NASA launching up to 72 smallsats with Spaceflight for $5.5 million

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WASHINGTON — NASA signed its first contract with small satellite rideshare company Spaceflight to launch as many as 72 cubesats between now and 2020 for a total price of up to $5.5 million.

Specifically, the contract enables the launch of 72 “units,” which typically measure 10 centimeters in length, width and height, and have a mass of around 1.33 kilograms. These units are often assembled in groups to form larger cubesats, such as the 3U cubesats Spire and Planet use, or the 6U Arkyd satellites of Planetary Resources.

Seattle-based Spaceflight provides rideshare opportunities on U.S. rockets from SpaceX, Orbital ATK and Rocket Lab, as well as India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, Russia’s Soyuz and the Russian-Ukrainian Dnepr. NASA’s launch policy, however, will restrict the 72U to ride solely on American rockets.

“We’re pleased to work with NASA on these cubesat missions as it further validates our rideshare business model of providing frequent, cost-effective access to space,” Curt Blake, president of Spaceflight, said in a statement.

Spaceflight’s contract allots up to 24U of launch capacity per year for three years starting in 2018. NASA’s Kennedy Space Center entered the contract for launch and integration services.