Spaceflight to launch startups: stop focusing on cool tech

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WASHINGTON — If launch startups want to win business from Spaceflight, they should focus on schedule, reliability and price, not how interesting their technology is, a company representative said March 10. 

The Seattle-based rideshare organizer is not afraid to launch smallsats on new rockets, having secured rides for its customers on India’s new Small Satellite Launch Vehicle and Relativity Space’s Terran 1, neither of which have flown. 

Speaking at the Satellite 2020 conference here, Elizabeth Driscoll, business development director at Spaceflight, said the company is constantly in need of more launch options, but won’t rush to new vehicles without confidence they will deliver. 

“I don’t really care about whether your launcher has some new big thing or if you’re reusing it or not,” she said. “At the end of the day, how much does it cost me to buy the vehicle, and how confident can I be that it’s going to launch when you say it’s going to launch, and that it’s going to launch successfully?”

Spaceflight is tracking around 200 launch companies, Driscoll said, ranging from established providers that have already launched, to startups with concepts. Only a handful of those 200 will likely succeed, she said. 

Spaceflight engages in due diligence on numerous startups very early on to watch for which ventures will actually reach orbit, she said. 

“When they are further along in their development, be it a stage test, be it they are ready for their first flight test, we’ll start to engage with them at a stronger level,” she said. 

Spaceflight was an early customer of Rocket Lab, having launched on three of the firm’s Electron rockets already. Driscoll said Spaceflight has payloads on two more Electron launches this year. 

Spaceflight is also looking forward to the maiden flights of Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha and Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne later this year, she said. 

“There’s still probably not enough capacity out there,” she said. “We still go looking for launches every day.”