Sateliot Launches Cell Phone Service Satellite on SpaceX Rocket

The Spanish-based company Sateliot launched its first cell phone service satellite on SpaceX’s Transporter-7 launch mission. This satellite is the first of five in a satellite constellation that will provide cell phone services in areas like mountain ranges that are difficult for cell phone towers to service.

Apple and T-Mobile use existing communications satellites to supplement their cell phone services. Communication with emergency contacts are currently one primary use for satellite-based cell phone services. However, many carriers say they plan to expand their satellite-based services, providing an opportunity for companies like Sateliot.

Sateliot is one of the first companies to own a satellite constellation that is purely dedicated to cell phone service. It plans to work with cell phone carriers to bring its satellite-based services to consumers. Sateliot already has deals with maritime shipping and logistics services to provide connectivity.

Each Sateliot satellite can cover an area three times the size of Texas. Unlike many communications satellites, they’re pretty small. The dimensions of each satellite are 4X8X12 inches, making them suitable for launch on one of SpaceX’s Transporter launches.

Transporter-7 included a payload of 51 small satellites on a reusable Falcon 9 rocket. It launched at 2:48 am EST on April 15. This is the seventh launch in SpaceX’s Transporter series, which provides dedicated “rideshare” launches for small satellites that would otherwise have to wait for space on a launch of a larger primary payload.

Transporter-7 was the first to use a shorter nozzle in the engines of the rocket’s upper stage. The shorter nozzles can save money on rocket launches that do not need as much performance. The shorter nozzles required an alteration of the reentry and recovery procedure. The booster fired only one engine for reentry and used all three for landing. The Falcon 9 retains the longer nozzle for higher-performance missions.

SpaceX did not provide a full list of the satellites on the Transporter-7 launch. However, companies that had satellites on board also included Satellogic, Orbital Sidekick, GHGSat, Hawkeye 360, and Spire. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology and the Austrian Space Forum also had satellites on board.

SpaceX currently charges $1.3 million to launch a 200-kilogram satellite on a Transporter mission. The reliability of its ability to launch 50-plus satellites on a Falcon 9 makes it attractive enough that other small launch service providers find it difficult to compete.

Industry observers say the Transporter missions set a reference price for launch of small satellites. Rocket Lab CFO Adam Spice suggested courting more launches of government satellites, since governments tend to be less price-sensitive due to the exacting needs of their satellites. SpaceX has already successfully done so, scoring important launch contracts for Space Force assets like upgraded GPS satellites. It also launched an Earth observation satellite for the Royal Thai Air Force and a laser communications experiment for the Department of Defense.

SpaceX charges $67 million for a dedicated Falcon 9 launch, which can send up to 22,000 kilograms into orbit. Last year, it cited inflation as the reason for the increase in price from $62 million, as well as for increasing Starlink’s subscription fees.