The Hidden Costs of Launching a Satellite – What You Need to Know


Launching a satellite is not an easy endeavor – it IS rocket science after all. And while few are surprised to learn launch is not an inexpensive effort, there are still many hidden costs to getting a satellite into space that are often overlooked initially. At Spaceflight, we are the experts in getting you to space as efficiently as possible.  With the deep experience gained from years of managing launches, we educate our customers about some of the hidden costs. Below are just a few things to consider:

Working with a Single Launch Vehicle

We’re proud to be launch vehicle agnostic – we work with many launch providers and will work with you to make sure you’re on the right one for your mission. Besides giving you the most options for launch dates, it also gives you the most flexibility. We can sometimes manifest, de-manifest and re-manifest you, which is often not the case if you go directly through a launch service provider. Trying to switch launches directly with them can be impossible. Our customers have found this to be a huge benefit of working with us, as there are so many things that can change after signing on for a launch.

Extra Weight

If you’re on certain foreign launch vehicles, a little extra weight can cost a lot. If your spacecraft ends up being even a half a kilogram over the projected weight, plan on paying a large premium. However, if you’re on a Falcon 9 launch, this won’t be the case – there are advantages of having the 1.7 million pounds of thrust. If you’re 100% confident of the weight of your spacecraft – no problems. But if you’re still in development and want to leave a little room for added weight – it might be better to manifest on the larger launch vehicle.

Launch Rating

NASA and the GAO (Government Accountability Office) certify whether a launch vehicle or spacecraft is rated for human transportation. Launches can be either “human-rated” or “commercial-rated.” So for example, if SpaceX is going to launch a vehicle headed to the International Space Station, it must be “human-rated”. However, even cargo or test missions that don’t actually transport people might also then need to be human-rated. Obviously, there are more stringent requirements and additional restrictions if manifested on a human-rated launch: it will end up being more expensive to certify your satellite as safe for flight and safe to be handled by astronauts. If your goal is to launch a satellite that has a propulsion system, that might be considered a risk that will require additional hoops. We can make sure you’re on the right launch, with the right rating, for the best price.

Launch Location

There are lots of misconceptions around the relative costs of launch in the U.S. and launching abroad if you go direct. One of the biggest costs of launching abroad is often overlooked: travel expenses for your team. Be prepared for three or four trips abroad with your team to the launch location to get your spacecraft prepared for launch. If you use Spaceflight, we do the travel for you. (Note: this doesn’t include the cost of getting your spacecraft there!) Start adding up the costs of sending five or six people to remote launch bases, and the bill starts to add up. Also, additional costs are going to depend on your country of origin. There might be export licenses, import duties, taxes, commissions or other withholdings depending on your local regulatory requirements. We can help you determine what these are in advance, and give you one price that covers almost everything.  This can help determine which launch vehicle is right for you. 

Communication Delays

Time is money. If you can launch within your own region or time zone, there is a great efficiency of communications. Information exchange is timely and Issues can get resolved quickly. If your launch provider is across the globe, simple questions and responses can go on for days, when they could be resolved in hours. It’s one of the reasons we’re available 24 hours a day, seven days a week – so we are always in your time zone.

These are just a few of the things that you need to know as you budget getting your spacecraft to on orbit. Everyone’s circumstances are unique: if you want to know more about the most cost-effective way to launch, give us a call or send us a message at We’ve got your answers.

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