SpaceX will send another batch of its Starlink internet satellites into orbit early Saturday morning, June 13. This mission, however, is different from previous ones as it marks the official launch of SpaceX’s Smallsat Rideshare Program. The program makes satellite deployment affordable for more companies as it allows them to share the use of a rocket.
The payload for the rideshare mission will include 58 of SpaceX’s own internet-providing Starlink satellites together with three Earth-imaging satellites for San Francisco-based Planet Labs. Saturday’s outing will bring the total number of space-based Starlink satellites to 538, with Planet Labs’ SkySat fleet expanding to 18.
SpaceX started taking rideshare applications in February 2020, with prices for small-satellite deployment starting at $1 million — a fraction of the tens of millions of dollars you might have to pay if you booked an entire launch. SpaceX’s webpage highlighting the service includes a price calculator where interested firms can input the desired orbit, launch date, and payload mass to find out precisely how much they’ll need to fork out to get their satellite, or satellites, into space.
Rideshare missions are set to become big business, with SpaceX among a growing number of companies aiming to provide such a service. California-based Rocket Lab, for example, has already conducted several rideshare missions for a range of customers, with its next one planned for the coming days after the original launch date this week was delayed due to strong winds. Virgin Orbit is also developing its own system for rideshare launches, but is still trying to perfect its unique launch system that involves firing the rocket from a modified Boeing 747 jet.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) June 11, 2020
Conditions permitting, SpaceX is aiming to launch its Falcon 9 rocket at 5:21 a.m. E.T. on Saturday, June 13. That’s admittedly pretty early for most folks (or late if you’re on the Pacific Coast), but for space fans in other parts of the world, the timing could be just right. You can watch a livestream of the event on SpaceX’s YouTube channel.
Besides the launch itself, look out for the first-stage booster landing upright upon its return, the payload deployment, and possibly the capture of the rocket fairing in giant nets.
Saturday’s mission comes two weeks after Elon Musk’s rocket company successfully sent two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station in the first crewed use of the Crew Dragon spacecraft. It will also be the second Starlink launch in nine days as SpaceX works to ramp up the frequency of launches using its reusable rocket system.
Be sure to check SpaceX’s Twitter feed for any adjustments to the launch schedule.
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