How starship could boost SpaceX's Rideshare program?

Knowledge: How starship could boost SpaceX's Rideshare program?

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At the beginning of 2021, SpaceX pulled off a unique mission that broke records.

Onboard were human ashes that were traveling to lower Earth orbit. This service was arranged by the company Celestis and they even offer to send ashes to the Moon for just $12,500, which is cheap in terms of spaceflight.

But this wasn’t the most impressive part of the mission. 

In total, this mission launched 143 satellites into orbit, breaking the previous record of 104, set by India.

This is part of a new service that SpaceX now offers called ‘Rideshare’ which allows smaller satellites to hitch a ride with other satellites, drastically reducing the cost. 

If you had a 500kg satellite in the ’80s and wanted to launch it into Earth’s orbit, you didn’t have a lot of options. 

Back then, there were no cheap reusable rockets. So as the owner of the satellite, you had to pay for the entire cost of building the rocket plus all of the launch costs

Up until fairly recently, satellites have typically been large, bulky objects only capable of doing one thing. 

You have to remember that the technology we have in our pockets used to take up entire rooms back in the ’60s and 70's.

But that’s only part of the puzzle.

 Not only was the technology extremely oversized, building a satellite that had enough protection to survive the harsh conditions of outer space made them even bigger.

We can now make satellites much smaller and for a fraction of the cost. So with satellites getting smaller and rocket launches getting cheaper, it has allowed a new industry to grow at an incredible rate: 

The small satellite industry

the smallsat

Small satellites are typically considered anything under 500kg. But it’s those under 50kg that has become the most popular. These are known as nanosatellites

One of the most successful being the CubeSat

These are small research satellites made up of 10cm modules. These are highly customizable and allow companies to perform research in space that would otherwise be far too expensive. They are often carried up to the International Space Station and deployed from there using a deployer or literally being thrown by the astronauts during a spacewalk. 

That’s much faster than any baseball pitch. Over the last decade, the number of these CubeSats being launched has increased dramatically and their popularity is set to grow even further. With incredibly low prices, satellites have moved away from traditional government rockets in favor of the cheap and reliable SpaceX

But in recent years, the amount of orders for big communication satellites has actually dropped and SpaceX have had less customers to launch into space.

Meanwhile, the new kid in town ‘Rocketlab’ has had an ever-growing launch schedule. With a much smaller and cheaper rocket, they can provide dedicated launches for a fraction of SpaceX’s cost.

Although the cost for each Falcon 9 is relatively cheap, it will still set you back at least $50 million for a single launch. This option is completely over the top if you’re only launching a small satellite.


Rocket lab on the other hand charges just $7 million per launch. This has allowed Rocketlab to flourish with the rise of the smallsat market. And so, in order to keep up with its competitors, SpaceX started their rideshare program. 

The idea is to offer 200kg slots on the Falcon 9 in order to share the launch cost. Each 200kg slot can be purchased for just $1 million, much cheaper than Rocketlab’s Electron rocket. But it gets even better. If you are launching a much smaller satellite and don’t want to pay the full price, you don’t have to.

 When a satellite company buys a slot on the Falcon 9, they can choose to share their slot with even smaller satellites, essentially creating rideshare within the rideshare

One of these companies is Spaceflight Inc, which offers CubeSat slots on the Falcon 9 for as little as $150,000. Although rideshare missions have been done before, they have never been done on this scale and for such a low price

Not only is SpaceX making space more affordable, they are making it more accessible than ever with an Uber-like booking system.

  • Firstyou select the desired orbit of your satellite,
  • then mass,
  • and then choose from one of the scheduled flights. 
  • Then you have to specify how your satellite will fit onto the rocket. 

Since many different satellites will be onboard the rocket, SpaceX has designed a standard payload adapter that simplifies how each satellite connects to the rocket.

After that, you can choose extra add-ons like 

  • separation systems
  • electrical supplies,
  • and additional fuel for your satellite

Once you have selected everything you need, it should cost you at least $1 million. 

Which Is The Most Cost-Effective Way Of Getting Satellites Into Orbit?


SpaceX requires a $5000 deposit immediately, with the rest of the payment being paid in two large installments. So although it’s still incredibly expensive, it’s by far the most cost-effective way of getting satellites into orbit. 

Thanks to the Falcon 9’s incredible reusability, SpaceX can comfortably undercut its competitors and still make a large profit. But their rideshare program goes even deeper than that. Despite the decline in typical large satellite customers, SpaceX’s overall launch cadence has increased drastically. Most of their launches are now dedicated to launching their very own Starlink satellites. 

Get To Know About Star-Link-


When fully operational, this massive constellation will consist of 10’s of thousands satellites orbiting the Earth. This constellation will provide high speed internet to almost every part of the globe, including the most rural areas. Perhaps one of SpaceX’s most overlooked achievements is its ability to mass-produce these satellites at such a low cost. Each satellite is estimated to cost around $250,000, extremely low compared to typical satellites which can easily cost millions of dollars. With 60 satellites on each launch, it brings the total cost for each Starlink launch to around $45 million.

With the plan to launch thousands of these satellites, the cost to get their constellation fully operational will be enormous. But that’s where the rideshare program comes in.

During their first official rideshare launch, SpaceX squeezed 10 Starlink satellites into the payload bay. It may be fewer Starlink satellites than they would usually launch, but it essentially gave them a free ride into space since the other customers were paying for the launch costs. Going ahead, SpaceX will more than likely include Starlink satellites on all of their rideshare missions. 

How does SpaceX's rideshare program affect Rocket Lab? 

Despite eating directly into Rocktelab’s market, it hasn’t really taken much away from them. One issue with ridesharing is that all satellites are essentially going to the same orbit. So in order for a rideshare mission to happen, all of the satellites need to wait until the rocket is at full capacity. In a world where each satellite has its own strict schedule, this is a problem. 

If a customer has to wait for too long, they will probably find a different rocket to launch on. Rocket Lab offers a dedicated launch to single customers for a slightly higher cost

SpaceX V/S RocketLab


But with Rocketlab now working towards reusing their rocket, their prices could start to compete with SpaceX even more. It’s the competition like this that will continue to drive the cost of spaceflight down massively

How Starship can give a boost to SpaceX?

In the future though, SpaceX will have Starship - a fully reusable rocket with a payload capability that overshadows anything that is around today. To put it into perspective, instead of launching 60 Starlink satellites on one launch, Starship could launch 240! 

And with the launch costs estimated to be just around $2 million, the opportunity for future rideshare missions seems endless
With a full rideshare mission aboard Starship, we could see the cost per 200kg slot lower from $1 million to $5,000.
But in the end, all of this goes towards SpaceX’s main goal of taking humans to Mars.
Every bit of money and technical advancement that SpaceX picks up along the way will help them in their ambitious quest. The journey for SpaceX has been long and hard for Elon Musk.


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