SpaceX has officially entered the rocket rideshare business and will launch small satellites into space for interested customers. The prices start at $1 million, but that price can quickly jump to at least $4 million for heavier loads.
You can book your launch on the company's website, and it lets you select the weight of your cargo, where you want it to go in orbit (sun-synchronous, low-Earth or polar) and more. You also have to select whether you'll require a 15-inch or 24-inch port on the launch vehicle, which affects the price.
SpaceX has previously focused on much larger cargo, but it announced in August of last year that it would soon start launching small satellites, and the company is now ready to take orders. It appears there will be no launches available earlier than June of this year based on the booking options.
The website allows you to purchase up to $2 million in insurance, and you have to put down a $5,000 deposit to complete the booking. This might all sound like a lot of money, but booking a full rocket can cost well over $60 million.
These small satellites usually weigh between a few hundred pounds and 1,000 pounds and can be used for communications, meteorology, research and more. It's normal for small satellites to be launched into space with other cargo, but larger cargo is often given preference, so it's not always easy for small satellite owners to find a launch that works for them. This program could make the process simpler.
Another company, Rocket Lab, is also dedicated to launching small satellites into space with its rideshare program. A Rocket Lab launch costs around $5.7 million, but that can be split up between companies. Rocket Lab VP of Global Commercial Launch Services Shane Fleming explained during a panel on space startups and VCs in January why he thinks their service is better than what SpaceX will now offer.
“Whether SpaceX is dropping its prices or not, that service is still relatively the same and SpaceX has a number of priorities — they’re doing human missions and doing national security missions, and they’re doing Starlink,” Fleming said. “Yes, they are offering rideshare services, but it’s not their business. At Rocket Lab smallsat customers are our number one business, and that’s what we do. We offer very dedicated, tailored service exactly where you want to go, when you want to go and for a lot of customers that’s really important."
As a SpaceX spokesperson told The Verge when this program was announced in August, the company feels confident it will be able to offer customers the best services possible at an affordable rate.
“SpaceX is committed to serving the commercial market as it grows and changes, and we believe we can address the needs of small satellite operators by offering reliable, cost-effective access to orbit through regularly scheduled, dedicated rideshare missions,” they said.
Unfortunately, I won't be able to afford to send some satellites into space or a satellite in general, but this service could help a lot of companies get their satellites into space more easily than they've been able to in the past.