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SpaceX is betting on rocket rideshares

A Falcon 9 rocket launch in 2018. Photo: SpaceX
A Falcon 9 rocket launch in 2018. Photo: SpaceX

SpaceX is offering up its Falcon 9 rockets for regular rideshares to orbit for small payloads, the company announced Monday.

Why it matters: Usually small satellites are forced to hitch rides on a Falcon 9 with a larger payload bound for orbit, but these rideshares won't need to wait on a primary mission for launch.

Details: SpaceX is charging per mission, with multiple small satellites able to fly in each rideshare without the need for a primary payload and without having to wait on delayed co-passengers, SpaceX said.

  • SpaceX is offering a flight to sun-synchronous orbit from California for a mission weighing 150 kilograms, about 330 pounds, or less for as low as $2.25 million.
  • The company will also allow operators that run into delays to slot their flight into a later rideshare and apply the money already paid to SpaceX for that flight instead, preventing delays for other missions.
  • SpaceX's first SmallSat Rideshare Program flight is expected to launch between November 2020 and March 2021 with another expected in 2022 and one more scheduled for 2023.

The big picture: A number of launch providers coming online in the coming years and flying today — like Virgin Orbit, Rocket Lab and Vector — are dedicated to sending small satellites to orbit. But SpaceX's new rideshare program could help operators get their wares to orbit on the (relative) cheap if they can wait for the launch window.

Yes, but: It's still unclear how much of a market there will be for small, commercial satellite launches in the future. The demand may not be able to support all those rocket companies, leading to eventual consolidation, experts have told Axios.

Go deeper: Houston, we have a rocket bubble