MUMBAI: Nearly a fortnight after Elon Musk’s Tesla entered India on January 8, his SpaceX on Sunday night broke a world space record by launching 143 satellites in quick succession, beating India’s record of deploying 104 satellites in February 2017.
The launch vehicle for the SpaceX record-breaking flight was the Falcon 9 and the mission was designated as Transporter-1. The lift-off at Cape Canaveral in Florida was at 8.31pm IST. At one point, the rocket flew over India and its signal was picked up by Isro’s Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network at Bengaluru. The launch marks the first dedicated mission for SpaceX’s SmallSat Rideshare Program, which enables small-satellite customers to book a ride to orbit with SpaceX directly.
The 143 satellites launched on Sunday included commercial and government CubeSats, microsats, what are known as orbiter transfer vehicles and 10 Starlink satellites — the maximum number of spacecraft ever to be deployed in a single mission. This batch of Starlink satellites was the first in the constellation to be placed in the polar orbit.
The nearly 90-minute deployment sequence of the satellites having different roles was nail-biting because they separated in a span of a few seconds and a minute. Onboard was also a spacecraft belonging to Nasa. With these satellites, SpaceX aims to provide near-global broadband internet coverage all over the world by 2021.
About 10 minutes after lift-off, SpaceX recovered the first stage once again on the “Of Course I Still Love You” drone ship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. Then, about an hour after liftoff, the payloads started deploying over the course of about 90 minutes. According to sources, SpaceX offered a very low price of $15,000 per kilogram for each satellite to be delivered to a polar sun-synchronous orbit.