Author Topic: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market  (Read 70748 times)

Offline ZachF

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #380 on: 03/24/2024 05:06 pm »
I think many of you aren’t thinking through SpaceX just offering its Starlink bus to host smallsat payloads kills smallsat launchers.

Manufacturing cost for just the bus is probably under $250k, even the larger 2t version. Cost to lift that into LEO at $100/kg is another $200k.

Argon is also cheap if they need larger tanks to get to different orbits.

SpaceX could literally offer the launch plus a Starlink bus for cheaper than any smallsat launcher could hope to equal.
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Online Asteroza

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #381 on: 03/24/2024 09:21 pm »
What makes you think that SpaceX would just abandon a chunk of its customer base because Starship came online?

This makes no sense. SpaceX claims that their cost of a Starship launch will be lower than their cost of an F9 launch. This means that if they can make money on a particular payload with F9, they will make more money on that same payload using Starship.  If that F9 payload is a 10 tonne transporter-1 and it out-competes small launchers on F9, then it will out-compete them even more on Starship even if they don't share that Starship with any other payload.

Even worse: at a high enough launch cadence, a Starship launch may be cheaper than a small launcher launch, so a customer with a 200 kg satellite will just use a dedicated Starship flight.

There is a possibility that a competitor may become operational and make some money before Starship reaches high cadence, but  I'm just not seeing it. Starship is already flying test flights.

It's the rideshare payload cat herding problem. It's tough enough getting everyone together and doing the coupled load analysis.

Now one could say if a single Starship launch actually is sold as cheaply or cheaper than Falcon 9, simply fitting a transporter stack in Starship would be the immediate solution. Same rideshare mass throughput per transporter launch. Maybe adjust the stack size or launch rate a bit to burn through the 2 year backlog.

But we know cat herding is a pain. When your largest payload by volume and mass is consistently Starlink, and the remainder are big ticket payloads with payments to match and comparatively simple payload processing flows, why make the extra effort to accommodate small fry? SpaceX could simply force the market by saying you must be this tall to ride, else you go sit at the kiddie table.

Which could trigger a dramatic mass shift in the rideshare market, pushing rideshares out of the payload range of smallsat launchers. Why stay at 3U when you can go 27U or 81U, and burn the extra U on propulsion/power without even changing your payload?

The other potential seismic shift is SpaceX designing a payload adapter/container to dampen loads such that coupled load analysis of smallsat rideshares is no longer necessary. But that would kill the smallsat launcher market since time to launch drops to literally next Starship launch.
The Starlink Pez dispenser SS is specialized, so the transporter missions must await the generic cargo SS in most of our economic models. However, there is an alternative that might work for most smallsats: a ridshare carrier with the form factor of a pair of V.2 Starlinks, to replace one pair of Starlinks on a Starlink launch. This herds all of the cats into one nice well-specified bunch.

SpaceX will "make the extra effort to accommodate small fry" if it is profitable. That's what a for-profit company does. It will be profitable if they have spare launch capacity after handling a Starlink and all other higher-profit launches. with a constellation of 40,000 and a lifetime of 5 years, they must launch 8000/yr in steady state. at 100 Starlinks per SS, that's 80/yr, which leaves a whole lot of spare capacity even if they only had one tower, two SH, and three SS.

That sounds suspiciously like an oversized condosat version of DiscSat

https://aerospace.org/disksat


I've seen plenty of product ideas that have net positive or even reasonable profit margin dropped by major corporations simply because of the overhead involved or the overall profit is simply not enough digits. Big corps like to hit big, and SpaceX is starting to reach the stage where they will leave money on the table. It's not inconceivable that they will return to not handling 3U payloads and leave that to payload aggregators/OTV makers like Nanoracks or Spaceflight Inc, etc.

Online DanClemmensen

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #382 on: 03/24/2024 09:50 pm »

I've seen plenty of product ideas that have net positive or even reasonable profit margin dropped by major corporations simply because of the overhead involved or the overall profit is simply not enough digits. Big corps like to hit big, and SpaceX is starting to reach the stage where they will leave money on the table. It's not inconceivable that they will return to not handling 3U payloads and leave that to payload aggregators/OTV makers like Nanoracks or Spaceflight Inc, etc.
But that does not save the small launchers if the aggregators use Starship as the LV.

