- SpaceX has already set a huge number of records with its reusable rocket technology.
- A new record set by the company on Sunday isn’t related to its rockets directly, but it’s still an incredibly impressive feat.
- The weekend launch resulted in 143 individual satellites being delivered into orbit, shattering the previous record of 104 satellites in a 2017 launch.
There’s no denying the impact that SpaceX has had on the world. The company has dramatically lowered the cost barrier for companies and institutions that want to launch satellites into space, and in doing so it has built a business that its clients appear to be very happy with.
Because of its success, SpaceX has had to come up with ways to fulfill its launch commitments by any means necessary, even if that means cramming a ton of tiny satellites into a single launch. This past weekend, the company launched one of its trusty Falcon 9 rockets skyward, and it was carrying a record-shattering number of satellites.
For starters, the company used the launch to send 10 more of its Starlink communications satellites into space, but that was really just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to those 10 satellites, the rocket carried 133 other satellites into Earth orbit. The mission was aptly named Transporter-1, and it completely destroyed the previous record for satellites in a single launch, which was 104.
Falcon 9 launches 143 spacecraft to orbit — the most ever deployed on a single mission — completing SpaceX’s first dedicated SmallSat Rideshare Program mission pic.twitter.com/CJSUvKWeb4
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 25, 2021
Transporter-1 was the first launch of a new program that SpaceX hopes will become big business. The idea is that the company will hold regular launches on a set schedule and companies will be able to pay to have their satellites included in the trip. This “rideshare” concept will only work if a company or institution has small satellites to launch, as carrying a large satellite often requires a mission dedicated solely to fulfilling that commitment.
The rideshare missions are also partly a reaction by SpaceX to the increasing number of micro-sized satellites being developed and used around the world. Satellite technology, like many other forms of technology, is regularly shrinking, and pint-sized satellites the size of a briefcase can today perform important and valuable work that was once possible only with much larger hardware.
SpaceX’s own Starlink data network uses units that are tiny compared to many older satellites. The company’s ultimate goal is to have a network of thousands of satellites forming a sort of web around the globe, allowing it to provide high-speed data service to virtually any corner of the globe. The company has regularly been launching up to 60 of the satellites at a time, slowly building out the network as it works to finalize the particulars of the hardware that customers will need in order to access it.
Whatever the future holds for SpaceX, launching 143 satellites at one time seems like a record that will probably stand for some time. If it does get beaten, the company that does it will probably also be SpaceX.