Spaceflight President Open to Future Rideshare Rockets Beyond SpaceX
With thousands of new small satellites waiting in line to be launched into orbit, Spaceflight President Curt Blake hopes his rideshare operation can push more operators through the bottleneck. Later this year, Spaceflight will launch the largest dedicated rideshare launch from a US-based launch vehicle in history. The “SSO-A: SmallSat Express” mission will take more than 70 small satellites operated by universities, small- and medium-sized businesses, and an art museum into Sun-synchronous Low Earth Orbit (LEO) on a dedicated SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Via Satellite spoke with Blake about the SSO-A mission just before the company rolled out its official public announcement. Blake outlined the process of assembling the mission and customizing the dedicated SpaceX Falcon 9. He also discussed the possibility of an SSO-B mission and future opportunities for ridesharing customers.
VIA SATELLITE: How long did it take to assemble and organize the customers and hardware for the SSO-A mission?
Blake: Spaceflight initially purchased the SpaceX Falcon 9 in the fall of 2015. Before purchasing the rocket, we had a number of customers who expressed interest in this particular launch. Since the purchase, we’ve been manifesting the mission in full, coordinating logistics and developing the stack needed to deploy the payloads successfully. We’re really excited to see this mission come to fruition.
VIA SATELLITE: Launching more than 70 satellites from one launch vehicle must be a challenging feat. How are the challenges associated with launching several small satellites at once different than launching one or two larger satellites?
Blake: Launching more than 70 satellites at once is challenging for a variety of reasons. From a sheer logistics standpoint, we are coordinating more than 70 payloads from nearly 40 customers from 18 countries. Bringing all the elements together to ensure this launch gets executed properly, while also meeting the unique and specialized needs of each payload, will be quite an amazing accomplishment. I like to say it often feels similar to a conductor orchestrating a symphony. Additionally, we need to ensure all payloads are properly deployed onto orbit. With a large rocket like the SpaceX Falcon 9, we need to aggregate a significant number of spacecraft and consider the deployment timing. To do this, Spaceflight has built a stack specifically for this mission to hold and deploy the payloads.
VIA SATELLITE: Is the Falcon 9 rocket uniquely suited for dedicated rideshare launches? Do you have the capability to launch dedicated missions on the other vehicles?
Blake: Dedicated rideshare missions can be done on any type of rocket. We’re exploring the idea of using small- and medium-sized rockets for this type of offering in the future, however plans haven’t been finalized yet as we want to remain focused on the successful execution of SSO-A.
VIA SATELLITE: Do you have a future SSO-B mission in the works?
Blake: We do have plans to continue offering dedicated rideshare missions in the future, but do not have solidified plans for these missions. We’re waiting to see how this mission goes so that we can gather and analyze data, and our lessons to be learned before conducting another mission of this scale. I can’t say which launch vehicle provide we will be using or which customers will be on the manifest.