SpaceX 'rideshare' program launches satellites for just $2.5 million

Operators will be able to book a spot on regularly scheduled Falcon 9 launches.

For space tech startups and other small companies doing research, one of the biggest hurdles is actually getting to space. SpaceX is looking to change that. Today, it announced a SmallSat Rideshare Program, which will allow small satellite operators to book a spot on regularly scheduled Falcon 9 launches.

Rides scheduled more than a year before launch will start at $2.5 million for payloads of up to 150 kg (330 lbs) and $4.5 million for payloads of up to 300 kg (660 lbs). The price will go up closer to the mission, jumping to $3 million and $6 million, respectively. While that may sound like a lot, TechCrunch points out that the lowest cost for a regular SpaceX launch is currently around $57 million.

Payloads that need to delay their launch will be able to apply the money they've paid toward the cost or rebooking on another mission. One of the major perks is that the small operators won't be tied to the success of larger launches. At the moment, launches are usually scheduled around one or two big-ticket customers. If they run into delays, everyone is held up. This new ridesharing approach will allow the missions to continue, even if some customers run into delays. "If you are ready to fly during the scheduled launch period, you will fly," SpaceX promises.

So far, SpaceX has committed to three missions. The first will launch between November 2020 and March 2021. The second is scheduled for the first quarter of 2022, and the third is slated for the first quarter of 2023. That should give satellite operators looking to hitch a ride plenty of time to prepare.