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SpaceX launches 105 satellites on its third smallsat launch

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully placed 105 satellites and other spacecraft into orbit using its Falcon 9 rocket.

The first stage successfully landed at Cape Canaveral, completing its 10th flight. The launch itself was SpaceX’s third launch dedicated to smallsats in its effort to compete against the small rockets of Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit, and Astra for that the smallsat market.

Of those 105 satellites, I actually know the owners of two. First, Joe Latrell, frequent commenter here on BtB, put his first Pocketqube cubesat into orbit, testing a variety of space sensors that could be used to track global water use. Second, Jeremiah Pate’s first Lunarsonde prototype cubesat was launched. If successful, he hopes to launch a constellation of similar cubesats for detecting Earth mineral resources, with six more launches already scheduled in ’22 with SpaceX, Virgin Orbit, Rocket Lab, Northrop Grumman, and Arianespace.

This was SpaceX’s second launch in ’22. At the moment the company is the only entity worldwide to launch anything this year, though Virgin Orbit is targeting its own launch later today.

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  • Jay

    Congrats Joe! You will have to tell us the designation so we can track it.

  • Questioner

    Mr. Z:

    What do you think, do such launches, in which a large number of small satellites are transported into orbit at once, destroy the market for very small launch vehicles such as Astra’s and Rocketlab’s rockets in the long run? Or are there still enough customers who pay the high price for a small rocket because they can determine the orbit and launch time better?

  • Questioner: I cannot answer your question, simply because it is too soon. We can only watch and wait.

    I personally think that the small rockets will survive the competition.

  • Joe

    Thanks! It was a hard project to get moving. We have not been assigned an official NORAD Id yet but we do have a track on it based on TLE data. Some users in the SatNogs community are attempting to listen to the beacon.

    This is the first commercial PocketQube designed, built, and launched in the United States. Someone had to be first.

    I still cannot believe that I have a satellite…in space.

  • sippin_bourbon

    Rocketlab currently has a backlog of customers waiting for launch on electron. Most, if I understand correctly, was that they have been waiting on the ability to launch from Wallops. It sounds like they are still well positioned. Additionally, these launches are great, as long as everyone is going to the same approximate orbit. Electron allows small sats to go to their own orbits at a small cost.

    We shall see.

    Full Disclosure, I own stock with RKLB.

  • sippin_bourbon

    Musk talked about rockets as reusable at a 747.. or something like that, in his comparison of launch services to airliners.

    This rocket has flown 10 times in 20 months. (First flight in May 2020.)

    No we are not to the turn around time for airliners. And we may never be. It is apples and oranges. But the same rocket at an average of 60 days per launch is still impressive.

  • Richard M

    Here’s an amazing fact for you: This Falcon 9 first stage (B1058), over the course of its ten launches, has now launched a total of 550 satellites to orbit. Along with one Cargo Dragon and one Crew Dragon.

    To put that in perspective, that’s more satellites than China or Russia have active today.

  • Richard M

    Rocketlab currently has a backlog of customers waiting for launch on electron. Most, if I understand correctly, was that they have been waiting on the ability to launch from Wallops. It sounds like they are still well positioned.

    Well positioned to keep a full manifest, but, apparently, not sufficiently to get in the black. When Rocket Lab went public about its SPAC deal, the proxy statement admitted that they had yet to turn a profit. Rocket Lab experienced net losses of $30 million and $55 million in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Given the company’s financial position, an independent auditor, according to the proxy statement, “expressed substantial doubt” about Rocket Lab’s “ability to continue as a going concern.”

    Apparently this is why they are moving quickly to develop a medium class launcher, the Neutron. This would allow them to chase the burgeoning LEO internet constellation business, or at least that part of it that’s unwilling to give its money to Elon Musk.

    The consensus seems to be that only a few small launchers will survive the inevitable shake out, which SpaceX seems intent on making as vigorous of a shake as possible. But time will tell who those few are.

  • Edward

    Congratulations to Joe Latrell and Jeremiah Pate. I hope you both can present some results of your tests here on BtB, without giving away proprietary information; it will be fun to read about your successes.

    I still cannot believe that I have a satellite…in space.

    Two decades ago, there was an advertisement for cubesats that said that we could have our own personal satellites. I thought it was unlikely, at the time, but here we are today with two people having their own personal satellites. What a decade we are going to have!

