Author Topic: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market  (Read 70283 times)

Offline FutureSpaceTourist

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Interesting look at impact on small launcher market of SpaceX rideshare missions, with stats on what each has launched since beginning of 2021:

http://parabolicarc.com/2022/11/03/elon-musk-drinks-your-milkshake-the-impact-of-spacex-rideshare-missions-on-the-small-launch-market/

Quote
Elon Musk Drinks Your Milkshake: The Impact of SpaceX Rideshare Missions on the Small Launch Market
 November 3, 2022  Doug Messier

Doug plans a follow on article on how small sat launch providers are responding to the SpaceX challenge.

Offline Nomadd

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #1 on: 11/03/2022 05:01 pm »
 How many of those missions would have existed if they had to pay Rocket Lab prices?
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Offline high road

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #2 on: 11/09/2022 02:42 pm »

That source has 55 missions launching on 13 Electrons, so that's 42 payloads not paying RL prices either.

Also, the number of payloads on Transporter seems to be very volatile. I wouldn't be surprised that not all of those broke even, and that the number of additional Transporter missions will be limited to the few destinations with enough customers.

Also, non-Chinese small rocket launches increased 40% this year so far, with a few more scheduled this year. That's the fourth year of double digit growth in a row, with 1-3 launches being the norm before that time. In that same timeframe, conventional non-Chinese larger rockets continued their downward trend, bottoming out last year and the year before that at 50.7% of what it was before SpaceX hit their stride. There'll be some recovery this year with the Russian military being very active, and ULA recovering to early SpaceX-hitting-their-stride numbers, but it's still pretty bleak picture for the others.

All in all, while I agree that small launchers will always be a limited market, I don't think they are the ones getting their lunch eaten the most by SpaceX.

Offline butters

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #3 on: 11/09/2022 02:56 pm »
How many of those missions would have existed if they had to pay Rocket Lab prices?
Has enough time elapsed since the Transporter program was announced for a significant number of payloads to have been commissioned, designed, built, and launched on the basis of this new launch service? I recognize that these are not especially long-lead payloads relative to other sectors of the satellite industry, but they don't suddenly spawn into the game either. We're just now beginning to see the first wave of payload response to Falcon Heavy, which is a much older program.

I'm sure we will see this effect going forward, with payloads launching that wouldn't have been built before Transporter, but I'm not sure we've seen it yet, at least not to any significant degree.

Online Robotbeat

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #4 on: 11/09/2022 02:58 pm »
How many of those missions would have existed if they had to pay Rocket Lab prices?
Has enough time elapsed since the Transporter program was announced for a significant number of payloads to have been commissioned, designed, built, and launched on the basis of this new launch service? I recognize that these are not especially long-lead payloads relative to other sectors of the satellite industry, but they don't suddenly spawn into the game either. We're just now beginning to see the first wave of payload response to Falcon Heavy, which is a much older program.

I'm sure we will see this effect going forward, with payloads launching that wouldn't have been built before Transporter, but I'm not sure we've seen it yet, at least not to any significant degree.
Yes, because smallsats have a much shorter development timescale.
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Offline M.E.T.

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #5 on: 11/15/2022 12:22 pm »
We are yet to see a smallsat launch provider paying its own way from launch revenue alone.

Never gonna happen.

Offline trimeta

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #6 on: 11/15/2022 02:29 pm »
During their Q3 earnings call, Rocket Lab's CFO said that if they were to fly four full-price (that is, $7.5 million) launches in a given quarter, they would make net positive revenue for launch services that quarter. Now, their 2022 cadence of 10 launches falls short of that, and even their 2023 plan for 14 launches likely includes enough "discounted" launches (namely, their reuse tests, where they'll launch 1/4 full instead of waiting for more payloads because they want data sooner) such that no quarter meets this criteria then either. But it's at least within sight, not something completely impossible for any company not named SpaceX.

At the very least, this gives us a more concrete metric for how large the non-SpaceX market needs to be, for others to profit.

