Filling the sky — 12 hours, 2 launches, nearly 100 satellites, November 28

If all goes according to plan, SpaceX and India will conduct two launches that will place 95 satellites into orbit in under 12 hours.  It will be a day to tax the patience of space tracking agencies and provide reality to the entrepreneurial dreams of numerous companies building Internet of Things (IoT) and imaging businesses.

First up is the Spaceflight SSO-A mission onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.  The massive rideshare mission Spaceflight is calling “The Smallsat Express” will carry 64 satellites from 34 different organizations to a sun-synchronous orbit (SSO).  Launch is scheduled for November 28, 2019 at 1:31 p.m. EST.

Onboard are 15 microsatellites and 49 cubesats from a mix of commercial and government entities; 56 cubesats were initially booked, according to Spaceflight’s August announcement. The IoT startup world is represented by Astrocast, Fleet Space Technologies, Helios Wire/Sirion Global, Hiber Global, and (controversial) Swarm Technology among others.  Swarm is still under Federal Communications Commission (FCC) scrutiny for launching cubesats at the beginning of the year without appropriate permissions from the agency.

Planet is the anchor customer for the launch, which will take aloft a pair of high-resolution SkySat satellites and three next-generation Flock3s Dove satellites, plus a couple of company-sponsored university cubesat projects.  BlackSky, a division of Spaceflight, has its first (second) imaging satellite going to orbit.  Global-2 is expected to deliver imager of under 1 meter resolution with an on-orbit lifetime of 3 years.

Communications relay start-up Audacy has its first satellite on SSO-A.  Audacy is one of a couple of companies providing in-orbit relay services between low-flying satellites and ground stations, speeding up data movement and providing extended network infrastructure. The Audacy Zero is “the world’s first” entirely Ka-band cubesat, according to the company. IoT player Hiber Global is among Audacy’s announced customers.

SSO-A will also carry two RF-based start-ups.  Capella Space has its first synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite onboard, a technology pathfinder that the company says will be used for internal testing purposes.  HawkEye 360 will put up a trio of RF monitoring satellites designed to everything from maritime ship monitoring to spectrum management and monitoring.

Ending the day, India’s PSLV-C43 mission is carrying 31 satellites.  Launch is scheduled at 11 p.m. EST on November 28.  The primary payload is India’s HysIS hyperspectral satellite, plus 30 “co-passengers.” Known passengers include BlackSky, Fleet Space, Harris Corporation, Kepler Communications and Spire Global.  BlackSky, a division of Spaceflight, will be launching its second (first) satellite, Global-1. Fleet Space will score a trifecta with satellites onboard SSO-A, PSLV, and the Rocket Lab “It’s Business Time” launch earlier this week.  Harris Corporation’s HSAT-1 is a 6U cubesat pathfinder to demonstrate the company’s imaging technology.  Kepler’s second pathfinder satellite, CASE, will be onboard.

Tomorrow’s 12 hours of satellites isn’t assured by any means. Both SpaceX and India have had to adjust their launch dates, resulting in SpaceX launching before India’s PSLV. There will be some numbering confusion, since companies using both flights expected the PSLV to launch first and designated their satellites as “-1” while calling their SpaceX launched satellites as “-2.”  Weather and/or other issues could delay one or both of the November 28 (ET) launches.

Doug Mohney

Doug Mohney, a principal at Cidera Analytics, has been working and writing about IT and satellite industries for over 20 years. His real world experience including stints at two start-ups, a commercial internet service provider that went public in 1997 for $150 million and a satellite internet broadband company. Follow him on Twitter at DougonTech or contact him at dmohney139 (at) gmail (dot) com.

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