Need A Boost Into Orbit? SpaceX Offers Ride-Sharing Rockets For Small Satellites

Sometimes it’s hard for the little guy to get into orbit and that’s where SpaceX comes in.

The space travel company founded by Elon Musk is now offering ride-sharing space on its Falcon 9 and future Falcon Heavy rockets for small communication companies and their satellites.

In 2017, a SpaceX Falcon 9 will carry more than 20 different spacecraft, including an Israeli lunar lander, into orbit. They’re partnering with Spaceflight, a Seattle-based company that aggregates secondary payloads, to better serve the small satellite market with “dedicated ride-share” missions, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell told SpaceNews.

“We really love and appreciate working with aggregators of small satellite missions. We’ve got a brand-new agreement with Spaceflight for four additional flights over the next four or five years.”

Spaceflight itself will carry an amazing 90 satellites into orbit using its SHERPA payload adapter when it blasts off with the Taiwanese satellite Formosat-5 later this year. SpaceX is also offering ride-sharing space on its upcoming Falcon Heavy rocket, Shotwell told SpaceNews.

“There should be a lot of extra capacity on this rocket, and hopefully we will fly a lot of ESPA or ESPA-like rings underneath the primary payload to provide regular access for you all.”

An upswing in the small satellite industry has made it possible for SpaceX to develop and build its Falcon 9 rocket and sell the cargo space to small companies. The company’s first rocket, Falcon 1, was too expensive for many companies to afford cargo space, Shotwell told SpaceNews.

“Falcon 9 and Dragon were much better products to pursue. I had a hard time selling the Falcon 1. The market was just not there.”

Now, when small communications companies need to put a satellite into orbit they call Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

The upswing in small satellites is also increasing calls for spacefaring nations to develop a global space traffic control system to monitor the growing number of spacecraft in orbit.

Shotwell also noted SpaceX was continuing to work on its reusable rockets as a way to make spaceflight cheaper and easier. The space travel company will attempt to land another of its reusable rockets during the launch of the communications satellite JCSAT-16, Sunday Aug. 14 at 1:26 EDT and you can watch it live with SpaceX’s webcast.

The reusable rocket will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and nine minutes later the rocket’s first stage will attempt to land on a robotic barge in the Atlantic Ocean.

SpaceX has already successfully landed five Falcon 9 rockets and Musk has promised the company will reuse one this fall. The recovery destination for the reusable rockets is usually on land, but can also be at sea on a drone barge; rockets that are carrying cargo bound for outer orbits can’t carry enough fuel to make it back to the launch site so they’re recovered at sea.

The space travel company is also continuing to test the engines it expects to use for an Earth Mars transit: the Raptor. The Raptor is three times more powerful than the Merlin engines on SpaceX’s current Falcon9 rockets, Shotwell told CNet.

“We just shipped the first Raptor engine to Texas last night. We should be firing it soon.”

Elon Musk has vowed to colonize Mars and make humanity a two-world race. Although its not clear what form of government the off world colony would take Musk has vowed to start building by sending a series of unmanned cargo rockets to the red planet every two years.

Musk has said the first few Earth Mars crossings would be long and dangerous, but with the release of SpaceX’s Mars Colonial Transporter in 2022 the trip should become safer.

For now, Elon Musk and SpaceX are dedicated to serving the small satellite market by offering ride-sharing space on their rockets bound for orbit.

[Image via AP Photo/John Raoux]