SpaceX Falcon 9 Booked for First Ever Dedicated Rideshare Flight

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The widening of access to space for small to micro payloads took a giant leap ahead today with the announcement that Spaceflight Industries has purchased a dedicated rideshare launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9. The launch, which will be to Sun Synchronous Orbit in late 2017, marks the first time an EELV class booster has been booked for an aggregated launch of small satellites for different customers, and represents what could be a watershed event for the exploding cubesat market.

While beneficial to cubesat builders looking for a discounted ride to orbit, the entry of the Falcon 9 into the market could ultimately pose a challenge to dedicated small and micro launcher development efforts such as Rocket Labs, Firefly Space Systems and and Generation Orbit. At a published price of $295,000 for a 5 kg., 3U cubesat to LEO, Spaceflight Industries is for the moment roughly on a par with the emerging group of dedicated smallsat launchers. That is something which could change quickly, particularly if SpaceX achieves first stage recovery and re-use in the near future. Yet another wildcard which will be interesting to see is whether or not a comparable competitor to Spaceflight Industries emerges offering a similar plan.

One way or another, it seems space is increasingly open for business, and even the smallest of ventures may find a spot in this emerging economy.

The full press release follows:

SEATTLE (September 30, 2015)— Spaceflight, the company reinventing the model for launching small satellites into space, today announced the purchase of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and the expansion of its launch services to include dedicated rideshare missions. Spaceflight’s first dedicated rideshare mission, named the “2017 Sun Synch Express,” will launch in the second half of 2017 to a sun-synchronous low Earth orbit which is popular for earth imaging satellites.

Dedicated rideshare is a new launch alternative that blends cost-effective rideshare pricing with first-class service typically associated with buying a private rocket. Spaceflight’s dedicated rideshare missions will deliver customer spacecraft to popular destinations, such as sun-synchronous and geosynchronous transfer orbits, and provide a new solution for smaller satellites that cannot afford a complete launch vehicle.

“By purchasing and manifesting the entire SpaceX rocket, Spaceflight is well positioned to meet the smallsat industry’s growing demand for routine, reliable access to space,” said Curt Blake, President of Spaceflight’s launch business. “Our purchase of a private rocket further continues our mission of providing a customer-focused, full-service launch experience.”

Spaceflight’s dedicated rideshare routes are not tied to any particular primary satellite mission, so commercial and non-commercial smallsat operators using the service will benefit from the certainty of set launch schedules that were not previously available to rideshare customers, and can thereby avoid delays resulting from geo-political issues or primary satellite schedule changes. This enables customers with spacecraft that range in mass from 5 to 2500 kg to create long-range mission plans to Sun Synch and GTO with more dependable launch dates. Spaceflight is creating steady access to space with yearly dedicated rideshare missions planned beginning in 2017.

Spaceflight’s 2017 Sun Synch Express mission manifest includes satellites as small as 5 kg 3U CubeSat up to 575 kg satellite. Over 20 satellites will be deployed during the mission, with commercial customers pursuing a range of endeavors and government-sponsored scientific research originating from six different countries. The manifest is nearly at capacity.

“Dedicated missions for Rideshare-class payloads are an excellent way to promote space enterprise and research,” said Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO of SpaceX. “We are pleased that Spaceflight has successfully brought this multi-faceted partnership together.”

Spaceflight has launched 81 satellites to date and has over 135 satellites to deploy through 2018. The frequency of satellite launches, combined with Spaceflight’s cross-section of customers and variety of mission-applications, is a strong indicator of the growing capabilities of small satellites and the need for more timely and cost-effective access to space.

In addition to the new dedicated rideshare service, Spaceflight will continue to manifest small satellites as secondary payloads aboard several launch vehicles around the world to a variety of orbit destinations. Spaceflight is the only rideshare launch provider that publishes launch pricing and schedules online (http://www.spaceflightindustries.com/schedule-pricing/), aiming to make access to space as easy as booking an airline ticket.

Posted in: CubeSats, SpaceX

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