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SpaceX Rideshare Programme: The ease of access to reach Space

SpaceX knows well to remain in constant limelight. At times for launching plethora of satellitessending unconventional cargo and astronauts into orbits or simply testing the re-usable satellite materials.

The company’s latest endeavor earlier this year has been to foray in carrying the rideshare launches intended for various customers around the world.

This is accomplished by stuffing the rocket’s cargo bay with batches of small satellites belonging to various SpaceX customers, just to be launched accordingly.

Mission management structure

The mission serves SpaceX in a way that it becomes able to tap into the ever-increasing demand for getting respective small satellites, or smallsats, into respective orbit.

It has been a pioneer in such induction of such dedicated additional missions just to put batches of smallsats into wanted Earth’s orbits: LEO (Low-Earth Orbit), SSO (Sun-synchronous orbit), GTO (Geostationary or Geosynchronous transfer orbit) or TLI (Trans-lunar).

What the company is reflecting is also a sign of how much interest of the common public, this industry is reaping from all stakeholders: private entities as well as Government agencies.

Just recently, it launched 88 satellites on a Falcon 9 space vehicle for the company’s second batch of dedicated smallsat rideshare mission. This cluster was sent off to sun-synchronous orbit to settle at an altitude of 550kms.

This mission has been named Transporter-2 by SpaceX after laying off the Transporter-1 mission back in January 2021 as the company’s first dedicated smallsat rideshare mission.

Cost Analysis: charge is approximately $1M for sending 200kg to SSO with subsequent  additional mass at $5k/kg. There are other process related charges too mentioned in the user guide.

The company’s clients include three competing companies: Capella, Iceye and Umbra. HawkEye 360, PlanetIQ, Spire, Astrocast, Swarm, Satellogic, Kleos and even NASA for this flight, including others in general.

Satellites launched exhibited varied technologies and end-uses: satellites with synthetic aperture radar (SAR), constellations deployment to perform radio-frequency tracking, collection of GPS radio occultation data to be further used in weather forecasting, testing the development of internet-of-things constellations or simply, imaging satellites.

NASA’s smallsats included a pathfinder for its cubesat constellation called TROPICS (Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats).

TROPICS is for the observation of thermodynamics of Earth’s troposphere and the precipitation structure for storm systems and to measure environmental and inner-core conditions for tropical cyclones on the global scale.

Transporter-1 successfully carried 143 satellites in total. SpaceX has interestingly said that the total payload mass for Transporter-2 has been greater than that of earlier mission although it did not make any disclosure of specific payload mass figures for either of these.

Rideshare mission nearly began about two years ago, offering low-cost launches on its Falcon 9 missions (for example Transporter-2) along with the launches of its notorious Starlink satellites circling in the Polar orbits.

Reusability: the strongest link

Alone for this year, Transporter-2 has been the SpaceX’s 20th Falcon 9 mission and the booster used was making its eighth flight. Even other boosters have marked their flights upto 10 times.

Elon Musk said: “We’ve got boosters now that have flown 10 times, and some that are slated to fly 20 or possibly 30 times. With Falcon 9, we’ve achieved I think the most efficient reusability of any rocket to date.”

The high frequency rendered via these missions is because of the greater reusability of its components.

Elon Musk’s aspirations and the increasing Space junk:

At present, there are more than 1500 satellites encircling the Earth and there are endless plans to send up at least 12,000 more satellites in recent years too.

The Earth’s lower orbit i.e. closer to the Earth below 620 miles (1,000 km), has witnessed an increase of about 50% in satellite numbers, creating further threat to the launch of new ones or managing what stays in there without hitting by a debris.

At times, the space junk or defunct satellites have even fallen to the ground creating chaos and inflicting danger to lives and livelihoods.

With such increasing numbers Scientists have expressed their concern, claiming that it has more or less, become important to regulate space travel and a binding global treaty against such hefty colonization of Space.

When Elon Musk says: “You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great – and that’s what being a spacefaring civilization is all about.”

“It’s about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past,” Space ought to remain a beautiful place.

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