SpaceX successfully deploys 105 tiny satellites into orbit and lands its rocket.

 

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral
Space Force Station to deliver a batch of more than 100 cubesats into orbit.
(Image credit: SpaceX)  

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA— SpaceX successfully launched its second rocket of the year Thursday morning (Jan. 13). One of its veteran boosters transported 105 tiny satellites into orbit before landing back on Earth.


There were dozens of tiny satellites onboard the two-stage Falcon 9 rocket as it took off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 10:25 EST (15:25 GMT).


Approximately nine minutes after the rocket flew off its launch platform, the first stage returned to the Cape, coming down on a landing site mere miles away from where it began.


SpaceX personnel said on the launch stream that the "Stage 1 landing" had been verified.


During the broadcast, SpaceX reliability engineering manager Kate Tice announced that the Falcon 9 had successfully landed for the tenth time. "This represents our 102nd total recovery."


SpaceX lands a first-stage booster of its Falcon 9 rocket for the tenth time.
(Image credit: SpaceX)

The mission, designated Transporter-3, was SpaceX's third dedicated rideshare mission. Small satellites were to be deployed in waves, beginning an hour after launch, into polar orbit, where they would circle Earth over its polar regions. Because it makes it possible for satellites in this orbit to survey the whole world every day, Earth-observation businesses actively seek it out.


SpaceX successfully launched its second mission of 2022, the second in as many months from Florida's Space Coast. SpaceX plans additional flights for this month, continuing its aggressive launch schedule as in the previous year.


Today's mission marked the 10th successful flight and landing of a first-stage booster with a designation B1058, which first entered service in May 2020 when it launched two NASA astronauts — Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley — to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the Demo-2 Crew Dragon mission.


Since then, the launcher has launched five separate constellations of SpaceX's own Starlink internet satellites into orbit, assisting in expanding the company's rapidly growing mega constellation. And in January of this year, it launched SpaceX's first dedicated ride-sharing mission, Transporter-1. In December of next year, it will launch a Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station (ISS).


SpaceX originally launched its rideshare program in 2019, providing small satellite owners an option to launch their spacecraft for a combined price of $1 million per flight. There have been discussions of increasing the number of launches from the corporation to four each year because of the program's success.


Also Read: A journey to Mars might make humans age quicker and become CANNIBALS, experts warn.


All onboard the Transporter-3


The Transporter-3 rideshare mission was supported by organizations like Spaceflight Inc. and Exolaunch, who assist tiny satellites clients in booking their ideal trip to orbit.


When a company sees a chance to travel into space, they book it and go, much like a well-established bus route. Transporter missions are the way to go when a payload doesn't need to travel to a particular location in orbit. They may cover a wide region.


"The Transporter mission idea is unique," Derek Turner, head of the Space Development Organization (SDA) - a government agency that promotes space development for the sake of national security — told Space.com. "If you don't care about the orbit, this is the ideal service for you," says one reviewer.


Since launches may be booked at any moment, there's no need to hold out for months.


Historically, smaller satellites have had extremely limited choices on reaching orbit, with the bulk of them squeezing in on flights with bigger satellites, hoping there's a little spare room in the payload fairing. Thanks to falling launch prices and an increase in the number of launch vehicles taking to the sky, there are now more possibilities for these little space travelers. Depending on the size and orbital limits, they may opt to load into a rideshare mission or even go independently.


Many launch service companies, including SpaceX, provide this kind of capability. Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit are additional suppliers, having launched many small satellite payloads into orbit.


Exolaunch, a business that helps broker rides on missions like this and one of the passengers on Transporter-3, is launching a satellite for NuSpace, a start-up out of Singapore.


"NuSpace is our first client from Singapore and we're extremely thrilled to grow our footprint in this area," Jeanne Medvedeva, VP Launch at Exolaunch, stated in a news statement. SpaceX Rideshare Program: "We're happy to have delivered a one-stop launch solution under the SpaceX Rideshare Program and to have successfully linked NuX-1 with Falcon 9 for launch later this month," says NuSpace.


