SpaceX brings 143 satellites into orbit in a single flight, a record





For this mission to low orbit called Transporter-1, SpaceX had transformed its Falcon 9 rocket into a Spanish hostel for satellites of different formats. The exact number of deployments is debated, but this record flight is a reminder that large operators are still interested in small satellites.

And still, there was room ...



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A rocket, or a moving truck ...

No rest for SpaceX teams. For what was already the third take-off of the Falcon 9 rocket this year, the company based in Hawthorne had set itself a challenge: to succeed in boarding as many satellites as possible for a 'rideshare', a shared flight with a central device on which all vehicles are attached for take-off and then ejected once in orbit.

And the company has not gone all the way, not hesitating to cut prices to attract customers: about $ 1 million to send anything weighing less than 200 kg, with guaranteed take-off every day. about four months and a partial or even total refund if they do not keep the date.

For this take-off, 143 satellites therefore shared the space on the large central device (including 10 Starlink units, since there was still a little space). Take-off took place from January 24 at 4 p.m. (Paris).



Terminus, everyone gets off!



The mission itself lasted 1 hour 30 minutes. It started with the traditional spectacle of the reused first stage of Falcon 9 which, after successfully completing its mission, landed (for the 5th time) on a company barge located offshore, far south of Florida for this flight which took a polar path.

After the fairing was ejected, the upper stage was lit twice to achieve an orbit of approximately 500 x 520 km altitude. The satellites were then deployed in groups in a neatly choreographed sequence lasting 18 minutes. It was indeed a record flight, with 143 satellites under the fairing ... But the ejection itself remains a source of debate, because on SpaceX's side, it is actually 110 payloads that were dropped (which still remains a record).

In fact, the flight was carrying two “transport” satellites, Sherpa-FX from SpaceFlight Inc., which carries 13 satellites, and Ion-SVC from D-Orbit, which contains 20 others. These units will be ejected later, at the request of customers. So, 110 or 143? There is no definitive answer, but the other operators do not 'count' the satellites that they do not eject themselves in their statistics.



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Still no real sky police

For the operators of constellations in place, this kind of joint flight is a blessing which saves them from having to buy seats on smaller launchers, which sometimes offer them more interesting orbits but at a higher cost. We therefore found under the cap a few well-known names: Planet Labs (48 SuperDoves satellites), Iceye (3 radar satellites), Spire (8 Lemur satellites), Swarm (23 SpaceBEE satellites) ...

However, despite very quickly updated tracking data, this kind of flight is a headache for organizations that identify and catalog objects in orbit. A CubeSat is very difficult to identify compared to another when they are only a few meters apart.

There is also the delicate question of 'orbital pollution', given that a significant proportion of these satellites have no propulsion: how long will they stay in orbit after their lifespan?

Planet Labs is particularly sensitive to the subject and ensures that all its units return to be consumed in the atmosphere in less than 20 to 25 years, but this is not the case for all operators. Swarm's SpaceBEE satellites, for example, which measure only 10 x 10 x 5 cm, will logically spend between 30 and 50 years in orbit. We must not lose sight of them ...



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