SpaceX may lose a customer payload


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Because of the launch delays at SpaceX, Inmarsat is considering finding another rocket company to launch its fourth Global Xpress satellite.

Inmarsat is worried that even after SpaceX resumes launches with the Falcon booster, it may not be able to make up lost time to assure its satellite is placed on orbit as scheduled. Alternatives the London-based company is considering include flying the spacecraft on the European Ariane 5 rocket, Lockheed Martin Corp.’s Atlas V, or the Russian Proton booster. Mr. Pearce said Inmarsat could stick with SpaceX if it can get an earlier launch slot.

This is all part of the competitive game. Inmarsat needs to get its satellite in orbit in order to better compete in the communications market, and the delays at SpaceX because of the September 1 launchpad explosion are not helping. This announcement puts pressure on SpaceX to move them to the front of the line or else lose the launch. It also increases their chances of finding an alternative should SpaceX not be able to do that.

2 comments

  • LocalFluffl

    It’s about time. SPX doesn’t follow its (publicly promised) launch schedule. They’ll pay for that. Have to shape up their marketing department. Getting real. Or pay for the insurances and delays, which is not a good way to make spaceflight cheap.

  • Edward

    LocalFluff,
    “It’s about time. SPX doesn’t follow its (publicly promised) launch schedule.”

    Sorry to disagree with you so much, today, but they don’t really “promise” a schedule, they announce a proposed schedule for everyone to work toward — everyone being mostly comprised of the company itself, the customer and their vendors, and the launch site. Everyone in the industry knows that schedules slip; that is the reality. Even airlines and trains run late, and their technologies are so well established that they are far, far more reliable than rockets, and they are not quite as susceptible to weather conditions.

    What SpaceX is paying for is the price of learning how to do untried techniques. Losing customers to more on-time or more reliable competition is expected, and some of us commenting on this site have suggested that this could happen. No surprise, here. Robert has suggested that SpaceX may be able to negotiate with its other customers in order to keep this one customer’s launch on the SpaceX manifest, but that could be a difficult or expensive negotiation.

    Some customers are willing to wait for a low price to get into space (e.g. universities); other customers are willing to pay more for getting into space earlier, in order to keep up revenues and not anger their own customers (e.g. commercial communication satellite operators); and other customers are willing to pay a lot more for reliable launches, in order to not lose unique payloads (e.g. military).

    The eventual payoff for the price of the learning curve can be as great as it was for the US in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when it seemed that our rockets always blew up ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6rwi_0DEd_0 2-minutes). We since gained enough experience that the reliability of the Delta IV and the Atlas V are excellent.

    SpaceX is now adding to the technological improvements for getting to space less expensively, and there is now another learning curve due to the changes in technology. Other companies are proposing the use of methane as a fuel, and that fuel may come with yet another learning curve. Fortunately, the use of ion engines on some of our probes has shown that we may have learned the lessons during ground testing rather than during flight. I hope.

    The space industry is not the only industry with new learning curves that adversely affect customers — and thus business. For instance we have been learning lessons from new battery chemicals for several years, now. Samsung has recently learned its own expensive lesson in the use of batteries. Boeing also got a lesson when lithium-ion batteries caught fire aboard 787 Dreamliners. Laptops and other commercial devices have had similar battery fire or overheating problems for a decade or more.

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