Too far, Exolaunch has provided launches for 170 satellites for a variety of clients, including start-ups, space agencies, and research institutes. Between SpaceX's first two Transporter flights last year, the business launched 59 tiny satellites thanks to a multi-launch arrangement with SpaceX.


Exolaunch's third act will include the launch of 29 more satellites from 17 other nations, making this the company's most diversified payload ever.


In the case of the rideshare option, it may be simple to arrange the trip, but launching hundreds of small satellites at one time is no easy accomplishment. The sequence of satellite deployment is meticulously scheduled to release each one at precisely the proper moment, reducing the possibility of collision. Specialized launch dispensers and transfer stages are also utilized to delay satellite delivery.


D-Orbit, an Italian start-up broker, is a select handful with its own free-flying transfer stage. Called ION SCV004, the transfer stage will initially deploy from the Falcon 9's upper stage before subsequently putting its own passengers into orbit.



The 105 distinct satellites onboard the Transporter 3 mission come in various sizes, from smaller than a soda can to shoebox-sized to the size of a washing machine.


The Ukrainian Sich 2-1 satellite is the heaviest, weighing 170-kilos (375 pounds) and serving as the country's primary Earth-imaging tool. Built by a corporation named Yuzhnoye, the satellite has been delayed for years because of the country's political upheaval. It is meant to capture photographs of Earth to assist monitor environmental changes, urban development and aid with crop management.


Two satellites from ICEYE in Finland and Capella Space in the United States are also aboard. These are only two firms among several aiming to create a mini-constellation in low-Earth orbit. Their fleets of tiny satellites do similar tasks: they use radar imaging to track and map the Earth's landmasses, seas, and ice sheets.


This approach does not give as much color or depth as optical remote sensing but has an added advantage – radar can see through clouds and in the dark, which optical devices cannot.


ICEYE's pair of satellites will join 13 others already in space, with each satellite weighing at roughly 187 pounds (85 kilograms) (85 kilograms). Capella's pair is around 220 pounds (100 kg) each and will join five others in orbit.


They were not the only radar-equipped satellites onboard the Transporter-3 mission. Umbra has launched the second satellite in its expanding constellation, which will provide the highest-resolution commercial radar images from space. The 143-pound (65-kilogram) Umbra spacecraft outperforms ICEYE's 3-foot resolution imagers by six inches (15 cm).


Onboard the mission were also 44 SuperDove satellites of Earth-imaging business, Planet, which strengthened the company's 240-strong fleet of optical Earth-observing satellites.


Amateur radio communications in low Earth orbit were provided by eight 'Tevel' CubeSats built by Israeli students.


There are now five new satellites in the Spire Global constellation, which will be used to monitor the weather and track ships. Data relay business Kepler Communications, based in Canada, carried four CubeSats that will join 15 others already orbiting.


South Africa deployed a trio of satellites, nicknamed MDASats, which are part of a government initiative to watch and monitor marine activity.


It took nearly an hour-and-a-half for all the passengers to deploy from the top level. Onboard free-flight transfer stages were used for further satellite deployments (after that).


Also Read: NASA prepares SLS megarockets for first Crewed Artemis Lunar Missions.


Polar trajectory flying


The Transporter-3 mission went through a unique course that carried it south, down the east coast of Florida, and across the Atlantic Ocean to dump its cargo into the polar orbit. In most cases, rockets launching from Florida go eastward across the ocean throughout their flight.


As they can avoid densely populated regions more efficiently, these sorts of aircraft usually take off from the west coast of the United States. The first time this had happened since the 1960s was last summer when SpaceX was given the green light to launch missions to the North and South Polar orbits from Florida.


As the third mission to use a transporter, the Transporter-3 took a similar path. (The first was the SAOCOM-1B mission, which deployed an Earth-observing satellite for Argentina.)


Along with recovering the first stage booster, SpaceX will continue its attempts of retrieving the clamshell-like structure encircling the stack of satellites, termed the payload fairing (or rocket's nose cone). To that aim, SpaceX has launched one of its newest recovery boats, called "Bob" after NASA astronaut Bob Behnken.

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