If Starship+aggregator drops the $/kg by a factor of ten, the number of 3U satellites may not be very large, as the end customer will use bigger satellites.

Offline RedLineTrain

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #383 on: 04/16/2024 03:08 pm »
I am cross-posting this here because of the wider implications of the introduction of Bandwagon launches.  My guess is that SpaceX wanted a fuller manifest for the first Bandwagon flight, but flew with the payloads that were available at the time in order to launch the service.

Regardless, this is probably only the beginning of the complaints.  This looks like a winner-takes-all market and we appear to be nowhere near the high water mark for SpaceX market share by mass.  We are going to get all sorts of nonsense arguments about Western governments needing to level the playing field.  But complaining to the DoD is barking up the wrong tree because it deals happily with monopoly providers all the time and sometimes even encourages consolidation, unfortunately.

From Davenport at the Washington Post.

Quote
The way to compete against SpaceX, Beck said, “is to outsmart them and outwork them. You have to be the mosquito, that is for sure. And you have to be very agile. … The crazy thing about a mosquito is that it’s kind of annoying, but there’s a nonzero chance that you might get bit, get malaria and die,” he said.
Quote
A recent SpaceX rideshare mission known as “Bandwagon” raised concerns among many in the launch industry because the price was extremely low, according to industry officials who saw it as a tactic to take business from competitors. “Competing is one thing, predatory is another,” one industry executive said.

Some companies even complained about the mission to the Pentagon because “there was no business reason to fly that mission at that cost,” according to the executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. “We’ve communicated to them, quietly, that you may want competition, but what do your actions say? Because we can’t compete against that.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2024/04/15/spacex-competition-nasa-pentagon/

Offline seb21051

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #384 on: 04/18/2024 02:00 am »
I thought this rather interesting. Tried to dig up mass of all the payloads I could find for Bandwagon-1:

 Bandwagon-1             Mass kg                $/kg
                                                 6,000
425 Project             800         $4,800,000.00
HawkEye 360 (6 Sats)   60            $360,000.00
Acadia-4 SAR            112            $672,000.00
QPS-SAR-7 SAR              50            $300,000.00
Fleet’s Centauri-6          50            $300,000.00
TSAT-1A                      50            $300,000.00
      
Total: 11 Payloads    1,122        $6,732,000.00

If this is the case it would seem to be a little under the reported breakeven point of $15m for the F9. The ones rated at 50kg were all less, but I figured SX would charge a minimum of $300K per sat.

One day I'll figure out how to format things copied from excel.
« Last Edit: 04/18/2024 02:05 am by seb21051 »

Offline Steven Pietrobon

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #385 on: 04/18/2024 07:39 am »
I think its pretty likely that SpaceX charged South Korea the full mission amount of $67M. The rest of the payloads were just gravy.
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Offline seb21051

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #386 on: 04/18/2024 02:29 pm »
I think its pretty likely that SpaceX charged South Korea the full mission amount of $67M. The rest of the payloads were just gravy.

Entirely possible.

Offline TrevorMonty

I think its pretty likely that SpaceX charged South Korea the full mission amount of $67M. The rest of the payloads were just gravy.
Maybe not $67M but considerably more than $15m.  At 800kg Firefly Alpha is ideally sized to launched these satellites unless they plan to deploy multiple satellites per launch.


Offline CorvusCorax

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #388 on: 05/18/2024 06:19 pm »
One property of the Starlink constellation is that it requires a constant rate of launches to
a) replenish satellites that have reached end-of-life - became defective or run out of propellant
b) upgrade the constellation with new capabilites.

Both together keep SpaceX pretty busy with launches - be it Falcon9 or Starship

What has been suggested multiple times now (and afaik also proposed by SpaceX) is to put hosted payloads ON the Starlink sats. - either as virtual payloads (compute, using sensors/comm that Starlink has anyway) or as actual physical payloads with their own sensors.

