rides to orbit, it will now also be offering “monthly missions.” It will do this by allowing small satellite operators to hop aboard the monthly launches SpaceX itself will be running as it puts its own Starlink satellites in orbit.

Now, we’ve already run down the details of SpaceX’s original flight plan: Beginning sometime between late 2020 and late 2021, the company will offer customers the chance to book a slot on one of its “Dedicated ESPA Class” Falcon 9 launches to sun-synchronous orbit. Subsequent missions will launch roughly once per year, in the first quarter of every year, and will fly regardless of whether the rocket has booked enough reservations to max out its capacity — meaning there are guaranteed launch dates.

The big change is that in addition to these guaranteed, annual departures, SpaceX will now be offering monthly launch opportunities. Because SpaceX is planning to rapidly accelerate the launch tempo of its Starlink missions so as to get its satellite broadband constellation in operation sooner, it’s now able to use these additional monthly launches to also carry third parties’ satellites. In so doing, SpaceX can offer customers the best of both worlds — guaranteed launch dates once per year for folks who can wait that long, and more flexible, once-per-month launch slots available to those who simply cannot wait.

Adding to the attractiveness of the program, SpaceX has simplified (and lowered) the rideshare program’s pricing, while raising its capacity. Previously, the plan was to charge customers $2.25 million to launch a payload massing up to 150 kilograms. But that price may have been just a bit too close to what competitors such as New Zealand’s Rocket Lab were offering.

To make the difference much more stark, SpaceX will now advertise launch prices “as low as $1 million.” And it will carry payloads up to 200 kilograms in mass for that price, with an excess baggage fee of $5,000 for every 1 kg a customer goes over the weight limit. Basically, what that works out to is a launch cost of $5000 per kilo no matter how big a customer’s satellite is, with a $1 million minimum ticket price.

What it means for the competition

So what’s the upshot of all this?

At last report, Rocket Lab — the only small rocket maker that wants to compete in the market for launching small satellites and has proven its ability to launch its rockets successfully — was charging about $1 million to put a 12U “cube” satellite (which would mass about 16 kilograms) into orbit. For an equivalent price, SpaceX is now offering to orbit a satellite 12.5 times as large — or perhaps to orbit 12.5 satellites for that same low price.

Got a bigger satellite you want to launch? An entire Electron rocket mission, carrying a maximum payload of perhaps 225 kilograms, would cost about $6.5 million at Rocket Lab, whereas SpaceX will launch a similar-size satellite for just $1 million and change. And SpaceX is offering to launch these satellites about as often as Rocket Lab is already doing so today — once per month.

I don’t know about you, but it sure looks to me like SpaceX is trying to smother the small rocket market in its cradle. At prices like these, it just might succeed.

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SpaceX asking the FCC for permission to fly Starship prototype 12 MILES into the air once vehicle …

In the request, SpaceX, an Elon Musk-owned aerospace company, is requesting permission to fly Starship more than 12 miles into orbit and then …

SpaceX files for FCC permission to fly its Starship prototype 12 MILES into the air this fall as ambitious craft moves closer to completion

  • SpaceX is plowing ahead with its plan to test its Starship prototype
  • FCC filing show the company wants to launch the ship 12.5 miles into the air
  • Elon Musk says the test could happen as soon as October
  • The company could unveil the next prototype of the craft later this month

By James Pero For Dailymail.com

Published: 17:05 EDT, 12 September 2019 | Updated: 17:15 EDT, 12 September 2019

A new FCC filing shows SpaceX is ready to launch into the next testing phase for its experimental spacecraft, Starship.

In the request, the Elon Musk-owned aerospace company is requesting permission to fly Starship more than 12 miles into orbit and then land the craft back down in the same spot.

The feat would mark a significant leap for the company, which recently completed a successful series of tests on Starship prototype, Starhopper, and gives new insight into just how close the company is to completing the vehicle.

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Musk hopes that eventually, Starhopper will pave the way for a craft called Starship (rendered above) meant to bring humans to Mars

Musk hopes that eventually, Starhopper will pave the way for a craft called Starship (rendered above) meant to bring humans to Mars

Musk hopes that eventually, Starhopper will pave the way for a craft called Starship (rendered above) meant to bring humans to Mars

Musk has previously alluded to an event later this month which could act as the unveiling of the craft and foreshadow a test launch in October.

SpaceX employees in Texas have been hard at work building the first iteration of the craft, the MK1, while a concurrent team in Florida is also in the midst of building a similar MK2 rocket with a different design and specs.

FCC filings indicate that the company will be looking to conduct the launch out of its site in Boca Chica texas where, according to Business Insider, SpaceX was recently granted permission to expand the facility in anticipation of future launches.

The company is looking to build on a series of successful tests from Starhopper which most recently saw the craft hover more than 100 meters into the air and safely return to the launch platform.

SpaceX hopes its style of reusable rocket will mark a major breakthrough in aerospace technology that will eventually make exploration cheaper and more sustainable.

