SpaceX ended its business relationship with Spaceflight Inc. in a manner similar to many people who ended things with a boyfriend or girlfriend but didn’t have the nerve to do it face-to-face: with a single text message.
The SpaceX Rideshare Team also sent an email to companies that plan to send satellites on a future launch to notify them that the company was no longer working with Spaceflight Inc.
Spaceflight Inc. arranged payloads for SpaceX’s rideshare program as part of a longstanding partnership. Its leadership said it was surprised to hear that SpaceX will end its relationship once all the already arranged rideshare payloads are launched.
Spaceflight Inc. will continue to arrange small satellite launches with other rideshare launch providers. It also works with launch providers Rocket Lab and Ad Astra. It will reassign the satellites affected by SpaceX’s decision to other launch providers.
SpaceX works with other companies like D-Orbit and Exolaunch to arrange launch of small satellites for a variety of customers.
Neither company has gone into many details about what was behind SpaceX’s decision to terminate the partnership, though Spaceflight, Inc., indicated willingness to further discuss the matter with SpaceX. Known issues included a propellant leak in a Sherpa tug provided by Spaceflight Inc. that forced SpaceX to remove the tug from the Transporter-3 mission in December. The Sherpa would have carried ten cubesats that enabled radio-frequency geolocation and satellite-based telephony services into orbit.
SpaceX removed another Sherpa tug from a rideshare launch in April due to concerns about the environmental impact on the launch. Spaceflight spokesperson Jodi Sorenson said that the company had resolved the root issue and planned to fly the tug on an upcoming launch of Starlink satellites.
Spaceflight, Inc., said that the tug had gone through rigorous testing to meet industry standards. SpaceX decided to wait for better analysis of the test processes and results.
The rideshare missions provide a cost-effective way for owners of small satellites to launch them into their destination orbits without having to wait to “hitch a ride” on a rocket launching a bigger payload. SpaceX can reduce costs by reusing the first stage boosters from previous flights for rideshare launches like the upcoming Transporter-4.
SpaceX’s Transporter missions already sent a total of 336 small satellites on its first three Transporter missions. The next one, Transporter-4, is scheduled for April 1 at 4:24 pm UTC.