Elon Musk’s SpaceX on Sunday launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a record 143 spacecraft in its premier run of the SmallSat Ridehsare Program.
The program, dubbed Transporter-1, offers satellite operators a new way of putting compact satellites into a sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) at a cost of $1 million for a 440 pounds (200kg) satellite with additional mass priced at $5,000 per 2.2 pounds.
“SpaceX’s rideshare offering provides increased access to space for small satellite operators seeking a reliable, affordable ride to orbit,” SpaceX said.
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There were 133 commercial and government spacecraft on this flight, including CubeSats, microsats, and orbital transfer vehicles, as well as 10 Starlink satellites. Starlink is the satellite broadband service Musk is launching to bring high-speed, low-latency broadband to rural America and eventually the rest of the world.
“The Starlink satellites aboard this mission were the first in the constellation to deploy to a polar orbit,” SpaceX noted.
SpaceX had planned to launch the Falcon 9 rocket on Saturday but had to postpone the event due to bad weather at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The rocket launched on Sunday. The satellites were deployed at an orbit of around 329 miles overhead.
The ride-sharing program is much cheaper than SpaceX’s advertised price of $62 million for a dedicated rocket launch and could be appealing for companies or government agencies that need to launch smaller payloads.
As noted by CNBC, SpaceX’s new SmallSat Rideshare Program adds the the options for customers looking for a cheap option to put small football-sized satellites into orbit. Other options include Europe’s Arianespace.
SpaceX’s space rideshare service takes advantage of its Starlink launches, Bryce Space and Technology senior analyst Phil Smith told CNBC.
SpaceX has been launching Starlink satellites at a rate of about 60 per launch, roughly each month. Others bidding for a slice of the small satellite business include Virgin Orbit, which last week used a modified 747 to launch a rocket into space.
The Transporter-1 payload included satellites from Planet Labs, Exolaunch, D-Orbit, Kepler Communications, Spaceflight Inc, Nanoracks, NASA and Capella Space, as well as iQPS, Loft Orbital, Spire Global, ICEYE, HawkEye 360, Astrocast, and the University of South Florida Institute of Applied Engineering.