Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

SpaceX Inaugurates Smallsat Rideshare Program, Launching 3 of Planet's Satellites

By Rich Smith – Jun 15, 2020 at 6:57AM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

SpaceX's entry into the small-launch market has already driven one competitor out of it.

Less than a year ago, Elon Musk's SpaceX -- king of low-cost launches for large satellites -- made its move to capture the "smallsat" market, as well. First announcing a "Smallsat Rideshare Program" in which it would launch annual, dedicated rocket rides to space for dozens of customers' satellites at a time, SpaceX quickly expanded its offering, inviting customers to hitch a ride on SpaceX's (more frequent) launches of its own "Starlink" internet satellites.

Top of SpaceX rocket that launched Saturday showing the fairing.

SpaceX's Starlink V1 L8 mission carried 58 Starlink and three Planet SkySat satellites into orbit Saturday. Image source: SpaceX.

Every month, the company said, it planned to launch at least one batch of up to 60 Starlinks into orbit. If a customer liked, though, SpaceX could drop a few Starlinks from its manifest and substitute in a customer's satellites instead -- piggybacking them on the main Starlink mission and charging as little as $5,000 per kilogram for the privilege.

Now, SpaceX has begun doing just that. 

At 5:21 a.m. EDT on Saturday, June 13, in what the company described as its "first SpaceX SmallSat Rideshare Program launch," a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Aboard the rocket were 58 of SpaceX's own Starlink internet broadband satellites -- and also three small "SkySat" Earth-imaging satellites for which Planet Labs had contracted passage.

Saturday's launch wasn't technically SpaceX's first experience with "rideshare." Previously, the company had rented out entire Falcon 9 rockets to third-party provider Spaceflight Industries, which found the rideshare customers for SpaceX. Saturday, however, was the first time SpaceX had taken over rideshare sales on its own (which is one reason, I suspect, Spaceflight is getting out of the rideshare business).

SpaceX has a second rideshare mission scheduled for June 22, when two Earth imaging satellites from private company BlackSky will hitch a ride alongside SpaceX's Starlinks. And later this summer, Planet Labs plans to take advantage of the service a second time. 

The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Invest Smarter with The Motley Fool

Join Over 1 Million Premium Members Receiving…

  • New Stock Picks Each Month
  • Detailed Analysis of Companies
  • Model Portfolios
  • Live Streaming During Market Hours
  • And Much More
Get Started Now

Related Articles

Motley Fool Returns

Motley Fool Stock Advisor

Market-beating stocks from our award-winning analyst team.

Stock Advisor Returns
326%
 
S&P 500 Returns
102%

Calculated by average return of all stock recommendations since inception of the Stock Advisor service in February of 2002. Returns as of 10/01/2022.

Discounted offers are only available to new members. Stock Advisor list price is $199 per year.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.