SpaceX rocket carries 88 small satellites in polar orbit – Spaceflight Now

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket takes off from pad 40 of the Cape Canaveral space station to begin the Carpool Transporter 2 mission. Credit: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Cold life photography

SpaceX on Wednesday launched a Falcon 9 rocket and 88 small satellites from Cape Canaveral, sending the carpool payloads to a southern runway in polar orbit and marking the eighth successful flight of a reusable booster that debuted exactly ago. a year.

A day late after a helicopter ventured into restricted airspace just before launch time on Tuesday, the Falcon 9 rocket fired its nine Merlin main engines and soared into a cloudy sky above from the Cape Canaveral, Fla. space station at 3:31 p.m. EDT (1931 GMT).

SpaceX kept the rocket on the ground for 35 minutes on Wednesday while awaiting a weather opening at Cape Canaveral. Scattered rain showers and thunderstorms swept through the spaceport throughout the day.

But conditions were ready for launch at 3:31 p.m., and the 70-meter-high rocket soared into the atmosphere with a 1.7 million pound thrust from its main engines.

Heading southeast, then turning south, the rocket followed a path along the east coast of Florida to guide its 88 payloads into a sun-synchronous polar orbit on SpaceX’s small satellite Transporter 2 carpool mission. .

The first stage of the rocket shut down its engines and separated from the upper stage of the Falcon 9 approximately two and a half minutes after takeoff. The thruster reversed course using a short burn with three of its engines, turning over at Cape Canaveral for a vertical landing about eight and a half minutes after the mission began.

A powerful double sonic boom accompanied the rocket’s propellant landing on the concrete platform of Landing Zone 1, a few kilometers south of the mission’s starting point on Launch Pad 40.

This was the 20th landing of a Falcon booster at Cape Canaveral and the 89th successful recovery of a Falcon rocket overall, including landings on offshore drones and at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California.

The booster for Wednesday’s mission, numbered B1060, completed its eighth space trip and return with the targeted return to Landing Zone 1. The eighth flight took place one year to the day after the first launch of the rocket on June 30, 2020, with a navigation satellite GPS.

As the booster settled on its four landing legs at Cape Canaveral, the Falcon 9’s upper stage shut down its only Merlin engine to reach a preliminary orbit around Earth after traveling through South Florida, Cuba, the Caribbean Sea and Central America.

After flying over Antarctica and heading north over the Indian Ocean, the second stage re-ignited its engine for a brief maneuver to reach a near-circular polar orbit at an altitude of nearly 341 miles, or 550 kilometers. .

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster fires its mid-engine for a scorching landing just before landing in Landing Zone 1 on Wednesday. Credit: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Cold life photography

The rocket then began a 30-minute streak to release its satellite payloads, including three space tugs that will perform their own maneuvers to deploy 41 spacecraft in the days and weeks to come.

Payloads released directly from the Falcon 9 rocket included Earth observation satellites for several commercial operators, including four satellites for ICEYE’s remote sensing radar fleet and four spacecraft for Satellogic’s optical terrestrial imaging network. .

The first satellite from Umbra, a startup based in Santa Barbara, Calif., Was also launched Wednesday on the Falcon 9 rocket. Capella Space, another radar remote sensing company, also had a small spacecraft when it launched. Wednesday.

Loft Orbital, a small company based in San Francisco, has launched two microsatellites named Yet Another Mission 2 and 3, or YAM 2 and YAM 3. Loft Orbital sells capacity on its satellites to payload providers, such as corporations. commercial, research institutes or the military, to test sensors, instruments and technologies.

Other companies with payloads at Wednesday’s launch include Swarm Technologies, a Silicon Valley company that is developing a low-data-rate satellite communications fleet. Swarm said it has 28 tiny SpaceBEE satellites, each about the size of a slice of bread, on the Falcon 9 rocket.

Spire Global, NanoAvionics, Technical University of Berlin, Tyvak and PlanetiQ also had small satellites during Wednesday’s mission.

There were also two NASA CubeSats on board.

One of NASA’s nanosatellites, named PACE 1, was developed by the Ames Research Center in California with a light gamma and neutron particle detector and spectrometer, as well as optical and radar retro-reflectors to support orbital tracking measurements.

Loft Orbital’s YAM 3 satellite, built by LeoStella in Tukwila, Washington. Credit: Loft Orbital

The other NASA mission launched on Wednesday was TROPICS Pathfinder, a validation model for a fleet of six Cubesats scheduled to launch in 2022 to measure weather conditions inside tropical cyclones.

The Space Development Agency launched its first five payloads on the Transporter 2 carpooling mission. The agency was created in 2019 as part of the Ministry of Defense, with the aim of injecting emerging technologies into programs. US Army spacecraft.

SDA payloads were developed in partnership with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, and the Air Force Research Laboratory to test on-board laser communication and data processing technologies.

A satellite of the Italian company D-Orbit was also deployed from the Falcon 9 rocket on Wednesday. The satellite will launch six CubeSats in the coming weeks, then begin a mission performing in-orbit demonstrations of three hosted payloads.

