SpaceX Rocket Rideshare
In August 2019, SpaceX announced a “rideshare” program — an opportunity for small satellite operators to share space on a Falcon 9 rocket and send their payloads into orbit.
Since then, SpaceX has shared rocket space on several Starlink launches with companies like Spaceflight, Inc., and more than 100 spacecraft have signed up to fly on Falcon 9 since the program launched.
A much more affordable option than developing their own spacecraft to launch their satellites, smaller operators can now afford to send their satellites into space without spending a mint to do so.
So, how does it work? The process is very similar to how rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft also work. SpaceX launches their Falcon 9 rockets on a regular schedule, approximately every four months. Customers who want to “share the ride” can book their space in advance — between six and 12 months before the scheduled launch — to make sure their payloads are ready well before the launch date. Whether the payloads are ready or not, the Falcon 9 still goes up.
SpaceX has adjusted its pricing as companies have requested smaller payloads. For a 220 kilogram launch, the price is a million bucks, with a $5,000 per kilogram fee tacked on for additional weight. It sounds like a lot, but consider that the lowest cost for a SpaceX launch is about $57 million.
Besides the cost of the rideshare, customers also have to provide a “deployer,” which launches the payload from the rocket into orbit, as well as a 10 percent rebooking fee if they have to cancel their launch close to the take-off date.
If the delay is due to weather or if SpaceX is responsible for the delay, 100 percent of the monies paid go to the cost of rebooking on a subsequent mission. It’s this flexibility that allows SpaceX to reach as many companies as possible and make the most of this creative revenue stream.
If you really want to geek out and learn more about the criteria for SpaceX’s rideshare program, check out the 80-page User’s Guide available on SpaceX.com. It outlines requirements for mass and other dimensions, as well as separation rates and velocity, electromagnetic vibration and emissions, internal pressure factors and temperature exposure.
So you think you want to rideshare on a rocket? Easy peasy. Just fill out a reservation request, and once approved, SpaceX will provide a welcome package outlining the next steps to help you get ready to launch.