Online Robotbeat

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #7 on: 11/15/2022 02:39 pm »
12-16 launches per year is about right for minimum commercial viability of an expendable launcher. (Necessary but not sufficient, of course.)

Id put partially reusable viability at 20-40, and full reusability at 40-100 minimum.
« Last Edit: 11/15/2022 02:41 pm by Robotbeat »
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Offline DanClemmensen

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #8 on: 11/15/2022 02:40 pm »
During their Q3 earnings call, Rocket Lab's CFO said that if they were to fly four full-price (that is, $7.5 million) launches in a given quarter, they would make net positive revenue for launch services that quarter. Now, their 2022 cadence of 10 launches falls short of that, and even their 2023 plan for 14 launches likely includes enough "discounted" launches (namely, their reuse tests, where they'll launch 1/4 full instead of waiting for more payloads because they want data sooner) such that no quarter meets this criteria then either. But it's at least within sight, not something completely impossible for any company not named SpaceX.

At the very least, this gives us a more concrete metric for how large the non-SpaceX market needs to be, for others to profit.
You conclude that they can almost make it in the current market, which is dominated by F9 rideshare. Will this change when/if Starship becomes operational? Starship becomes a factor only if it provides a better or cheaper rideshare service than F9 rideshare, or if an SS bespoke launch is cheaper than a Rocket Labs launch.

Offline trimeta

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #9 on: 11/15/2022 03:21 pm »
12-16 launches per year is about right for minimum commercial viability of an expendable launcher. (Necessary but not sufficient, of course.)

Id put partially reusable viability at 20-40, and full reusability at 40-100 minimum.
Wouldn't reuse lower the minimum number of launches for commercial viability, not raise it? At least, if we look at per-launch revenue, not including R&D to create the reusable vehicle in the first place.

Of course, reuse with low cadence risks losing certain kinds of expertise, and creating fewer jobs (I believe that was Arianespace's objection), but reused stages are supposed to cost less (even including refurbishment) than new stages, so you need fewer paying customers to have net profit.

Offline high road

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #10 on: 12/08/2022 07:38 am »
We are yet to see a smallsat launch provider paying its own way from launch revenue alone.

Never gonna happen.

The number of non-chinese smallsat launches has seen growth rates of 100% (doubling), 33%, 14%, 25% in the previous years, and 40% so far this year. Meanwhile, big rockets other than China and SpaceX are at historical lows of about half their launches of the before times. The recovery this year has so far been smaller than the uptick in Russian military launches that is part of that total. The times that big rocket companies will be 'paying their own way' about as much as small rocket companies are, seems pretty close. And that's ignoring the number of existing rocket companies that developed their rockets to a significant extent on government dime.

apples and oranges and whatnot.

Offline M.E.T.

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #11 on: 12/08/2022 11:15 am »
We are yet to see a smallsat launch provider paying its own way from launch revenue alone.

Never gonna happen.

The number of non-chinese smallsat launches has seen growth rates of 100% (doubling), 33%, 14%, 25% in the previous years, and 40% so far this year. Meanwhile, big rockets other than China and SpaceX are at historical lows of about half their launches of the before times. The recovery this year has so far been smaller than the uptick in Russian military launches that is part of that total. The times that big rocket companies will be 'paying their own way' about as much as small rocket companies are, seems pretty close. And that's ignoring the number of existing rocket companies that developed their rockets to a significant extent on government dime.

apples and oranges and whatnot.

The fact that SpaceX is killing big rocket launch companies just like they are doing to small launch companies does not improve the prospects of small launchers in any way.
« Last Edit: 12/08/2022 11:24 am by M.E.T. »

Offline meekGee

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #12 on: 12/08/2022 01:03 pm »
We are yet to see a smallsat launch provider paying its own way from launch revenue alone.

Never gonna happen.

