Elon Musk’s SpaceX has launched a Falcon 9 rocket from California carrying 64 small satellites into low orbit around the Earth, which the company called the largest-ever “ride share” mission by a US-based rocket.
The mission, dubbed SSO-A, also marked the third voyage to space for the same Falcon 9 rocket — another milestone for SpaceX’s cost-cutting reusable rocket technology.
The Falcon 9 blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 10.34am local time, carrying satellites from 34 different companies, government agencies, and universities.
SpaceX said the mission was “one of the most complex and intricate endeavours” for Seattle-based startup Spaceflight, the ride-share company that arranged passage for each satellite maker.
The mission comes days after India fired a rocket carrying 31 satellites from eight different countries into space.
After the launch, the Falcon 9’s first-stage booster returned to earth as planned, landing on a ship off the coast of southern California, according to a live video of the flight.
However, the Falcon 9’s payload fairing — an enclosure that protected the satellites during launch — missed a landing net on the barge and ended up in the ocean.
“Falcon fairing halves missed the net, but touched down softly in the water,” Musk, SpaceX’s chief executive officer, said on Twitter. He said the boat was moving to pick them up.
“Plan is to dry them out & launch again. Nothing wrong with a little swim,” Musk, who is also the CEO of Tesla, said on Twitter.
Hitching a ride on the Falcon rocket was a satellite from Australian Internet of Things (IoT) satellite technology startup Myriota, which will be put into a sun-synchronous orbit and add to the company’s existing constellation.
“We are committed to delivering superior satellite connectivity, and today’s launch is a valuable step in developing our direct-to-orbit communications capability,” co-founder and CTO Dr David Haley said.
“New and existing devices using Myriota technology will benefit, and we’re excited to see the impact across a variety of different sectors.”
Last month, the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) announced using Myriota technology to trial ocean drifters that report back to base.
The low-cost drifters allow AIMS to receive data in “near-real time”, the agency said in a statement.
“Because they connect to LEO satellites, they avoid issues like coverage dropouts and connectivity issues that come from using traditional mobile phone networks,” AIMS technology development team leader Melanie Olsen said.
According to Myriota, the drifters monitor location, currents, sea surface water temperatures, and barometric pressure, and, in future, AIMS will be able to get oceanographic data every hour.
In November, SpaceX received approval from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to construct, deploy, and operate in excess of 7,000 satellites at very-low-Earth orbit, which is expected to boost internet connectivity across the globe.
The FCC also granted SpaceX’s request to add the 37.5-42GHz and 47.2-50.2GHz frequency bands to its previously authorised non-geostationary satellite orbit (NGSO) constellation.
The authorisation allows SpaceX to expand its geographic coverage and will give the aerospace startup the green light to support broadband and communications services for residential, commercial, institutional, governmental, and professional users globally.
During the same month, Musk said that there is a 70 percent chance he will go to Mars on the SpaceX Starship and stay there.
“Your probability of dying on Mars is much higher than Earth. Really, the ad for going to Mars would be like the Shackleton’s ad for going to the Antarctic,” he said.
“It’s going to be hard, there’s a good chance of death going on a little can through deep space.”
Starship is the new name for SpaceX’s BFR.
Elon Musk’s rocket company has been granted approval by the FCC to send its very-low-Earth orbit constellation of more than 7,000 satellites into space to provide global internet connectivity.
The next “last-mile” internet may come from SpaceX’s Starlink LEO satellites. The first two are scheduled to launch on a Falcon 9 on Feb. 17.
Elon Musk is aiming to have cargo missions to Mars by 2022, and flights with crew two years later.
The ISRO successfully launched another rocket on Thursday, deploying 31 satellites into space orbit.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s (JPL) Open Source Rover Project has published the designs and instructions for building a six-wheeled mini Curiosity rover.