Spaceflight Inc., the leading satellite rideshare and mission management provider, today announced it inked an agreement with SpaceX to secure rideshare capacity on multiple launches. This agreement between the two companies secures Spaceflight capacity to launch manifest payloads on several SpaceX launches through the end of 2021, providing launch schedule assurance to smallsat customers needing frequent, reliable, and cost-effective launches to Sun-synchronous orbit.
It was never a question that Spaceflight would be interested in the SpaceX rideshare program. It’s a perfect match—inexpensive slots offered by SpaceX which can be taken advantage of to sell the end-to-end services offered by Spaceflight at a solid margin. They’re also manifesting two BlackSky satellites on the next Starlink flight, just like we saw a few days ago with Planet flying SkySats on the previous flight.
The one bit of confusion I have here is that the press release for the multi-launch agreement only mentions Sun-synchronous orbits (SSO), which would mean this is for the dedicated rideshare flights SpaceX is offering about three times each year to SSO, and doesn’t actually cover any Starlink rideshares.
Relatedly, BlackSky satellites were only ever going to operate in SSO, but the upcoming Starlink launch is going to 53° assuming it’s just like all the others so far. That is decidedly not SSO, which is roughly 98° give or take a few tenths of a degree based on altitude.
Getting from 53° all the way to SSO is ridiculously expensive so there’s no way BlackSky satellites can fly themselves there. Either BlackSky is altering plans and will have multiple inclinations in their constellation of 60 satellites, or they really like the incredibly low launch price of a Starlink rideshare, or both. An inclination around 53° still covers a ton of locations on Earth that would be of interest to BlackSky imaging customers, although the revisit times are drastically different.