SpaceX is expanding its rideshare program with a new series of missions aimed at meeting demand for launches into intermediate orbits. The new program, which was quietly announced at a space industry conference earlier this month, is the latest sign that SpaceX is seeking to break free of the small launch market.
Orbital inclination refers to what part of the Earth is visible to a satellite as it orbits the planet. A satellite in equatorial orbit is at 0 degrees inclination; satellites in sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) are slightly higher than 90 degrees; and the mid-inclination orbit is about 45 degrees. Currently, SpaceX offers rideshare services on the Falcon 9 rocket to SSO through the Transporter program, which is in high demand.
But mid-inclination orbits (MIOs) are attracting more and more customers, especially remote sensing companies that want to strengthen their coverage in areas such as parts of Asia and the Middle East. Now, companies must always buy a dedicated launch pad from Rocket Lab if they want to put a satellite on MIO.
With its new rideshare program, called Bandwagon, SpaceX is going after this market segment. According to SpaceX’s website, it currently has two Bandwagon missions booked for 2024 and two more for 2025.
If they become close to the popularity of the Rideshare program, they will become a major threat to all other small launch providers: according to Jarrod McLachlan, director of rideshare sales at SpaceX, who spoke at the industry conference, the SpaceX delivered 682 spacecraft. to orbit so far through rideshare missions.