The number of non-chinese smallsat launches has seen growth rates of 100% (doubling), 33%, 14%, 25% in the previous years, and 40% so far this year. Meanwhile, big rockets other than China and SpaceX are at historical lows of about half their launches of the before times. The recovery this year has so far been smaller than the uptick in Russian military launches that is part of that total. The times that big rocket companies will be 'paying their own way' about as much as small rocket companies are, seems pretty close. And that's ignoring the number of existing rocket companies that developed their rockets to a significant extent on government dime.

apples and oranges and whatnot.
The question should be how many small sat launches were eliminated due to SpaceX's Ride Share.

The other statistics are tangential.

While small sat launches increase in count, they need to increase by a lot more in order to make it a viable business. That's where it matters.

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Offline DeimosDream

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #13 on: 12/08/2022 02:42 pm »
Mostly I see SpaceX's rideshare as cutting out middle-man integrators. Integrators have been purchasing rockets to fly dedicated rideshare missions since at least 2003, when Eurockot Launch Services purchased a Russian Rokot to fly the Multiple Orbits Mission. Before SpaceX announced their rideshare program Spaceflight had already purchased an F9 to fly their Sherpa dispensers in late 2018.

I'd imagine most small sats were always going to be either secondary payloads or bundled as a rideshare on an Intermediate/Medium rockets rather than pay for dedicated small lift.

The best example I can find of lost small-lift launches is the decline of Minotaur/Pegasus which dropped about 75% from a measly 2/year to an almost unnoticeable once per 2-year after the F9 became flight proven; but that is also an old-space example that occurred before SpaceX anounced their inhouse rideshare program and hasn't seemed to have worsened since.

Offline edzieba

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #14 on: 12/08/2022 03:13 pm »
I'd imagine most small sats were always going to be either secondary payloads or bundled as a rideshare on an Intermediate/Medium rockets rather than pay for dedicated small lift.
That seems to be the main assumption by the "rideshares will eat everyone's lunch" crowd: that smallsats don't care what orbit they go to (or when they get there). Implicit being the assumption that smallsats are not 'real' satellites, and are resigned to only ever being tech demonstrators, subscale experiments, and university projects.

What we're seeing with Rocketlab's manifest is instead a lot of operational satellites that just happen to be small. Satellites with a specific target orbit and a launch date independent of anyone else (to ensure revenue or data product generation begins ASAP).

Offline M.E.T.

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #15 on: 12/08/2022 03:16 pm »
I'd imagine most small sats were always going to be either secondary payloads or bundled as a rideshare on an Intermediate/Medium rockets rather than pay for dedicated small lift.
That seems to be the main assumption by the "rideshares will eat everyone's lunch" crowd: that smallsats don't care what orbit they go to (or when they get there). Implicit being the assumption that smallsats are not 'real' satellites, and are resigned to only ever being tech demonstrators, subscale experiments, and university projects.

What we're seeing with Rocketlab's manifest is instead a lot of operational satellites that just happen to be small. Satellites with a specific target orbit and a launch date independent of anyone else (to ensure revenue or data product generation begins ASAP).

Define a lot. A dozen, or even two dozen, a year does not constitute a lot. Astra for example needs hundreds of launches a year to close their business case.

That wont be happening.

« Last Edit: 12/08/2022 03:18 pm by M.E.T. »

Offline DanClemmensen

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #16 on: 12/08/2022 03:20 pm »
I'd imagine most small sats were always going to be either secondary payloads or bundled as a rideshare on an Intermediate/Medium rockets rather than pay for dedicated small lift.
That seems to be the main assumption by the "rideshares will eat everyone's lunch" crowd: that smallsats don't care what orbit they go to (or when they get there). Implicit being the assumption that smallsats are not 'real' satellites, and are resigned to only ever being tech demonstrators, subscale experiments, and university projects.

What we're seeing with Rocketlab's manifest is instead a lot of operational satellites that just happen to be small. Satellites with a specific target orbit and a launch date independent of anyone else (to ensure revenue or data product generation begins ASAP).
If a Starship launch is cheaper than any small-lift launch, then Starship will win the launch award for the bespoke orbit and date. This of course also opens up a lot of opportunities for other payloads to ride along to increase the revenue, so the small-lift launcher may need to be even cheaper to compete.

