Early morning on Saturday (June 13), SpaceX performed its first SmallSat Rideshare Program mission contracted by Planet Labs. The Rideshare program gives companies a much affordable option to launch small payloads into orbit by sharing spacecraft with a main payload -which in this case it was a batch of 58 Starlink satellites. Booking an entire rocket flight can cost around $60 million, but under SpaceX's SmallSat Rideshare Program launch price is approximately $1 million.
A previously-flown Falcon 9 rocket lifted off a trio of Planet’s SkySats alongside the batch of Starlink satellites into orbit at around 5:21 a.m. Eastern Time (EDT), from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. During the mission’s live broadcast, a SpaceX commentator said –"Liftoff of Falcon 9 and Starlink Ocho!" – which means ‘Starlink 8’ in Spanish.
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/NuKBSc0esf— SpaceX (@SpaceX) June 13, 2020
The Falcon 9 rocket’s first-stage booster, production number B1059, has now flown a total of 3 times. It previously launched 2 resupply missions for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS), CRS-19 in December 2019, and CRS-20 in March of this year. Approximately 8 and a half minutes after liftoff, B1059 was recovered for the third time – it deployed the payload second stage to orbit as the rocket first-stage booster returned into Earth’s atmosphere and performed a controlled vertical landing on the “Of Course I Still Love You” drone ship situated in the Atlantic Ocean. SpaceX is currently the only company capable of recovering orbital-class rockets to reuse again. To date, the company has successfully recovered 54 first-stage boosters. SpaceX engineers aim to re-fly a particular first-stage rocket booster 10 times. And hope to eventually accomplish re-flying a rocket as many as 100 times before retirement. So far, they have only launched and landed the same booster 5 times.
Falcon 9’s first stage has landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship pic.twitter.com/qv6aMiPGoq— SpaceX (@SpaceX) June 13, 2020
Today, on its third flight, rocket B1059 carried the trio of SkySat into low Earth orbit about 12 minutes after liftoff. SkySats are about the size of a household washing machine, so, they each deployed individually -one after the other (as seen in the video below). At around 26 minutes after liftoff, SpaceX’s batch of 58 internet-beaming Starlink satellites all deployed. Now, SpaceX owns the largest satellite constellation with a total of 540 Starlink satellites in low Earth orbit. Starlink satellites are relatively small compared to other satellites, they are flat about the size of the top of an office desk. SpaceX plans to deploy 12,000 Starlink satellites to offer affordable broadband internet worldwide to fund missions to the moon and Mars.
Planet’s 3 SkySats will take high-resolution photographs of Earth from space. The company also booked another Rideshare launch to deploy 3 more Earth-imaging satellites on a future Starlink mission, which is scheduled for July. The next Starlink launch will also share a rocket with another customer: Seattle-based BlackSky Global, which has booked a Rideshare ride for 2 of its Earth-observing satellites.
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.