The rocket launch business is expensive and risky, and then there are the technical requirements: Launch providers have to ensure a customer's delicate and expensive spacecraft survives the trip to orbit.
But Seattle-based Spaceflight Industries is showing things can be done differently, according to Morgan Stanley analysts Adam Jonas and Armintas Sinkevicius. In a note to investors Friday, they said that the company "is disrupting this model entirely" by applying the ride sharing concept to satellites.
The company packed a record-breaking 64 satellites on a SpaceX rocket in December for a mission known as Spaceflight SSO-A. Morgan Stanley called it "a significant milestone for the company."
The practice of satellite "ridesharing" has become more commonplace, in part thanks to Spaceflight. As technological advancements have led to smaller satellites, that means more of them can be loaded onto rockets as secondary payloads – hitchhiking on launches like SpaceX's Falcon 9 as they bring larger satellites to orbit.
That makes it less expensive for satellite operators and fills space in what otherwise would have been empty payload for rocket launchers. "Spaceflight is significantly driving down the cost of launch with its ride sharing model, allowing smaller satellite companies to launch more cost efficiently and launch operators to fill excess capacity," Morgan Stanley said. "Spaceflight is able to provide customers with flexibility by virtue of having capacity with many different launch providers."
Curt Blake, the CEO of Spaceflight launch services, told CNBC, "Rideshare applies across the board and the whole idea of flexibility, and how crucial that is, as it brings the airline model to space. That is huge. We're moving rapidly toward a model where you're not buying a spot on a specific launch vehicle – you're buying the ability to get to a destination."