SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Launches 64 Satellites in Rideshare Mission

Falcon 9 lifts off on Spaceflight SSO-A mission. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — SpaceX’s has launched 64 satellites for Spaceflight with a Falcon 9 booster that flew a third stage for the first time. It was the 19th launch of the year for SpaceX, which is a new record for Elon Musk’s space company.

The booster is now deploying the CubeSats and microsats. The final deployment is set to take place about six hours after the 10:34 a.m. PST liftoff, the company said in its press kit.

Falcon 9’s first stage for the Spaceflight SSO-A: SmallSat Express mission previously supported the Bangabandhu Satellite-1 mission in May 2018 and the Merah Putih mission in August 2018. The booster successfully landed on SpaceX’s “Just Read the Instructions” drone ship in the Pacific Ocean.

A total of 64 spacecraft from 34 organizations were launched aboard the booster. The mission signifies Spaceflight’s first dedicated rideshare mission t a sun-synchronous low Earth orbit and represents the company’s effort to accommodate the growing number of domestic, international, government, and commercial customers seeking affordable rideshare options to launch their spacecraft in to orbit. Spaceflight SSO-A: SmallSat Express is the largest single rideshare mission from a U.S.-based launch vehicle to date.

The mission includes 15 microsats and 49 cubesats from commercial and government entities, like universities, startups, and even a middle school. The payloads, which vary from technology demonstrations and imaging satellites to educational research endeavors, are from 17 countries, including the U.S., Australia, Italy, Netherlands, Finland, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, U.K., Germany, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Thailand, Poland, Canada, Brazil, and India.

Spaceflight also constructed a unique payload stack, which is one of the most complex and intricate endeavors that Spaceflight has undertaken. The smallsats will be integrated with a variety of dispensers and avionics to an upper free flyer and lower free flyer.

Launch Facility

Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California SpaceX’s Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base has a long history dating back to the early 1960s. Originally an Atlas launch pad activated in 1962, SLC-4E was in active use until its last Titan IV launch in 2005. SpaceX’s groundbreaking was in July 2011, and extensive modifications and reconstruction of the launch pad were completed just 17 months later.

SLC-4E consists of a concrete launch pad/apron and a flame exhaust duct. Surrounding the pad are RP-1 and liquid oxygen storage tanks and an integration hangar. Before launch, Falcon 9’s stages, fairing and the mission payload are housed inside the hangar. A crane/lift system moves Falcon 9 into a transporter erector system and the fairing and its payload are mated to the rocket. The vehicle is rolled from the hangar to the launch pad shortly before launch to minimize exposure to the elements.