SpaceX’s Saturday Satellite Rideshare Launch Will Make History

Including 10 Starlink satellites to polar orbital plane for the first time.

After a one day launch delay due to weather, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images

SpaceX is targeting Saturday (January 23) to launch its first dedicated rideshare mission, known as Transporter-1, under the company’s revamped “space Uber” program carrying nearly 100 satellites. The batch will include 10 Starlink satellites to be deployed in a polar orbital plane—a first for the growing broadband internet program.

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A two-stage Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to blast off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Liftoff is expected during a one-hour window opening at 9:40a.m. EST. You can watch the mission live on SpaceX’s website, starting at about 15 minutes before liftoff. Currently, weather forecasts predict an 60% chance of good conditions for the launch opportunity.

SpaceX hasn’t yet confirmed the number of satellites on the mission. According to announcements put out by its rideshare clients, Saturday’s payloads will include 48 Earth-observing SuperDove satellites for San Francisco-based Earth imaging company, Planet Labs, three Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellites for Iceye, a nanosat called “Charlie” for Aurora Insight, and several satellites from Momentus, Nanoracks, German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the U.S. Department of Defense.

Transporter-1 will be SpaceX’s third rocket launch in 2021. On January 7, the company sent a Turkish communications satellite atop a Falcon 9. On Wednesday, it launched a different Falcon 9 to deliver a batch of 60 Starlink satellites into orbit.

The Falcon 9 rocket for the Transporter-1 mission, known as B1058, is the same booster that launched two NASA astronauts (Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken) to the International Space Station in May on the first crewed space flight from U.S. soil since 2011. The rocket’s first stage will land on SpaceX’s “Of Course I Still Love You” drone ship in the Atlantic after launch. The company also plans to recover the nose cone with two fairing recovery ships “GO Ms Tree” and “GO Ms Chief.”

SpaceX’s first rideshare mission was launched in December 2018, delivery 64 satellites on a Falcon 9 for smallsat aggregator Spaceflight. Nine months later, the company announced a dedicated rideshare program to launch these missions more regularly. Under the program, SpaceX offers rides for small and nano satellites, starting at $1 million a pop, which is far cheaper than an independent solo launch.

“We see a growing need for smallsat launch capability,” Stephanie Bednarek, SpaceX’s director of commercial sales, said in August 2019 when discussing the program at a conference. “Because of the launch capacity that we have and the availability of hardware from our success with reusability, it really enables us to enter this market directly from a business perspective.”

SpaceX’s Saturday Satellite Rideshare Launch Will Make History