It looks like someone finally took the bite on using Starship to launch its payload into space instead of a lesser, non-fully reusable rocket. A Japanese company announced Friday that SpaceX will launch its communication satellite on Starship as soon as 2024.
Starship’s first commercial customer
SKY Perfect JSAT announced in a press release that its Superbird-9 communication satellite will use a SpaceX Starship rocket to ride to space. It is a big step of faith for the company as Starship is still in development and waiting for FAA approval to fly its first orbital test launch.
SKY Perfect didn’t state how much the company is paying SpaceX to launch on its new biggest and baddest rocket. However, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk claimed at this year’s update event at Starbase that the cost to launch Starship in two to three years would be $10 million (SpaceX currently charges about $62 million for Falcon 9 launches). SpaceX has been known to give discounts on its less proven products in the past, like a 10% cut in the cost to launch on reused Falcon 9 boosters after the AMOS-6 incident.
So SpaceX could have offered a nice discount to JSAT to launch on Starship versus a Falcon 9/Heavy. This makes a lot of sense as SpaceX will have to begin conducting test launches with payloads anyway, so they might as well try to get a little bit of that money back by having customers on board.
SpaceX plans to use its Starlink V2 satellites as the test launches for Starship in the early days. Starship is also funded under NASA’s Human Landing System contract and is planned to be used by a later Polaris Program mission. The launch of Superbird-9, however, will be Starship’s first commercial customer.
Will Starship be ready by 2024?
Starship is SpaceX’s next rocket in development. It is designed to be fully reusable and dwarfs the company’s current Falcon 9 and Heavy rockets. Standing 400 feet tall, it towers over all of nearby Brownsville and South Padre Island, just a few miles from its launch site in South Texas.
Currently, SpaceX has only flown the upper stage portion of the rocket, also called Starship, and is just getting into the thick of testing the first stage, Super Heavy. Musk’s space venture just got approval from an environmental standpoint back in June to launch the full Starship rocket to orbit, but only after specific changes are made. We aren’t sure what all needs to be changed beforehand, but Musk wishes to get to orbit this year, which might be a hard sell on the FAA to approve the launch.
Either way, Starship got its first commercial customer, which is a huge step forward in getting Starship off the ground, even if it might not be for a profit.