The Elon Musk -owned aerospace company is requesting permission to fly Starship more than 12 miles into orbit and then land the craft back down in the same spot

The Elon Musk -owned aerospace company is requesting permission to fly Starship more than 12 miles into orbit and then land the craft back down in the same spot

The Elon Musk -owned aerospace company is requesting permission to fly Starship more than 12 miles into orbit and then land the craft back down in the same spot

SpaceX's successful tests of Starhopper (pictured above) marked a major step for the company which had never flown the craft into the air without a tether prior to a launch in July.

SpaceX's successful tests of Starhopper (pictured above) marked a major step for the company which had never flown the craft into the air without a tether prior to a launch in July.

SpaceX’s successful tests of Starhopper (pictured above) marked a major step for the company which had never flown the craft into the air without a tether prior to a launch in July.

Ultimately, Musk hopes that the company’s Starship could help humans reach Mars for the first time and has set an optimistic timeline for when the experimental craft might be able to do so.

The first crewed Red Planet mission for the rocket and 100-passenger Starship could come as early as the mid-2020s if development and testing go well, Musk has said

Additional missions may even include tourists trips to the moon by 2024, according to the CEO.

Completing a successful mission to the moon would also mark an incremental step in Musk’s other vision of traveling to Mars.

WHAT IS ELON MUSK’S ‘BFR’?

The BFR (Big F***ing Rocket), now known as Starship, will complete all missions and is smaller than the ones Musk announced in 2016.

The SpaceX CEO said the rocket would take its first trip to the red planet in 2022, carrying only cargo, followed by a manned mission in 2024 and claimed other SpaceX’s products would be ‘cannibalised’ to pay for it.

The rocket would be partially reusable and capable of flight directly from Earth to Mars.

Once built, Musk believes the rocket could be used for travel on Earth – saying that passengers would be able to get anywhere in under an hour.

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SpaceX wants to launch almost 1.5k Starlink satellites next year – that’s a necessity

First reported by SpaceNews, in attendance at the 2019 World Satellite Business Week in Paris, France, SpaceX President and COO Gwynne …

First reported by SpaceNews, in attendance at the 2019 World Satellite Business Week in Paris, France, SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell says that the company has plans for as many as 24 dedicated Starlink launches in 2020.

This news comes less than four months after SpaceX’s inaugural Starlink launch – placing 60 prototype spacecraft in orbit on May 24th – and roughly one and a half months before a planned burst of 2-4 more Starlink missions in the final months of 2019. By leveraging the proven reusability of Falcon 9 boosters and probable reusability of Falcon payload fairings, Shotwell believes that the company can simultaneously launch dozens of Starlink missions while still regularly launching customer spacecraft next year.

Towards the end of the #WSBW launch panel, SpaceX President & COO Gwynne Shotwell made a brief mention of the company’s Starlink 2020 launch target. It’s significant. https://t.co/JR6gsMRPeN

— Caleb Henry (@CHenry_SN) September 10, 2019

Extrapolating from SpaceX’s 60-satellite Starlink launch debut, 24 dedicated Starlink missions launched via Falcon 9 rockets would translate to at least 1440 satellites placed in orbit in 2020. In a best-case scenario, SpaceX also wants to launch another four missions before the end of 2019, potentially leaving the company with more than 1700 satellites in orbit by the end of next year.

Shotwell: anticipate our launch rate to be “much higher” next year than the ~18 estimated for this year. #WSBW

— Jeff Foust (@jeff_foust) September 10, 2019

In roughly 18 months, SpaceX could thus single-handedly almost double the number of functional satellites in orbit – relative to the ~2000 currently under control. Of course, SpaceX is famous for eventually accomplishing almost every problem it sets its gaze on, but not without delays. Even achieving 12 launches – half as many as hoped for – would be a huge milestone, giving SpaceX control of the largest satellite constellation ever launched, capable of supporting an instantaneous bandwidth of ~18 terabits per second (Tbps).

Although it sounds (and is) incredibly ambitious, the reality is that that launch rate is just shy of a necessity for SpaceX to retain Starlink’s two FCC launch and operations licenses. It’s not 100% accurate, as the constellations – one around 1000 km and the other around 350 km – were granted licenses about half a year apart, but SpaceX essentially needs to launch half of its ~11,900-satellite constellation by November 2024. This gives SpaceX a little over five years from the time of this article’s publishing to launch almost 6000 satellites, translating to roughly 3.3 satellites per day or 100 satellites per month.

Decided to make a graphic of (almost) all the spacecraft @SpaceX will need to launch to finish its nominal ~11,900-satellite #Starlink constellation. Each of the 24 slight columns is 480 satellites, representing eight Falcon 9 launches. This graphic shows 11,520 satellites. pic.twitter.com/CU84ZHwfKE

— Eric Ralph (@13ericralph31) September 12, 2019

At 24 annual launches of 60 satellites apiece, SpaceX would average exactly 120 satellites per month, leaving a decent margin for failed or delayed launches and dead satellites. Nevertheless, although it’s extremely unlikely that the FCC would retract SpaceX’s Starlink launches after the company has launched thousands of satellites, those licenses also come with a requirement that the second half of the constellation be launched within seven years of receipt.

