SpaceX Launches Fourth Dedicated Rideshare - Bark Sedov

SpaceX Launches Fourth Dedicated Rideshare

WASHINGTON — SpaceX launched the fourth of its series of special ride-along missions on April 1, placing a relatively large satellite and dozens of small satellites in low-Earth orbit.

The Falcon 9 lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 12:24 p.m. Eastern Eastern. SpaceX beat forecasts of inclement weather with just a 30% chance of acceptable weather the day before launch. However, conditions improved in the hours before launch to allow the launch to proceed.

The rocket’s booster landed on a drone ship in the Caribbean near the Bahamas, as the booster took the southern trajectory almost exactly as the upper stage reached orbit. This booster was on its seventh flight, having previously launched two NASA crewed commercial missions, a commercial cargo mission, NASA’s astronomy satellite IXPE, the communications satellite SXM-8, and a set of Starlink satellites.

The upper stage first entered a sun-synchronous orbit at 650 kilometers, deployed three satellites, and then maneuvered to 500 kilometers with two additional burns of the upper stage engine before deploying the remaining payloads.

Dubbed SpaceX’s Transporter-4, the mission was the fourth in a series of special ride-along missions designed to transport large numbers of smallsats at relatively low cost. Unlike the previous three, which in some cases carried more than 100 satellites, SpaceX said there were only 40 satellites on this mission.

One reason for the lower number was the size of one of the payloads, EnMAP. The satellite, whose name stands for Environmental Mapping and Analysis Program, weighed almost 1,000 kilograms when it was launched. EnMAP was built by OHB for the German space agency DLR and carried a hyperspectral instrument for environmental studies.

“With the start of EnMAP, Germany is making an indispensable contribution to climate protection. Its innovative hyperspectral sensor technology will really let us see the earth through different eyes,” said Anna Christmann, the federal government’s coordinator for German aerospace policy, in a DLR press release. “With EnMAP, Germany is making an important contribution to European space technology for the benefit of our planet.”

It is also the second time this year that a European government has approached SpaceX, rather than Europe’s own Arianespace, to launch a satellite. A Falcon 9 launched Italy’s Cosmo-SkyMed second-generation radar satellite Jan. 31. Italy’s space agency ASI said it chose SpaceX to launch that satellite because of delays with the Vega-C rocket.

The remaining payloads on Transporter-4 were small sats more akin to those flown on the first three Transporter missions. Swarm, for example, flew 12 of its tiny SpaceBEE satellites, each a quarter of a CubeSat in size, weeks after they flew one set on an Astra Rocket 3.3 launch.

Satellogic flew five of its high-resolution imaging satellites on the mission. One of the five was a new “Mark 5” model with an improved multispectral camera with a resolution of 70 centimeters and a 40% larger image swath.

HawkEye 360 ​​flew three satellites to measure high-frequency signals, joining nine others previously launched. The company said the new Cluster 4 satellites will include upgraded antennas to better detect and geolocate terrestrial radio frequency signals.

A French competitor, Unseenlabs, flew its BRO-7 satellite on the mission. The company said in a statement that it will launch another satellite, BRO-6, on a Rocket Lab Electron later this month, with a long-term goal of operating 20 satellites. “The expansion of our fleet of satellites is an important step to provide better service to our customers from around the world and to bring more performance and value to our RF technology,” said Clément Galic, CEO of Unseenlabs, in a statement.

Pixxel, an Indian startup planning a constellation of hyperspectral imaging satellites, launched its first “full-fledged” satellite called the TD-2, or Shakuntala. The six-unit CubeSat is designed to produce visible and infrared hyperspectral images with a resolution of 10 meters. Pixxel, which announced a $25 million Series A round on March 28, expects to launch another satellite on an Indian PSLV in the near future.

Other Transporter-4 customers include PlanetiQ, which launched its GNOMES 3 satellite to collect GNSS radio occult data for weather forecasting, and Lynk, which launched its Tower 01 satellite for mobile connectivity services straight to mobile phones.

Transporter-4 was originally intended to transport a Spaceflight Sherpa tug. However, SpaceX removed the Sherpa from the mission due to environmental factors affecting the spacecraft on the tug. SpaceX later informed companies that it would no longer be working with Spaceflight on future ridesharing.

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