SpaceX launches a ‘rideshare’ mission carrying 143 spacecraft

SpaceX launches a ‘rideshare’ mission carrying 143 spacecraft

January 25, 2021: SpaceX launches a rocket on Sunday with the mission of its “rideshare” program carrying many little satellites in space.

The Falcon 9 rocket, which took off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral, carried 143 spacecraft into orbit.

The previous record for many satellites sent to space in one trip was held by PSLV, an Indian rocket that carried 104 satellites in a 2017 launch.

 The SpaceX mission, transporter-1, was the first for the company’s SmallSat Rideshare program. It carried ten satellites for SpaceX’s Starlink internet network and over 130 satellites for customers like Planet, which operates a constellation of Earth-imaging satellites, and ICEYE, which monitors ice and track floods.

Such rideshare missions have become common in the space industry, with international competitors like Arianespace’s Vega looking to claim a share of small satellites’ growing marketplace.

Rideshare missions have different options for low-cost satellites looking for a ride to orbit, with rockets smaller in size, like Rocket Lab’s Electron offering a more tailored approach.

The SpaceX service is not entirely on-demand, Bryce Space and Technology senior analyst Phil Smith said. Companies can still pay a premium to launch according to their schedule rather than the primary customer’s plan.

“A fairly reliable ‘bus route’ is available,” Smith said of SpaceX, “whereas I suppose one might compare companies like Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit like taxies that get your satellite where you want it ASAP.”

Notably, the 10 Starlink satellites aboard this mission will be the first in the constellation to deploy to a polar orbit, as the company continues to expand public access to its satellite internet network. Those ten satellites were added after Momentus took its first Vigoride mission off the Transporter-1 launch this month. Momentus cited additional time needed for regulatory approval as the cause of the change.

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