SpaceX just launched a website where companies can book Falcon 9 rocket launches through their small satellite ride-sharing program. The Falcon 9 is one of the most technologically advanced rockets in the world with the capacity to safely transport payloads into Earth orbit and beyond. It's first-stage booster can carry payload into orbit then land vertically on autonomous droneships at sea, in order to be reused again. The small satellite, or 'smallsat' rideshare program gives an opportunity for companies to launch small satellites to space destinations for as low as $1 million, by sharing spacecraft with a larger payload. In the grand scheme of things, a $1 million price tag is quite cheap for a satellite deployment, a rocket flight can cost up to $60 million. So, the rideshare program gives companies with a smaller budget the opportunity to launch small payloads into orbit ranging up to 200 kilograms (440 lbs), adding $5,000 per kilogram to the cost if the satellite is a bit heavier. It’s the first program of its kind that allows essentially anyone with the right technology and enough money to launch anything into space. A program like this can benefit companies who want to test new technology in space destinations. It can also benefit universities who are working on a satellite manufacturing project.
Applications for the program opened up today February 5, companies can automatically book a rocket flight by paying with a credit card. To book a flight a $5,000 deposit is required, then three installments are due towards completing the full payment.
Through the new SpaceX booking website, customers fill out information, select a target launch date, plus where they aim to launch their craft -could be a small satellite deployment to Sun synchronous, low Earth, or polar orbit. Then the customer must input the total mass of what will be launched atop the Falcon 9's fairing to get an estimated cost for the mission. Once that form is filled out, it asks the customer to select whether they need either a 15-inch or 24-inch port on the launch vehicle, which gives perspective of how small the satellites must be. The 15-inch port can support a mass of 454kg (1000 lb) and the 24-inch port can support payload that weighs 831kg (1,830 lb).
The use of ESPA (Expendable Secondary Port Adapter) ring technology (illustrated above) reduces launch costs for the mission and enables rocket companies to get the most out of a rocket launch by deploying several small payloads in a single rocket flight. Basically, the small payloads are attached with rings so they could ride along during a flight with minimal impact to the original mission.
"Book your ride on 15" or 24" ESPA class ports. For larger spacecraft, custom configurations and a top slot are available upon request. Contact us directly for payloads that are too small for a 15" port."
Other options when booking a flight on the SpaceX website include add-ons like: insurance for up to $2 million in value, also port adapters to fit the satellite in sizes that SpaceX utilizes, along with options for SpaceX teams to fuel the customers' satellite on-site if it has its own propulsion system. The booking website offers an extensive -over 50 pages- information guide on every single requirement a potential customer must meet to use the rideshare program.