SpaceX launches 105 small satellites in orbit and nails rocket landing

SpaceX's second rocket of 2014 was successfully launched Thursday morning (January 13). One of its veteran boosters carried small satellites to orbit and returned to Earth.

SpaceX launches 105 small satellites in orbit and nails rocket landing

Two-stage Falcon 9 rocket launched into the clear blue sky at 10.25 AM EST (1525 GMT). It was launched from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The rocket carried dozens of small satellites.

Nine minutes after the rocket launched from its launch pad the first stage returned home to Cape Town, landing on a pad located just miles from the place it had launched.

SpaceX officials announced that Stage 1 landing was confirmed during the launch broadcast.

SpaceX reliability engineer Kate Tice, SpaceX reliability engineering manager, stated in the broadcast that the Falcon 9 had landed for the 10th consecutive time. This marks our 102nd overall rescue.

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, to deliver more than 100 cubesats to orbit.

SpaceX launches a Falcon 9 rocket's first stage booster for the tenth consecutive time.

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launches its first stage.

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, to deliver more than 100 cubesats into space

Transporter-3 was SpaceX's third dedicated rideshare missions. It was scheduled to launch 105 small satellites into Polar orbit. This allows satellites to circle Earth above its poles in a series deployments that started an hour after launch. Because it allows orbiting satellites the ability to scan the entire globe on a daily basis, this orbit is highly sought after by Earth-observation firms.

This launch was SpaceX's second mission in 2022 and its second within one month of Florida's Space Coast. SpaceX is continuing to maintain its rapid launch pace last year by adding more launches for this month.

Today's mission was the 10th successful landing and flight of a first stage booster, designated B1058, which was first used in May 2020 to launch two NASA astronauts, Bob Behnken (left) and Doug Hurley (right), to the International Space Station (ISS). This mission was part of the Demo-2 Crew Dragon mission.

The booster carried five groups of SpaceX Starlink satellites into orbit after that flight. This helped to expand the company's megaconstellation. It carried the Transporter-1 spacecraft to orbit last January, SpaceX's first dedicated rideshare venture. In December 2020, a Dragon cargo capsule was launched from the station.

SpaceX's rideshare program was first announced in 2019. It allows small satellite operators to launch their own spacecraft at a cost of $1 million each. SpaceX has so far aimed to launch two Transporter missions each year, but there have been suggestions that the launch rate could be increased due to the success of this program.

All aboard the Transporter-3

Spaceflight Inc. and Exolaunch helped customers of small satellites book their perfect ride to the stars by facilitating the Transporter-3 rideshare mission.

These missions are similar to an established bus route. Companies book these flights when they see an opportunity to travel to space. For payloads that don't need to be transported to a specific spot in space but are spread out over a larger area, transporter missions are the best option.

"The Transporter mission idea is unique," Derek Tournear (director of the Space Development Agency, SDA), told Space.com. This agency supports national security space development and provides support for it. This is the perfect service for those who are not orbit agnostic.

You don't need to wait for launches. Book the flight whenever you are ready and you can go.

Smaller satellites had limited options for how they could reach space. Traditionally, this meant that smaller satellites were forced to join larger satellites on missions hoping for a little more space in their payload. These tiny space-fliers have more options as launch costs drop and more launch vehicles are available. They have the option to fly with a rideshare or on their own depending on how big they are and what orbital constraints they face.

SpaceX is only one of the many launch companies that offer these options. Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit also offer small satellite payloads to space, and have launched numerous of them.

Exolaunch is a company that brokers rides on such missions and was one of the passengers aboard Transporter-3. Exolaunch will launch a satellite for NuSpace out of Singapore.

"NuSpace is our first Singapore customer and we're pleased to expand our presence in the region," Jeanne Medvedeva (VP Launch, Exolaunch) stated in a press release. "I'm impressed by the achievements of NuSpace so far. We're proud that we were able to provide a one-stop solution for launch under SpaceX's Rideshare Program. Also, we have successfully integrated NuX-1 and Falcon 9 for launch later in the month."

Exolaunch has organized launches for 170 satellites to date for a wide range of customers, including start-ups and space agencies. SpaceX and Exolaunch have arranged multi-launch agreements that allowed the company to deploy 59 small satellites between SpaceX's two first Transporter missions.

Exolaunch will launch 29 satellites more from 17 countries for its third act. This is Exolaunch's largest payload, according to company representatives.

It may seem easy to book a ride with rideshare, but it is difficult to launch dozens of small satellites simultaneously. Each satellite is released at the correct time to minimize the chance of collisions. To stagger satellite releases, special launch dispensers are used and transfer stages can also be used.

D-Orbit, an Italian launch agent, has its own free-flying stage. The transfer stage, called ION SCV004, will be launched from Falcon 9's upper stage and then deposit its passengers into orbit.

There are 105 satellites aboard the Transporter 3 mission. They come in different sizes, from a small soda can to a shoebox to the size of an entire washing machine.

The largest satellite in the group is the Ukrainian Sich2-1 satellite. It is a 170-kilogram (170-pound) earth-imaging satellite that weighs in at 375 pounds. The satellite was built by Yuzhnoye and has been delayed for many years due to political turmoil in Ukraine. It was designed to capture images of Earth to aid in crop management, environmental monitoring, and urban sprawl.

A pair of satellites from ICEYE, Finland, and Capella Space, the U.S. are also aboard. These two companies are only two of many that are working to create a mini-constellation on low-Earth orbit. Their small satellite fleets serve similar purposes: to map Earth's landmasses and oceans and to detect ice sheets using radar imaging.

Although this technique doesn't provide the same level of color and detail as optical remote sensing it has an additional perk: radar can see through clouds or in the dark which optical instruments can't.

ICEYE's satellites will be joined by 13 others in orbit. Each satellite weighs approximately 187 pounds (85 kg). Capella's pair is approximately 220 pounds (100 kg) each and will be joining five other satellites in space.

They weren't the only radar-equipped satellites on the Transporter-3 mission. Umbra launched its second satellite, which will be capable of providing the highest-resolution commercial radar images in space. Umbra's spacecraft, weighing 143 lbs (65 kilograms), has a resolution of 6 inches (15 cmimeters). This is more than ICEYE's 3 ft resolution imagers.

The mission was also attended by 44 SuperDove satellites from Earth-imaging company Planet. This added to the company's existing fleet of 240 optical Earth-observing satellites.

Eight 'Tevel’ CubeSats, which were built by Israeli students to transmit amateur radio communications in low Earth orbit, were other notable payloads.

Spire Global launched five small satellites in order to add to its existing constellation. These will monitor the weather and track ships. Kepler Communications, a Canadian data relay firm, has a quartet cubesats aboard that will join 15 others in orbit.

South Africa launched three satellites called MDASats as part of its effort to monitor and track maritime traffic.

All passengers had to wait approximately one hour and a half for them to move from the upper stage. The next satellite deployments were made from the free-flying transfer stage.

Polar trajectory flight

Transporter-3 flew an unusual route that took it south along the east coast Florida, and then over the Atlantic Ocean to deposit its payload in the polar orbit. Rockets typically launch from Florida on an easterly course over the ocean.

These types of flights are more likely to launch from the West Coast because they can avoid densely populated areas. SpaceX received permission last summer to launch flights from Florida bound for a Polar orbit. This was the first time since 1960s.

This trajectory was followed by the fourth mission, Transporter-3. (The SAOCOM-1B was the first mission to launch an Earth-observing satellite for Argentina.

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