Seattle-based Spaceflight Industries says it’s made a deal with Terra Bella to have the Google subsidiary’s Earth-observing satellites launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket next year.
The agreement makes Terra Bella, which was known as Skybox Imaging before Google bought it for $500 million in 2014, the lead payload provider on a dedicated-rideshare mission arranged through Spaceflight Industries’ launch services entity, known simply as Spaceflight.
“At this point, it looks like Terra Bella may be the only lead,” Spaceflight’s president, Curt Blake, told GeekWire in an email today. So far, seven of Terra Bella’s SkySat satellites have been put into orbit, and that number is expected to grow to 24. Blake declined to say how many of Terra Bella’s satellites would be launched on Spaceflight’s mission in late 2017.
Spaceflight purchased the entire Falcon 9 flight from SpaceX a year ago, with the aim of launching an array of other people’s satellites from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base. Today the company says it’s sold 90 percent of the available capacity, comprising more than 20 payloads from 10 different countries.
The amount being charged for launching Terra Bella’s satellites was not released, but Spaceflight’s price list suggests that it costs about $5 million to put a 150-kilogram spacecraft into low Earth orbit.
In addition to Terra Bella’s satellites, the confirmed payloads include NEXTSat-1 from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, a technology demonstration satellite that will also study star formation and space storms; a radar-mapping satellte from Finnish startup Iceye; and three satellites from HawkEye 360 that will fly in formation and use radio signals to monitor transportation.
“We’re seeing a tide shift in the industry’s expectation for routine, reliable and affordable access to space,” Blake said in a news release. “The willingness of prominent commercial organizations to join forces for the advancement of global initiatives is very encouraging to the smallsat community, and to society as a whole.”
Spaceflight says it has negotiated the launch of nearly 120 satellites, with contracts to put more than 150 additional satellites into orbit by 2018. The largest satellite array, comprising 89 spacecraft, is due to be deployed by Spaceflight’s Sherpa tug from a Falcon 9 rocket next year. One of those satellites is the Arkyd 6A, an Earth-observing spacecraft built by Redmond-based Planetary Resources.