    Questioner asked: “Or are there still enough customers who pay the high price for a small rocket because they can determine the orbit and launch time better?

    I expect this will be the case. The current small rockets cost their customers an order of magnitude less than the Pegasus did, for the past three decades. Despite the lower cost for a rideshare launch on a Falcon 9, the currently operating small-rocket companies are receiving orders for future launches.

    sippin_bourbon pointed out that there are payloads that are finicky enough about their orbits that they are awaiting the availability of Wallops launches rather than flying on a currently available and less expensive Falcon 9 rideshare. This seems to bode well for the small-rocket companies.

    Rocket Lab may be losing money at six launches per year, but amortizing its fixed costs over an increased launch cadence should allow it to become profitable. This is why they strive for an increased launch rate and why Wallops is so important to the company. They desire reusing their boosters not to reduce costs but to increase that launch cadence.

  • Questioner

    Richard M:

    I’m glad that you’ve helpded us to come back down to earth with your comment. You can be dazzled by the spectacular looking rocket launches and the beautiful technology. At the end of the day, profit has to be made, and this also applies to SpaceX.

    I hadn’t heard about the huge losses Rocket Lab is making. It doesn’t surprise me when you see the effort required in terms of personnel to build and launch even such a small rocket. With Neutron they are now making a bet on the future. Let’s see whether these constellations really develop that way.

  • Edward

    Richard M wrote: “The consensus seems to be that only a few small launchers will survive the inevitable shake out, which SpaceX seems intent on making as vigorous of a shake as possible. But time will tell who those few are.

    I see SpaceX’s rideshare missions differently. At this time, the small rocket companies are unable to meet the demand from the small satellite companies. SpaceX is currently making up this difference. Would Joe Latrell and Jeremiah Pate stay in this business if they had to wait for the availability of a small rocket, if they were at the end of the line of the hundreds of small satellites that SpaceX has put into orbit?

    In the 1980s, several companies were hoping to get small satellites into space, but the launch opportunities were not there, so the smallsat market did not emerge. In the 1990s, Orbital Sciences could put up small satellites, but the cost was very high. Most small satellites were going up as secondary payloads. In the 2000s, the reduced size of enough components allowed for cubesats, and several companies, including the NSA and other government agencies, started finding launch opportunities for these small satellites. The smallsat market started to form, but not fast enough for the Falcon 1 to be profitable. With an increase in launch opportunities, including Nanoracks launching from the ISS, the smallsat market began to flourish, and the SpaceX rideshare missions help to keep it healthy.

    The number of small rocket companies that will be needed in the future is uncertain. It really depends upon how many Joe Latrells and Jeremiah Pates are out there.

    A serious question is: will SpaceX continue the rideshare missions once the Falcon 9s begin retiring, or will they concentrate Starship on larger payloads? The number of needed small rocket companies depends upon the answer to this question.

  • BtB’s Original Mark

    Edward – FYI, I did respond to your question regarding my question: “Edward – What do you consider ‘American’?” at the bottom of the Jan 6th Blacklist Post. I think you’ll find my perspective interesting.

  • pawn

    SpaceX’s dogleg maneuver out of the Cape allows it to launch a bunch of small sats into the highly desirable SSO orbit. Along with SpaceX’s aggressive pricing has created a new market with “brokers”.

    The Transporter concept has one broker advertising prices and launch slots available this summer.

    Gonna be a bunch of late nights at the Rocket Lab HQ. SpaceX is basically eating everyone’s lunch at this point. No real surprise there.

    Also, with a nod to Bob, there is an excellent article on this stuff at SFN.

  • Questioner


    Can you give us some details on the difference in launch prices between a SpaceX ride-sharing service and a Rocket Lab flight? Thank you!

  • Questioner

    I just checked the SpaceX site for rideshare options. The price of launching a 200 kg satellite into SSO is only one million dollars. I think it costs more than 5 million dollars to launch such a satellite at Rocket Lab, right? That’s quite a significant difference. For this reason, Astra wants to get by with $500,000 (but they can’t launch a 200 kg satellite yet).

  • Star Bird

    What sizes are the Sattellites? what are they for?

  • Questioner

    Here is exceptional footage of the entire flight of the F9 first stage, including all the way back to landing in Florida.

    “SpaceX – Boost Back – Entry & Landing Burns – Launch to Landing – Transporter 3 – 01-13-2022”

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