Want to send your three pound pet rock into space? It’ll cost you at least $17,000 on one of SpaceX’s rockets. The other bad news is that you’ll probably have to wait for months, or even years, before a three-pound space opens up on a ship. And when it finally does, the launch date could be pushed back even further for business, weather or technical reasons.
Startup space cargo company FireFly isn’t any cheaper than SpaceX, though the $9,000 or $10,000 it will charge per pound of cargo is still more reasonable than if the government were to launch your pet rock. However, what it can offer is a trip to space inexpensive enough for a one or a few companies to book an entire rocket. Last week FireFly revealed Alpha, its first rocket, which can carry up to 882 pounds of cargo at a time. Reserving the entire rocket costs $8 or 9 million: that’s 10 times less than SpaceX’s $85 million Falcon Heavy, which can carry more than 14,000 pounds.
“Until now, there existed virtually no dedicated launcher capacity in the small satellite industry to deliver their respective payloads to orbit,” co-founder Michael Blum said in a statement.
FireFly will focus on launching constellations of small satellites, much like the 28 13-pound satellites Planet Labs launched in January. The number of small satellites in space is rising dramatically because companies can use them to gather images and other Earth-related data for a fraction of the cost of a traditional large satellite. Google and Facebook have also become interested in satellite constellations for collecting data and providing internet to difficult-to-reach regions of the world.
FireFly, which has 25 employees has not said when it plans to complete the Alpha rocket. Blum wrote in January that it expects to launch its first rocket in 2017.