Offline trimeta

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #17 on: 12/08/2022 05:37 pm »
I'd imagine most small sats were always going to be either secondary payloads or bundled as a rideshare on an Intermediate/Medium rockets rather than pay for dedicated small lift.
That seems to be the main assumption by the "rideshares will eat everyone's lunch" crowd: that smallsats don't care what orbit they go to (or when they get there). Implicit being the assumption that smallsats are not 'real' satellites, and are resigned to only ever being tech demonstrators, subscale experiments, and university projects.

What we're seeing with Rocketlab's manifest is instead a lot of operational satellites that just happen to be small. Satellites with a specific target orbit and a launch date independent of anyone else (to ensure revenue or data product generation begins ASAP).

Define a lot. A dozen, or even two dozen, a year does not constitute a lot. Astra for example needs hundreds of launches a year to close their business case.

That wont be happening.
According to Rocket Lab's statements, two dozen launches per year would be sufficient to make Electron profitable.

I agree that any small-launch company which needs hundreds of launches per year to close the business case isn't going to succeed, though.

Online Robotbeat

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #18 on: 12/08/2022 05:53 pm »
I'd imagine most small sats were always going to be either secondary payloads or bundled as a rideshare on an Intermediate/Medium rockets rather than pay for dedicated small lift.
That seems to be the main assumption by the "rideshares will eat everyone's lunch" crowd: that smallsats don't care what orbit they go to (or when they get there). Implicit being the assumption that smallsats are not 'real' satellites, and are resigned to only ever being tech demonstrators, subscale experiments, and university projects.

What we're seeing with Rocketlab's manifest is instead a lot of operational satellites that just happen to be small. Satellites with a specific target orbit and a launch date independent of anyone else (to ensure revenue or data product generation begins ASAP).

Define a lot. A dozen, or even two dozen, a year does not constitute a lot. Astra for example needs hundreds of launches a year to close their business case.

That wont be happening.
According to Rocket Lab's statements, two dozen launches per year would be sufficient to make Electron profitable.

I agree that any small-launch company which needs hundreds of launches per year to close the business case isn't going to succeed, though.
Stoke might. If a smallsat launcher could actually get a per-kg cost to orbit cheaper than a medium lift launch vehicle, they can compete for much larger launches.

Say a fully reusable launch vehicle gets a per kg to orbit cost less than F9. Instead of launching, say, 5 F9s with 40 OneWeb satellites each, you launch 200 fully reusable smallsat launches at lower total cost. Those all could be launched on just one physical fully reusable smallsat launcher while the F9 would need to expend 5 upper stages.
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Offline butters

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Re: Impact of SpaceX rideshare on small sat launchers market
« Reply #19 on: 12/08/2022 06:03 pm »
What we're seeing with Rocketlab's manifest is instead a lot of operational satellites that just happen to be small. Satellites with a specific target orbit and a launch date independent of anyone else (to ensure revenue or data product generation begins ASAP).
What we're seeing with Electron's manifest is a lot of operational SSO constellation satellites (mainly but not exclusively earth observation). Blacksky, Planet, Capella, etc. Those customers are a lot more reliable and conducive to profitable high-rate launch operations than the academic and prototype/demo payloads, but they are also the most likely to embrace the use of regularly-scheduled SSO rideshares.

This thread can basically be boiled down into what (if anything) is keeping these earth observation smallsat/microsat constellation operators loyal to a provider like Rocket Lab? They can't thrive on what remains of the commercial market absent those constellation operators, and NASA/DoD missions may be too few and far between. If they can't keep those constellation customers, they have a problem.

So do they have a problem? Planet and Capella have both launched on SpaceX Transporter missions, and Blacksky has launched as a Starlink rideshare. What would be keeping these rapidly-growing smallsat constellation operators from launching most if not all of their payloads on larger rideshares?

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