11 votes

SpaceX revamps smallsat rideshare program

6 comments

  1. cptcobalt
    Link
    Linked to a news source, because the change to the program is what is notable, but here's the updated SpaceX Smallsat website. In short, SpaceX's pricing is now far lower than before—$1M for...

    Linked to a news source, because the change to the program is what is notable, but here's the updated SpaceX Smallsat website.

    In short, SpaceX's pricing is now far lower than before—$1M for 200kg—and they're allowing ridealongs on Starlink missions which now lets them market a monthly launch frequency for these customers. At a glance, it now seems cheaper to launch your smallsat on SpaceX rather than Rocketlab or others, but only okay if you're sitting in the back seat as a non-primary payload.

    5 votes
  2. [5]
    Eylrid
    Link
    Their first Starlink launch was packed to the gills. If they are going to add rideshare payloads they're going to have to cut back on the number of Starlink satellites per launch. It seems like a...

    Their first Starlink launch was packed to the gills. If they are going to add rideshare payloads they're going to have to cut back on the number of Starlink satellites per launch. It seems like a tradeoff. On the one hand once it's up and running Starlink has the potential to be a major cash cow, but it will take time to get it operational and start bringing in revenue. Doing rideshares gives them some upfront cash to play with while they work on getting Starlink running.

    Once SpaceX gets their Starlink design settled and gets their production line up to speed they should be able to turn out satellites at a regular rate. The Starlink launches be should be more predictable and reliable than bespoke primary payloads. It's still not as good as the dedicated launch you get from Rocket Lab, but it's better than a traditional rideshare.

    2 votes
    1. [2]
      CALICO
      Link Parent
      It should be fine. SpaceX is required to have 2,200 satellites by March 2024. Assuming 60sat max for Block 5, 2,200sats/60sats per launch) ≈ 37 launches That cadence gives an incredible amount of...

      Starlink

      It should be fine. SpaceX is required to have 2,200 satellites by March 2024.

      Assuming 60sat max for Block 5, 2,200sats/60sats per launch) ≈ 37 launches

      “SpaceX plans to increase the Falcon launch frequency to 20 launches per year from LC-39A and up to 50 launches per year from LC-40 by the year 2024. However, as Starship/Super Heavy launches gradually increase to 24 launches per year, the number of launches of the Falcon would decrease.“

      –SpaceX, Starship Environmental Assessment Draft, August 2019

      That cadence gives an incredible amount of breathing room. There will be launches to spare far before Spring 2024 to satisfy this goal. However, SpaceX has plans to have 12,000 in orbit by about that same time.

      12,000sats/60sats per launch) = 200 launches

      That's a little more tight, especially if it takes some time to ramp up to 70 launches per year by 2024.

      Enter, Starship.

      Starship Mk1 is scheduled to have orbital tests before the end of the year, if nothing goes wrong. Elon says it should have 100–125metric tons "for true useful load to useful orbit (eg Starlink mission)".

      I don't have all the relevant information on hand (minimum launches for proper orbits, Starhip cargo volume, etc) for some proper math, so let's do some dirty, dirty math.

      Goal: 12,000 satellites by mid-2020's.

      The Falcon 9 Block 5 has an LEO capacity of 22.8mT.
      60sats @ 227kg/sat ≈ 13.6mT

      So assuming volume limited, that's 59.6% payload capacity utilization in the Falcon Fairing for Starlink.

      Assuming Starship Mk1 is similarly limited on the above 100–125mT figure (Starship has 150mT payload capacity, the math may have already be done and I could be double dipping), 59.6–74.5mT worth of Starlink per Starship.

      59.6mT/227kg per sat=262
      74.5mT/227kg per sat=328

      So, 262–328sats per launch.
      Using my definitely wrong numbers, that works out to all 12,000 Starlink Satellites in 37–46 Starship launches. The minimum 2.2k in 7–9 launches.

      If the 100–125mT range is already Starlink-optimized: minimum in 4–5, 12k in 22–27.

      But wait! There's more!

      Elon is looking at 18m diameter for a future version over the current 9m diameter Starship. (Something this absurd is likely to be more interplanetary than intraplanetary)
      Doubling the diameter gives us 4x on volume. 10–12 launches of that monster for the entire Constellation in my numbers. 6–7 launches using the larger range.

      If we're mass limited, not volume, we get the minimum in 1 launch and all of it in 5.
      Expendable mode, 2 launches.

      Barring any terrible, horrible disasters, they'll be okay.
      Our capabilities are going to get ridiculous, really quickly.

      I did not double-check my math, nor proofread this post. Fight me.

      4 votes
      1. Eylrid
        Link Parent
        They have plenty of time to get up by the FCC deadline, but the faster they get up the sooner Starlink can start making money. They are also racing their competitors to be the first operational...

        They have plenty of time to get up by the FCC deadline, but the faster they get up the sooner Starlink can start making money. They are also racing their competitors to be the first operational LEO mega-constellation.

        Starlink and Starship are going to get along like peanut butter and jelly. Starship will accelerate the launch of Starlink and Starlink will accelerate the funding of Starship. Starlink will give Starship low stakes early payloads so they can iron out the issues before risking customer payloads.

        The 18 meter version is going to be a beast. Who knows with SpaceX, but I don't see them doing the 18 meter until they are going full bore on Mars. Falcon Heavy is already big enough that it's rare to have a big enough payload to need it. I expect Starship to run a lot more than FH because it will be cheaper than Falcon 9 even when launching something light, but 18 meter will be more expensive per launch than 9 meter Starship. It will be the FH to Starship's F9. I wouldn't be surprised if it had Falcon Heavy like delays.

        It will take awhile before there are many payloads someone wants to launch that can't fit on a 9 meter Starship. Can they launch enough Starlink batches, 10+ meter telescopes and space hotels to justify the development, launch site construction/modification and other costs of the 18 meter rocket? Once they are in full Mars colonization mode, though, then they will need bulk transport that can carry as much as possible. Then the 18 meter version will make sense. (I wonder how shipping containers they can pack in an 18 meter rocket?) That should be well after Starlink is fully deployed, though.

        2 votes
    2. [2]
      cptcobalt
      Link Parent
      Good, someone mentioned it vaguely, so I'll stand on a starlink-related soapbox and rant for a bit: It's a damn shame that there are Starlink sats in the sky without inter-sat communication. I...

      Once SpaceX gets their Starlink design settled

      Good, someone mentioned it vaguely, so I'll stand on a starlink-related soapbox and rant for a bit:

      It's a damn shame that there are Starlink sats in the sky without inter-sat communication. I know it's a planned goal, but as an unqualified armchair commentator, I think SpaceX's haste to launch these prototype sats was a huge mistake. I know they're experimental, but if you're building a constellation, it seems like perfecting inter-satellite communication is critical—as demonstrated by Iridium—and excessive reliance on ground stations for anything other than end-to-end termination will ultimately kill Starlink. Regardless of how many sats they're planning to fling into the sky, it's slightly worrying to me they weren't prepared for that for their prototype launches.

      3 votes
      1. zlsa
        Link Parent
        I feel that the prototype satellites are essentially an engineering test, to see how well they hold up in space. I expect them to be deorbited once they're superseded by Starlink satellites with...

        I feel that the prototype satellites are essentially an engineering test, to see how well they hold up in space. I expect them to be deorbited once they're superseded by Starlink satellites with the inter-sat links.

        1 vote