Featured Image Source: SpaceX
SpaceX launched 88 spacecraft for different companies and organizations, including the U.S. government, atop the same Falcon 9 rocket this week as part of the SmallSat Rideshare Program’s Transporter-2 Mission. The program provides cheaper flights to orbit by sharing Falcon 9 payload fairing. Transporter-2 was previously scheduled for Tuesday, however, the mission was scrubbed a minute before liftoff because a private helicopter entered restricted airspace, causing SpaceX to delay the mission until Wednesday, June 30. "Unfortunately, launch is called off for today [June 29], as an aircraft entered the “keep out zone”, which is unreasonably gigantic," SpaceX founder Elon Musk announced via Twitter after the launch attempt. "There is simply no way that humanity can become a spacefaring civilization without major regulatory reform. The current regulatory system is broken," he added.
Under a very cloudy sky on Wednesday, a flight-proven Falcon 9 lifted off for its eighth flight at 3:31 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida to deploy the Transporter-2 spacecraft. SpaceX announced that among the payload are “85 commercial and government spacecraft (including CubeSats, microsats, and orbital transfer vehicles) and 3 Starlink satellites. While there were fewer spacecraft on board compared to Transporter-1, this mission launched more mass to orbit for SpaceX’s customers,” the company stated.
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/0icqQUWNSH— SpaceX (@SpaceX) June 30, 2021
The payload was deployed into Polar Orbit, it is the second time SpaceX launches a mission to Polar Orbit from Florida’s Space Coast. Soon after launching the upper-stage carrying payload to orbit, the eight-times-flown Falcon 9 first-stage booster returned from space, landing flawlessly on terra firma on the U.S. Space Force Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1). “This was the eighth launch and landing of this Falcon 9 first stage booster in exactly one year…” SpaceX shared. The previously-flown Falcon 9 first-stage booster that conducted the Transporter-2 mission previously supported seven missions, identified as booster production number B1060-8. It first launched the U.S. Space Force's GPS III-3 satellite on June 30, 20, then launched two Starlink missions that same year. Its fourth flight was the deployment of Turkey’s Türksat-5A satellite in January 2021. Then it launched three more Starlink missions in February, March, and April this year.
Since its first flight 1 year ago today, this Falcon 9 first stage has completed 8 launches and landings— SpaceX (@SpaceX) June 30, 2021
The 88 payloads that hitched-a-ride together aboard the Falcon 9’s payload fairing were deployed in a separate sequence. Each vehicle was placed in a special payload deployer. SpaceX’s deployer features Expendable Secondary Port Adapter (ESPA) rings to accommodate all payloads. The ESPA ports reduces launch costs for the mission and enables rocket companies to get the most out of a rocket launch by deploying several small payloads in a single rocket flight. Basically, the small payloads are attached to ports (15 or 24 inch rings) so they could ride along together during a flight, an example illustration is depicted below. Companies also have the option to use their custom ESPA adapters for their satellites.
Transporter-2 payload deployment depiction. Render by Exolaunch.
The payloads owned by different companies and organizations were deployed approximately 1-hour after liftoff; SpaceX’s satellites were deployed at the end, as seen in the video below. Some of the payloads aboard are owned by: the U.S. Pentagon Space Development Agency, NASA, Capella, Iceye, Umbra, HawkEye 360, Kleos, PlanetIQ, Spire, Astrocast, Swarm Technologies, Satellogic, Exolaunch, Spaceflight SHERPA-FX, and Nanoracks, among many other companies.
Rideshare deployment sequence complete— SpaceX (@SpaceX) June 30, 2021
Deployment of 3 Starlink satellites confirmed pic.twitter.com/MTRvmoXxyD— SpaceX (@SpaceX) June 30, 2021