SpaceX set to launch more small satel­lites

Lexington Herald-Leader (Sunday) - - News - BY SAMAN­THA MA­SUNAGA


For the first time, dozens of small satel­lites will ride atop a SpaceX rocket, as a Fal­con 9 is sched­uled to blast into or­bit Sun­day.

The 64 tiny satel­lites range from one built by a Flor­ida mid­dle school to mea­sure the vi­a­bil­ity of thawed bac­te­ria to a Honey­well Aerospace demon­stra­tor that will test new ship com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy.

All 34 or­ga­ni­za­tions found their way onto the Fal­con 9 rocket with the help of a sort of launch ser­vices bro­ker – a rel­a­tively niche in­dus­try that has grown in tan­dem with the bur­geon­ing small-satel­lite mar­ket.

Small-satel­lite star­tups some­times have lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence buy­ing launches from com­pa­nies like Hawthornebased SpaceX and France’s Ari­anes­pace, said Bill Ostrove, aerospace and de­fense an­a­lyst at Fore­cast In­ter­na­tional. At the same time, these launch ser­vice providers are look­ing for help to co­or­di­nate the del­uge of de­vel­op­ers look­ing to send small satel­lites into space, he said.

Sun­day’s sched­uled SpaceX launch is three years in the mak­ing for Seat­tle-based Space­flight, which bought the en­tire Fal­con 9 rocket to ac­com­mo­date its var­i­ous cus­tomers. The launch will be Space­flight’s first ride-share mis­sion ded­i­cated ex­clu­sively to small satel­lites.

The pur­chase in­di­cates that the small satel­lite in­dus­try is “healthy and thriv­ing,” said Kerri Ca­hoy, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of aero­nau­tics and as­tro­nau­tics at MIT.

“There’s a lot of new busi­nesses … and a steady stream” of cus­tomers, Ca­hoy said.

Space­flight got its start about six years ago by help­ing cus­tomers test their small satel­lites, ob­tain the nec­es­sary launch and op­er­at­ing li­censes be­fore ship­ping the space­craft to the launch site, and in­te­grate them onto the rocket, said Curt Blake, Space­flight pres­i­dent.

Typ­i­cally, small satel­lites get to space by “pig­gy­back­ing” on the launch of a larger satel­lite and fit­ting in where there’s space on the rocket. The best known ex­am­ple is a 2017 launch of the In­dian space agency’s PSLV rocket, which de­ployed a 1,574-pound satel­lite as well as 103 small satel­lites.

While ride-shar­ing can be a more af­ford­able way to reach or­bit, it also means the tiny space­craft are sub­ject to the tim­ing and or­bit des­ti­na­tion of the pri­mary satel­lite. There is now an­other way. Hunt­ing­ton Beach’s Rocket Lab has de­vel­oped and launched its Elec­tron rocket, which is de­signed specif­i­cally to carry small satel­lites and to al­low more flex­i­bil­ity in time and or­bit.

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