SpaceX has had a long-time partner in Spaceflight Inc. While SpaceX is the actual launch provider, providing rockets and launching payloads into space, Spaceflight Inc. organizes and integrates rideshare missions so multiple payloads can launch on individual rockets. Now, according to SpaceNews.com, SpaceX has cut ties with Spaceflight Inc.
According to SpaceNews, the move was “surprising to Spaceflight executives.” The two companies have been mutually beneficial partners for many years.
After the “currently manifested missions,” SpaceX will no longer be flying or working with Spaceflight Industries.
Spaceflight Inc buys room on launches, not just SpaceX Falcon 9 launches, then sells that room to multiple different satellite operators hoping to get their satellites into space. This helps companies like SpaceX keep their fairings full and maximize the payload mass on each launch while offering companies with smaller satellites that wouldn’t be financially feasible for a dedicated launch vehicle the ability to launch.
Spaceflight Inc was given no notification of this change before SpaceX notified rideshare customers.
There were some issues with a Spaceflight Inc tug during a rideshare mission last year, where it had to be removed from the manifest. SpaceNews notes that then “SpaceX declined to fly another Sherpa tug on the SpaceX rideshare mission scheduled to launch in April because of concerns about environmental factors affecting the spacecraft installed on Sherpa.”
While they declined to fly the tug, the exact reason SpaceX is no longer working with Spaceflight Inc is not clear, and the company has not provided any reasoning as to why.
Perhaps notably, SpaceX recently increased the minimum cost to book a rideshare mission directly with the company to $1.1 million (the previous price had been $1 million). The reason given for the increase in price was “excessive levels of inflation.”
It seems like SpaceX has a very full launch manifest already this year (and one that just got more full). The company launched its first dedicated rideshare mission, Transporter-1, early last year, and it is capable of providing its own integration services.
It seems probable that with the very full launch manifest, SpaceX wants to maximize the amount of money it earns off of each satellite, and providing the integration services directly allows the company to do just that, even if it costs the satellite operators more. Or else the company may have found a partner that is capable of offering the company more favorable terms. Without confirmation from SpaceX it is hard to say.