Elon Musk’s very busy week continues on Saturday, when SpaceX will hold a massive Starlink satellite launch that will mark the beginning of the company’s highly anticipated rideshare program. The launch will be streamed live on SpaceX’s YouTube channel, with liftoff scheduled for 5:21 am EST. An embed of the live stream feed can be found in this story, as well.
Using its Falcon 9 rocket, SpaceX will put an additional 38 of its Starlink satellites into orbit, bringing the overall number to 538. What’s so different and important about this launch, however, is that it will also be carrying three satellites from Planet Labs, an Earth-imaging company that does not have the same capacity to launch as frequently as SpaceX. Instead, Planet Labs’ satellites are hitching a ride on SpaceX’s Falcon 9.
Saturday’s launch is a key milestone for SpaceX, which began taking applications for its rideshare program in February. Musk’s industry leader is charging smaller satellite companies $1 million per trip smaller satellite operators, which is far cheaper than an independent solo launch. It represents a win for both those smaller companies and SpaceX, which needs to raise more money to continue to produce its many satellites. A successful launch would also establish a dominant player in a market that has a number of competitors, including Virgin and Rocket Labs, which has its own unrelated launch on Saturday.
On May 30, SpaceX teamed with NASA and successfully launched its first crewed mission, which was also a landmark occasion. It was the first time a non-government entity put two humans into space, marking a milestone for commercial space travel, a long-teased industry that has taken decades to mature.
Given the cost and speed of development, it is likely that commercial space companies will be mandatory for future NASA missions of that size. SpaceX is one of three companies working with NASA on the technology required to put humans on the moon again by 2024.