Spaceflight offers smallsat launch services on government contract schedule


WASHINGTON — A Seattle-based company that provides launch services for small satellites is now able to sell those services to U.S. government agencies through a standard government contract schedule, although it is unclear who would purchase those launches.

Spaceflight Inc. announced Feb. 10 that the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) has added the company’s small satellite launch services to its Professional Services Schedule. The schedule provides a fixed-price list of services that government agencies can purchase directly without a competition.

Spaceflight’s GSA schedule offers agencies several different options for launch services. The smallest option covers the launch of a three-unit cubesat, weighing no more than five kilograms, at a price of under $280,000. The largest option is for a 300-kilogram satellite, for nearly $7.7 million.

Spaceflight does not directly launch the satellites, but instead serves as an intermediary, arranging for launches as secondary payloads on launches by U.S. and other vehicles. Spaceflight also purchased a dedicated SpaceX Falcon 9 launch last year that will carry more than 20 spacecraft, including a lunar lander under development by SpaceIL, an Israeli team competing in the Google Lunar X Prize.

The company hopes that, by adding its launch services to the GSA schedule, it will help not just federal agencies but also launch companies themselves. “Receiving the GSA contract is a significant endorsement not only for Spaceflight, but for the next generation of launch providers dedicated to helping more organizations increase their understanding of our world,” Curt Blake, president of Spaceflight, said in a statement.

While the company’s launch services are now available to any interested government agency, it’s less certain who would purchase them. NASA and the Defense Department, by far the largest developers of smallsats among federal government agencies, have typically launched such satellites on their own, using excess capacity on their own launches.

Perhaps the most extreme example of this will be the use of NASA’s Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket for launching cubesats. The first SLS mission, scheduled for late 2018, will carry 13 cubesats as secondary payloads, the agency announced Feb. 2. The satellites will be attached to a ring that serves as a payload adapter, linking the rocket’s upper stage with its primary payload, an Orion spacecraft.

NASA has also provided other cubesat developers with secondary payload opportunities through its CubeSat Launch Initiative. Under that program, NASA has selected more than 100 cubesats, primarily built by universities, for launch as secondary payloads on NASA or Defense Department missions.