SpaceX Breaks Small Satellites Launch Record with 143 Satellites Launched into Orbit

31st Jan 2021
SpaceX Falcon 9 Launch

The launch of the Falcon 9 rocket by SpaceX on 21st January has broken the small satellites launch record for the number of satellites launched into orbit on a single rocket in the company’s most ambitious effort to launch small satellites to date. The Falcon 9 is one of the company’s flagship reusable first-stage booster modules. It came down to land on SpaceX’s drone ship, docked off the coast of Miami, just minutes after the small satellite launch record was broken. 

Falcon 9 Rocket Plays Key Role in Breaking Small Satellites Launch Record

The second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket reached low Earth orbit over Antarctica, where it began distributing its payload of 143 satellites as part of the SpaceX “rideshare” initiative to launch small satellites for commercial clients. Some of the companies who joined the project include Spire, Kepler Communications, NASA, and more, with partners spanning eleven different countries. Also onboard were SpaceX’s own Starlink internet satellites destined for a polar orbit around Earth.

US Military Takes an Interest in Launch of Small Satellites

The record-breaking launch blew through the previous small satellites launch record of 104 satellites that was set by the 2017 Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. This latest SpaceX launch also marks close cooperation with the US military’s Space Force unit, which will process and generate datasets garnered from the satellites’ feedback. It is part of the division’s ongoing effort to accurately record all of the 27,000-plus manmade objects currently in Earth’s orbit, which has some new additions now that a new small satellites launch record has been set. Part of their mission involves predicting where such satellites may collide with each other, thereby increasing the amount of detritus floating around the planet. In such an event, the unit could also warn the owner-operators about their satellites’ imminent demise.

Launch of Small Satellites Shows No Signs of Stopping

SpaceX Falcon 9 launches typically contain a high volume of satellites. The company released their launch data publicly after breaking the small satellites launch record, even though they were under no legal obligation to do so. However, it can still be difficult for customers to figure out where exactly in the firmament their satellites are at any given time. Some in the space community have also voiced concerns that an increasing frequency of large-scale launches will have the inevitable consequence of posing a danger to other satellites as Earth’s orbit becomes more densely crowded. Now that governments are finally cottoning on to the boom in missions to launch small satellites typified by SpaceX achieving a new small satellites launch record, it seems like new regulations for the industry could be just around the corner.

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