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SpaceX sets launch record

January 25, 2021

By Chris Forrester

SpaceX launched 143 satellites on one rocket on January 24th including 10 of its own Starlink craft. The previous record was held by an Indian launch of 104 satellites in 2017.

The impressive cargo formed SpaceX’s ‘Transporter-1’ mission, and while around 133 of the satellites were small, so-called cube-sats and ‘micro-sats’ it was nevertheless an impressive performance.

The bulk of the 133 cube-sats were small, often designed by university and colleges, and had been attracted to a SpaceX launch by the low fees set by Elon Musk’s team. The charge was of just $15,000 per kilo of satellite launched.

One satellite operator, Planet Labs, already operates more the 150 Earth observation satellites flying in low orbit. They are in polar orbit and each circles the globe every 90 minutes. Their Planetscope series of satellites can manage resolutions down to 3 metres while the Skysat fleet manages 0.5 metres of high-resolution imagery. They specialise in before/after images of the Earth below. They will use SpaceX to launch 36 of their ‘Superdoves’ into orbit.

SpaceX deployed the complete cargo in 12 separate operations:
· 36 Planet ‘Superdoves’
· 17 Keplers
· NASA V-R3x + 3 Maverick Cubesats
· Nanoracks
· EXOport-2’s 28 craft
· Capella-3
· EXOport-1 with two ICEYE craft
· Spaceflight Inc’s IQPS
· Capella-4
· Spaceflight Inc’s Sherpa-FX1 13 satellites
· D-Orbit’s 20 satellites
· Starlink’s 10 satellites

The ten Starlink’s went into a polar orbit to improve connectivity over the extreme northern latitudes of Canada and the US. When added to last week’s launch of 60 Starlink craft it means that Musk and his team have delivered 1025 satellites into orbit, and prior to this last batch of ten it means that some 951 are still orbiting and working nominally.

In what is now routine, SpaceX then successfully nailed a landing onto a floating sea-barge, ‘Of Course I Still Love You’.

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