- SpaceX launched 143 spacecraft in a single launch.
- The satellite launch was part of SpaceX’s SmallSat Rideshare Program.
- Rideshare missions for small satellite launches is growing rapidly.
SpaceX launched a batch of 143 spacecraft to space from Florida on Sunday morning. The launch was under the company’s latest cost-cutting SmallSat Rideshare Program. The liftoff shattered the record for the most satellites launched into space on a single take.
SpaceX launched its SmallSat Rideshare Service back in 2019. Now, the Transporter-1 mission kicks off a potentially lucrative business line for SpaceX. It is basically a carpool for hundreds of satellites of various shapes and sizes. The program provides small satellite companies relatively cheap access to space. The program offers plans beginning at $1 million for the first 485 pounds.
This eliminates the need to purchase an entire rocket at a much higher price. Instead, a company’s tiny satellite will hitch a trip to space with other satellites, much like a rideshare Uber.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifted off 24 hours later from its Cape Canaveral Space Force Station launch pad at 10 AM ET. Its initial launch attempt on Saturday had to be scrubbed because of bad weather. The launch sent a combination of shoebox-sized CubeSats and much heavier microsatellites to a 326-mile-high polar orbit. It was an unprecedented trajectory for a launch site in Florida. SpaceX launched its first polar mission from Florida in August of last year.
This was SpaceX’s third launch of the year. It also marks the largest number of satellites brought to space on a single rocket. It broke the record of 104 satellites previously held by an Indian satellite launch in 2017. The 143 spacecraft aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 include 48 Earth-imaging satellites named Planet SuperDoves. It also carries 17 small communications satellites for Toronto-based Kepler. Some 30 small US and European satellites packed by Berlin, Germany-based Exolaunch are also included.
Small capsules of human ashes were also arranged by Celestis, a spaceflight memorial company, aboard the flight. Ten Starlink satellites are also hitching a trip in SpaceX’s latest launch. With this, SpaceX is inching towards the 1,000 marks for Starlink. This will add to the constellation of active satellites in space for the broadband internet system.
DARPA Backed Out Before Launch
DARPA, the Pentagon’s R&D agency, pulled out of the rideshare mission earlier this month. This was after its two 187-pound satellites were damaged during launch processing at Cape Canaveral. Just four days after SpaceX launched 60 of its Starlink satellites to space. The Transporter-1 mission kept pace with what is set to be a remarkably eventful year in orbit. Especially when SpaceX, OneWeb, and others compete to create large internet-beaming satellite constellations.
Jonathan McDowell is a Harvard astronomer and specialist satellite tracker. SpaceX has launched more satellites into space over the past 16 days than the world has launched in every year before 2013. He stated after gathering the relevant data. Rideshare missions on larger rockets draw a growing demand from small satellite companies for inexpensive launch services. Also, Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit are rising competition with smaller rockets designed for dedicated small satellite launches.