In a way Starshield seems to be implemented that way, but it goes a bit further since these sats are actually fully dedicated for Starshield and don't partake in the regular constellation business.

For a lot of applications - this would be fully sufficient and absolutely unbeatable - not just in price, but also in what you get - the hosted payload would not just benefit from SpaceX power, stationkeeping and telemetry, which you get with any "of the shelf" sat bus. SpaceX can offer that for almost free, since the bus launches anyway, and it has completely unbeatable data up and downlink and 24/7 reachability due to the laser interlinks.

SpaceX will probably add an "SSO plane" into Starlink to cover this common orbit for hosted payloads if they don't have that already. This alone will cover a large part of the smallsat launch market.

What's left are payloads that are

1. too big, power hungry or incompatible to fit on a starlink sat as hosted payload (even on the bigger ones launched with Starship). These can be launched with transporter launches.

2. in need of very specific non-standard orbits
3. special in another way that requires launch on a very specific date - or on very short notice - or with elevated levels of secrecy.

This would be a relatively small subset of the smallsat market. But it includes an elevated proportion of national security payload, which typically are willing to pay a premium. so while there wouldn't be too many launches in that subclass, there would be still a fair amount of a market - aka money.

Let's call it the "premium luxury market"

The issue is, it still needs to be "smallsat" - because if these payloads get bigger , such as traditional national security payload - one would have to compete with established players - from ULA's Vulcan over Ariane6 to various international launchers - and of course those directly compete with Falcon 9 and a bunch of newcomers (Neutron, New Glenn, ... ) right now Falcon9 is hard to beat, and its stellar reliability rating will remain hard to beat for quite a while (which is crucial for this particular market)

This leaves the "mini luxury markets" - premium payloads with special needs that weigh less than a ton and don't need too much deltaV

Lets call it "the road legal luxury sportscar" segment of the space launch market. Well, as Koenigsegg or Lamborghini would be happy to tell you, such a market does indeed exist. Whether its big enough for all the newcomers that are working on their small sat launchers.

I doubt it.

It was like that with petrol cars, with electric cars, with airliners - and now with rockets. the first company who makes a technologicial breakthrough starts a "gold rush" into the market with a lot of investor money being poured into a lot of would-be competitors.

And a lot of those will inevitably die.

if any of the small sat companies find their own (starlink) "el dorado" - basically allowing them to become their own customer and have a full manifest and a profit no matter what, they will most certainly make it.  So far I don't see this. It doesn't really fit in the "road legal supercar" niche the small sat launchers have been pushed into by SpaceX. It might exist, but if I could see this golden application I'd probably be founding a rocket company right now instead of <REDACTED>

Offline Perchlorate

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #389 on: 05/18/2024 06:34 pm »
One property of the Starlink constellation is that it requires a constant rate of launches to
a) replenish satellites that have reached end-of-life - became defective or run out of propellant
b) upgrade the constellation with new capabilites.

Both together keep SpaceX pretty busy with launches - be it Falcon9 or Starship

What has been suggested multiple times now (and afaik also proposed by SpaceX) is to put hosted payloads ON the Starlink sats. - either as virtual payloads (compute, using sensors/comm that Starlink has anyway) or as actual physical payloads with their own sensors.

In a way Starshield seems to be implemented that way, but it goes a bit further since these sats are actually fully dedicated for Starshield and don't partake in the regular constellation business.

For a lot of applications - this would be fully sufficient and absolutely unbeatable - not just in price, but also in what you get - the hosted payload would not just benefit from SpaceX power, stationkeeping and telemetry, which you get with any "of the shelf" sat bus. SpaceX can offer that for almost free, since the bus launches anyway, and it has completely unbeatable data up and downlink and 24/7 reachability due to the laser interlinks.

SpaceX will probably add an "SSO plane" into Starlink to cover this common orbit for hosted payloads if they don't have that already. This alone will cover a large part of the smallsat launch market.

What's left are payloads that are

1. too big, power hungry or incompatible to fit on a starlink sat as hosted payload (even on the bigger ones launched with Starship). These can be launched with transporter launches.