In the event that SpaceX manages to launch almost 6000 satellites by November 2024, this means that the company will have to almost double its effective launch cadence to fully complete Starlink by November 2027. It’s safe to say that, short of total corporate dissolution, SpaceX’s next-generation Starship launch vehicle will be operational by 2024, but in the event that Falcon 9 is still the only practical option, SpaceX would need to average almost three Starlink launches per month.

#SpaceX updates SmallSat rideshare mission plans.

9 Starlink rideshares in 2020

13 Starlink rideshares in 2021

3 missions to SSO in 2020

4 missions to SSO in 2021

29 total missions pic.twitter.com/fKxlxa2w2m

— Michael Baylor (@nextspaceflight) August 29, 2019

According to SpaceX, approximately a third of those 24 Starlink launches will include a small amount of extra capacity for small satellites seeking affordable access to space. Following demand that apparently far outstretched SpaceX’s anticipated interest in a new Smallsat Program, the company significantly widened its scope and lowered the base price to just $1M for up to 200 kg (440 lb) of cargo, while also announcing that some Starlink launches would include latent capacity. Public schedules show that as many as 9 Starlink missions could feature additional smallsats in 2020, followed by up to 13 in 2021.

Check out Teslarati’s newsletters for prompt updates, on-the-ground perspectives, and unique glimpses of SpaceX’s rocket launch and recovery processes.

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SpaceX Plans to Start Selling High-Speed Home Internet In The Summer of 2020

We still don’t know for sure, but earlier this year at SXSW SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk said it would be “low cost.” Exactly how low is unknown, …

Back in May, SpaceX received approval from the FCC to launch 4,425 satellites into space to build a low earth orbit network of satellites, enabling them to sell home Internet.

Now in a new FCC filing spotted by ArsTechnica, SpaceX gives hints at their plans to start offering high-speed internet service in North America.

According to the FCC filing, if they’re requested changes are approved, SpaceX could start offering high-speed internet before the start of the 2020 hurricane season.

“This adjustment will accelerate coverage to southern states and U.S territories, potentially expediting coverage to the southern continental United States by the end of the next hurricane season and reaching other U.S. territories by the following hurricane season. ” SpaceX said in their FCC filing.

In the filing, SpaceX is asking for permission to use “fewer launches of satellites—perhaps as few as half—to initiate service to the entire contiguous United States (as well as Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands).” In the rest of the world, “the modification would enable more rapid coverage of all longitudes to grow toward the Equator, as well as bolstering capacity in areas of greater population density,” SpaceX said.

Exactly how much will SpaceX Internet service cost? We still don’t know for sure, but earlier this year at SXSW SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk said it would be “low cost.” Exactly how low is unknown, but reports are that SpaceX hopes to make its Internet service extremely competitive. SpaceX has also said they plan to offer high-speed Internet in North America sometime in late 2019 or early 2020.

At what price point and speed would you be interested in high-speed internet from SpaceX? Leave us a comment and let us know what you think.

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SpaceX to Launch SES’ O3b mPOWER MEO Satellites

SES selected SpaceX as a launch partner to deliver its next-generation Medium-Earth Orbit (MEO) satellite constellation into space on board Falcon 9 …
Photo: SES

Photo: SES

SES selected SpaceX as a launch partner to deliver its next-generation Medium-Earth Orbit (MEO) satellite constellation into space on board Falcon 9 rockets from Cape Canaveral. The two companies have disrupted the industry in the past when SES became the first to launch a commercial GEO satellite with SpaceX, and later as the first ever payload on a SpaceX reusable rocket. Their next launch, in 2021, will be another one for the records as the revolutionary terabit-scale capabilities of SES’s O3b mPOWER communications system disrupt the industry again.

The global O3b mPOWER system comprises an initial constellation of seven high-throughput, low-latency MEO satellites, each capable of generating thousands of electronically-steered beams that can be adjusted to serve customers in various markets including telecom and cloud, communications-on-the-move, and government. O3b mPOWER also will include a variety of application-specific customer edge terminals integrated with SES’s terrestrial network and optimized using the recently announced Adaptive Resource Control (ARC) software system.

“Momentum in the O3b mPOWER ecosystem is accelerating quickly as we continue to build the right partnerships to bring this massively innovative communications system to market,” said Steve Collar, CEO of SES. “Working with SpaceX as our launch provider is fitting because in the last seven years we have already jointly made multiple revolutionary industry advancements that make access to space innovation more cost-efficient and unlock new opportunities in critical markets. We are delighted to have SpaceX as partners for our historic O3b mPOWER launch, and together, we will extend high-performance connectivity to all who have limited access to it today.”