SpaceX continues to demonstrate its expertise in the heavy lifting of satellites into orbit with a double launch within the space of a few days.
Last week on Wednesday 20 January, SpaceX launched 60 Starlink satellites into orbit.
It followed this up on Sunday 24 January, when a Falcon 9 rocket carried 143 satellites into orbit, setting a new world record for the most satellites launched by a single rocket.
The SpaceX launches comes as Google last week shuttered its balloon-based connectivity service, Project Loon, and also shows the scale of the challenge in the years ahead facing OneWeb, part owned by the British government and Bharti.
It should be noted that SpaceX’s record Sunday launch of 143 satellites, a mission dubbed ‘Transporter-1’ was not entirely made of satellites for SpaceX’s Starlink service.
Indeed, the Transporter-1 mission was dubbed a ‘rideshare’ program, as it only carried 10 satellites for Starlink, and more than 130 satellites for a variety of customers.
This rideshare program is designed to provide smaller space-based firms with a cost effective launch solution.
“On board this launch were 133 commercial and government spacecraft (including CubeSats, microsats, and orbital transfer vehicles) and 10 Starlink satellites – the most spacecraft ever deployed on a single mission,” said SpaceX. “The Starlink satellites aboard this mission were the first in the constellation to deploy to a polar orbit.”
Orbital transfer vehicles for the record are sometimes referred to as ‘space tugs’.
Among the third party satellites were 48 Superdoves belonging to Planet, which operates a constellation of Earth-imaging satellites, and three ICEYE SAR satellites from ICEYE, which utilises radar satellites for monitoring ice and tracking floods.
And SpaceX is claiming a world record with the launch of 143 satellites, as the previous record for the most satellites sent to space in one trip was held by PSLV, an Indian rocket, that carried 104 satellites in a 2017 launch.
SpaceX is not just firing satellites into orbit.
In June 2020 a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carried two NASA astronauts to the ISS in historic first for a private company.
Then in November, SpaceX and NASA successfully delivered another four astronauts on board the International Space Station (ISS).
With the satellites however, SpaceX intends put roughly 12,000 satellites in orbit, before eventually increasing this to 42,000 satellites in orbit.