A veteran rocket from billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX aerospace company has launched 143 satellites into space, in what the company says is a new record for the most spaceships deployed on a single mission.
The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from the Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
The reusable rocket ferried 133 commercial and government spacecraft, as well as 10 Starlink satellites, to space.
Starlink is part of the company’s SmallSat Rideshare Program, which provides access to space for small satellite operators seeking what SpaceX calls a reliable, affordable ride to orbit. A 200kg satellite will set a business back $US1 million.
The Falcon 9 flew south along the eastern coast of Florida, in order to deploy the Starlink satellites in a polar orbit — in which the satellites pass above both the north and south poles of Earth — in a first for the program.
As the payload ascended towards orbit, the first stage was separated and flipped for its descent back to Earth, using its engines to slow down its descent before making a soft landing on the company’s Of Course I Still Love You droneship in the Atlantic Ocean.
“On board this launch were 133 commercial and government spacecraft (including CubeSats, microsats, and orbital transfer vehicles) and 10 Starlink satellites — the most spacecraft ever deployed on a single mission,” SpaceX said on its website.
Previous launches with multiple spacecraft deployed on the same mission include the 104 satellites launched by the PSLV-C37 during India’s PSLV program in 2017, and Russia’s Dnepr rocket which deployed 37 in 2014.
SpaceX delayed the launch one day because of unfavourable weather.
On January 22, Mr Musk, also chief executive of Tesla Inc., tweeted: “Launching many small satellites for a wide range of customers tomorrow. Excited about offering low-cost access to orbit for small companies!”
SpaceX has previously launched to orbit more than 800 satellites of the several thousand needed to offer broadband internet globally, a $10 billion investment it estimates could generate $30 billion annually to help fund Musk’s interplanetary rocket program, called Starship.