2. in need of very specific non-standard orbits
3. special in another way that requires launch on a very specific date - or on very short notice - or with elevated levels of secrecy.

This would be a relatively small subset of the smallsat market. But it includes an elevated proportion of national security payload, which typically are willing to pay a premium. so while there wouldn't be too many launches in that subclass, there would be still a fair amount of a market - aka money.

Let's call it the "premium luxury market"

The issue is, it still needs to be "smallsat" - because if these payloads get bigger , such as traditional national security payload - one would have to compete with established players - from ULA's Vulcan over Ariane6 to various international launchers - and of course those directly compete with Falcon 9 and a bunch of newcomers (Neutron, New Glenn, ... ) right now Falcon9 is hard to beat, and its stellar reliability rating will remain hard to beat for quite a while (which is crucial for this particular market)

This leaves the "mini luxury markets" - premium payloads with special needs that weigh less than a ton and don't need too much deltaV

Lets call it "the road legal luxury sportscar" segment of the space launch market. Well, as Koenigsegg or Lamborghini would be happy to tell you, such a market does indeed exist. Whether its big enough for all the newcomers that are working on their small sat launchers.

I doubt it.

It was like that with petrol cars, with electric cars, with airliners - and now with rockets. the first company who makes a technologicial breakthrough starts a "gold rush" into the market with a lot of investor money being poured into a lot of would-be competitors.

And a lot of those will inevitably die.

if any of the small sat companies find their own (starlink) "el dorado" - basically allowing them to become their own customer and have a full manifest and a profit no matter what, they will most certainly make it.  So far I don't see this. It doesn't really fit in the "road legal supercar" niche the small sat launchers have been pushed into by SpaceX. It might exist, but if I could see this golden application I'd probably be founding a rocket company right now instead of <REDACTED>

Interesting, thoughtful post.

Will you UNREDACT?

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Offline trimeta

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #390 on: 05/18/2024 07:20 pm »
if any of the small sat companies find their own (starlink) "el dorado" - basically allowing them to become their own customer and have a full manifest and a profit no matter what, they will most certainly make it.  So far I don't see this. It doesn't really fit in the "road legal supercar" niche the small sat launchers have been pushed into by SpaceX. It might exist, but if I could see this golden application I'd probably be founding a rocket company right now instead of <REDACTED>
For what it's worth, Rocket Lab has been pretty explicit that this is their long-term plan: create their own Space Applications constellation, and thus always have in-house "customers" for their launches. Of course, that's more for Neutron launches than Electrons. And they've been quite tight-lipped about what this hypothetical constellation would actually do -- which can make one wonder if they'll ever figure out something that's profitable and where the market isn't already saturated.

Online DanClemmensen

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #391 on: 05/18/2024 07:46 pm »
What has been suggested multiple times now (and afaik also proposed by SpaceX) is to put hosted payloads ON the Starlink sats. - either as virtual payloads (compute, using sensors/comm that Starlink has anyway) or as actual physical payloads with their own sensors.
To me, the major advantage to the guest payload is access to the Starlink ISL network. the customer does not need to implement a comms downlink and the ground stations that go with it.

The major disadvantage to the customer is staying within all the constraints of the Starlink satellite implementation, and especially sharing the nadir deck (the earth-facing side) of the satellite with the Starlink antennas. Real estate on the nadir deck is a major constraint for comms satellites. I recall several discussions with wannabe guest payload customers who wanted to add capabilities to a commsat constellation: it did not end well.

But wait! you can join the Starlink ISL without being hosted on an actual Starlink satellite. Purchase a SpaceX-supplied bus that has everything except the user and teleport comm links. Now, you are free to build whatever capabilites you need. You communicate to the ground via the Starlink ISL network. The bus must include a Starlink router that makes your satellite a node of the Starlink ISK network, and this will constrain your satellite in several ways, but it should be worth it.

SpaceX might choose to create satellites like this that can host multiple customer payloads with standardized interfaces: one such carrier with a footprint like a Starlink V2 can probably host  a hundred or more 1U payloads and supply power and comms for all of them.


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