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SpaceX set to break ISRO’s record

If Saturday morning’s mission is successful, SpaceX will have yet another record under its belt – most number of satellites launch on a single rocket. The January 23 mission, called Transporter 1, is slated launch between 0940 and 1022 EST (1440-1522 GMT) from the SLC-40 site at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, and will launch 143 satellites.

Falcon 9 with its payload of 143 spacecraft are vertical on pad 40 ahead of Saturday’s launch of the Transporter-1 mission, the first dedicated smallsat rideshare program mission. Photo courtesy SpaceX

Transporter-1 will carry 133 commercial and government spacecraft set for Sun-Synchronous Orbit (SSO) launch, and 10 of SpaceX’s own Starlink satellites. SpaceX had to obtain special permission to deploy its own Starlink satellites into a polar orbit. The 143 satellite launch mission, if successful, will break the earlier record of most satellites on a single rocket, held by Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) PSLV-C37 launch of 104 satellites in February 2017.

ALSO READ: Why ISRO deserves all the praise, and not just for the ‘104 record’

Interestingly, the first stage of Falcon-9 rocket is the same one that launched the historic Demo-2 mission in May 28 last year carrying astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station. It will be making its fifth flight now – having flown about every two months, the last one being a cargo supply mission for NASA to the Space Station on December 6.

First in the low-cost rideshare program

This is SpaceX’s first dedicated mission of the low-cost rideshare program it announced in 2019. As part of the program, the company aims to launch multiple small satellites at one at a very low price of around $1 million for 200kg (with additional mass at $5k/kg) on its workhorse Falcon 9 rocket to a Sun-Synchronous Orbit (SSO). It had assured of SSO missions approximately every 4 months with frequent launches to mid-inclination. The company says affordable rates also available to Mid-Inclination LEO, GTO, and TLI.

Transporter-1 will carry 48 SuperDove satellites of Planet, on the Transporter-1 mission.  It also has HawkEye 360’s second cluster of satellites. Cluster 2 is the first of a series of next generation satellites HawkEye 360 is deploying to complete its baseline constellation.

The best part is satellite operators can make a reservation online, where one can also find all the required information — from port size to technical specifications to licensing details. Once the reservation request is approved, SpaceX provides a welcome package outlining next steps for launch. Payloads are received at the launch site around L-30 and processed in a SpaceX facility.

The mission will use a next-generation satellite dispenser developed by Spaceflight Industries. Sherpa-FX, the first Sherpa-NG (NextGen) orbital transfer vehicle (OTV), is capable of executing multiple deployments, providing independent and detailed deployment telemetry, and flexible interface, all at a low cost, and seen as a revolutionary initiative towards opening up space access while tailoring launch experiences that reduce timelines and improve overall flexibility, according to Curt Blake, CEO, Spaceflight Industries.

ALSO READ: Spaceflight unveils two next-gen propulsive orbital transfer vehicles

SpaceX previous record is 64 satellites at one in December 2018, which had also featured Spaceflight’s previous generation Sherpa dispenser.

This will be Spacex’s second in just two days from Florida’s Space Coast. Earlier on January 20, it set yet another record with the delivery of 60 Starlink satellites into orbit on a different Falcon-9. 

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