The Falcon 9 rocket also placed two Sherpa space tugs from Seattle-based Spaceflight into orbit. Together, they carry six microsatellites, 29 CubeSats and a hosted payload, representing 14 organizations in seven countries.

One of the Sherpa tugs is the space industry’s first orbital transfer vehicle powered by electric thrusters. The Sherpa LTE1 vehicle features an electric propulsion system supplied by Apollo Fusion of Mountain View, California.

Sherpa LTE1’s efficient Hall thruster, powered by xenon gas, will perform orbital maneuvers to release several small satellites into different orbits.

The last satellites to separate from the Falcon 9 rocket were three of SpaceX’s own Starlink Internet satellites.

Here is a timeline of the spacecraft separation sequence:

  • T + 57: 50: NASA’s PACE-1 satellite splits up
  • T + 57: 57: Satellogic’s ÑuSat 19 Earth observation satellite splits up
  • T + 58: 04: The ICEYE radar observation satellite separates
  • T + 58: 32: NASA’s TROPICS Pathfinder CubeSat splits up
  • T + 58: 37: PlanetiQ’s GNOMES 2 radio occultation satellite splits up
  • T + 58: 44: Tyvak-0173 nanosatellite separates
  • T + 59: 47: The ICEYE radar observation satellite separates
  • T + 1: 00: 00: Tyvak-0211 nanosatellite separates
  • T + 1: 00: 08: Loft Orbital’s YAM-3 satellite splits up
  • T + 1: 00: 18: TU Berlin’s TUBIN microsatellite separates
  • T + 1: 00: 23: Umbra’s first radar observation satellite splits up
  • T + 1: 00: 33: D-Orbit’s ION satellite carrier splits from six CubeSats
  • T + 1: 01: 50: Space Development Agency’s LINCS 2 satellite separates
  • T + 1: 02: 16: Satellogic’s ÑuSat 20 Earth observation satellite splits up
  • D + 1: 02: 30: Satellogic’s ÑuSat 21 Earth observation satellite splits up
  • T + 1: 02: 40: Capella’s Whitney radar observation satellite splits up
  • T + 1: 02: 46: The ICEYE radar observation satellite separates
  • T + 1: 04: 12: Space Development Agency’s LINCS 1 satellite separates
  • T + 1: 04: 29: DARPA’s Mandrake 2 Able satellite splits up
  • T + 1: 05: 33: The ICEYE radar observation satellite separates
  • T + 1: 06: 48: Separation of the first batch of Swarm SpaceBEE satellites
  • T + 1: 07: 10: Separation of the second batch of Swarm SpaceBEE satellites
  • T + 1: 07: 17: NanoAvionics’ D2 / AtlaCom-1 satellite splits up
  • T + 1: 07: 24: Speyer’s first Lemur 2 CubeSat splits up
  • T + 1: 07: 47: Satellogic’s ÑuSat 22 Earth observation satellite splits up
  • T + 1: 07: 56: Loft Orbital’s YAM-2 satellite splits up
  • T + 1: 09: 51: Speyer’s second Lemur 2 CubeSat splits up
  • T + 1: 09: 58: DARPA’s Mandrake 2 Baker satellite splits up
  • T + 1: 21: 10: Spaceflight’s Sherpa FX2 splits up to start deploying small satellites
  • T + 1: 21: 14: Spaceflight’s Sherpa LTE1 transfer vehicle separates
  • T + 1: 27: 35: Three separate Starlink satellites

SpaceX announced its small satellite carpooling program in 2019, offering three dedicated Transporter missions to sun-synchronous orbit per year. The company is also offering small satellite operators the ability to launch their spacecraft as secondary payloads during Falcon 9 launches for SpaceX’s Starlink Internet network.

The Transporter 1 mission was launched in January from Cape Canaveral with 143 satellites, a record number of spacecraft on a single rocket.

The Transporter 3 mission is scheduled to take off in December, tentatively from Vandenberg Space Force base in California. It could also take off from Cape Canaveral. SpaceX moved the Transporter 2 mission from California to Florida earlier this year.

On its website, SpaceX says it charges customers as little as $ 1 million to launch a 440 pound (200 kilogram) payload on a dedicated carpooling flight to a sun-synchronous orbit. Thanks to the cost reductions resulting from the reuse of Falcon 9 rocket hardware, SpaceX’s prices are significantly lower than the rate charged by any other launch vendor for a similar mass payload.

“These launches are very profitable, the cheapest to date,” said Jeanne Medvedeva, vice president of launch services at Berlin-based Exolaunch, in an interview earlier this year.

Companies like Exolaunch have reserved ports on the Transporter 1 and Transporter 2 payload stacks, then split that capacity among several smaller satellite customers.

Wednesday’s mission was the 20th launch of a Falcon 9 rocket through the first half of 2021, putting SpaceX on pace with 40 Falcon 9 missions this year.

SpaceX made 26 launches last year, the most in the company’s history. If its short-term launch manifesto stays on schedule, SpaceX could hit the 26 launch mark by the end of August or September.

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