June 16, 2024

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SpaceX launches its eighth smallsat flight sharing mission

SpaceX launches its eighth smallsat flight sharing mission

NEW YORK — SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launched dozens of small satellites on a dedicated flight-sharing mission June 12, with clients ranging from the U.S. Space Force to startups deploying their first satellites.

Falcon 9 lifted off from Vandenberg Space Force Base at 5:35 p.m. ET on the Transporter-8 mission. It was the second launch of the day for SpaceX, following another Falcon 9 launch just over 14 hours earlier from Cape Canaveral carrying a constellation of Starlink satellites.

SpaceX said Transporter-8, the eighth in its line of small flight-sharing missions, carried 72 payloads, a number that includes orbital transport vehicles with satellites that will be deployed later. The satellites were deployed into a 525-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit starting an hour after liftoff.

The mission featured a mix of established and emerging satellite developers. Spire deployed three Cubic satellites for weather data collection and tracking, four Iceye radar imaging satellites and four optical and hyperspectral imaging satellites. All three companies used the launch to add to their existing collections.

Despite this, several companies were flying their first spacecraft on Transporter-8. This includes Varda Space Industries, which launched its W-Series 1 spacecraft, built by Rocket Lab. The spacecraft will test the manufacture of high-value products, such as pharmaceuticals, in the space environment. These products will be returned to Earth in a return capsule on the spacecraft.

The Transporter-8 has a payload of dozens of small satellites. Credit: SpaceX

Satellite Vu launched its first satellite, HotSat-1, to demonstrate thermal imaging technologies for its planned planet. Muon Space, which operates a constellation of climate-monitoring satellites, flew MuSat-1 on this launch. Turion Space has launched its first spacecraft, Droid.001, to collect space situational awareness data.

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Starfish Space, which is developing satellite service technologies, launched its first prototype, the Otter Pup, on Transporter-8. The spacecraft, carried on Launcher’s Orbiter SN3 tug, will separate from the tug and then attempt to rendezvous with it.

Several other payloads are also on Orbiter SN3. D-Orbit has the newest ION locomotive on the Transporter-8, but the company didn’t immediately disclose payloads on that vehicle.

In addition to the companies that operated their first satellites, another company flew its first propulsion system on another satellite. Australia’s Neumann Space said its first electric motor, the Neumann Drive, which uses a solid metal rod as fuel, was part of a satellite built by Skykraft, another Australian company developing a constellation of satellites to support air traffic management services.

“We’ve taken our work today from the laboratory into space,” Herve Astaire, CEO of Neumann Space, said in a statement after the launch. “Our aviation heritage will enable us to provide customers with more detail about the operational performance of our products and ultimately fill the gap that exists in the market today.”

The US military used the Transporter-8 mission to launch several satellites. Four satellites of DARPA’s Blackjack program have been launched to test constellation technologies, as well as three satellites from the Space Force’s Space Systems Command that are part of the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program. Two of the satellites, called the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Units, are cube imaging satellites, while the third, the 16th, will test the use of military communications Link-16 in space.

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SpaceX has attracted huge demand for carrier missions, which offer launches three to four times a year at prices much lower than dedicated launches on small launch vehicles. The company’s website, which lists available launch slots and pricing, notes that Transporter missions are fully booked through the second quarter of 2025.

The launch itself was a significant milestone for SpaceX. The first stage, on its ninth flight, returned to the Vandenberg launch site. This was the 200thy Falcon booster landing so far.