SpaceX is set to launch the first-ever of its dedicated ride-sharing missions – an offer introduced in 2019 that allows small satellite operators to reserve part of a payload on a Falcon 9 launch. SpaceX’s rocket has a relatively high payload capacity compared to the size of many small satellites produced today, so a ride-sharing mission like this gives small businesses and startups a chance to get their spacecraft into orbit without breaking the bank.
The cargo capsule atop the Falcon 9 flying today contains a total of 133 satellites according to SpaceX, which is a new record for the most satellites launched on a single rocket – beating a payload of 104 spacecraft delivered by Indian Space Research Organization. The PSLV-C37 launched in February 2017. It will be a key demonstration of not only SpaceX’s carpooling capabilities, but also the complex coordination involved in a launch that includes deploying multiple payloads to different target orbits in relatively rapid succession. .
This launch will in particular be closely monitored for its management of orbital traffic management, because it definitely announces what the future of private space launches could look like in terms of volume of activity. Some of the satellites flying on this mission are not much bigger than an iPad, so industry experts will pay close attention to how they are deployed and tracked to avoid any potential conflicts.
Some of the payloads launched today include large volumes of starter spacecraft, including 36 of Swarm’s tiny IoT network satellites and eight of Kepler’s GEN-1 communications satellites. There are also 10 of SpaceX’s own Starlink satellites on board and 48 of Planet Labs’ Earth imaging spacecraft.
The above launch stream is expected to begin approximately 15 minutes before the mission begins, which is set for 9:40 a.m. EST (6:40 a.m. PST) today.