SpaceX’s Transporter-1 dedicated rideshare mission put over 143 spacecraft into orbit on January 24, 2021, providing a significant boost to numerous imaging, IoT, and RF survey companies. The launch was significant both in terms of the sheer total number of spacecraft put into orbit and the boost to many different categories of New Space companies, along with SpaceX’s Starlink broadband constellation.
SpaceX’s first dedicated SmallSat Rideshare mission was launched from Cape Canaveral Pad 40, placing all of the spacecraft onboard into a sun-synchronous (SSO) orbit. Two more SSO rideshare missions are planned for this year, tentatively scheduled for June and December.
Onboard the flight were 10 SpaceX Starlink communications satellites designed to be placed into polar orbit. The 10 satellites included intersatellite laser links to facilitate communication in remote areas between satellites and ground stations located in more hospitable territory.
Imaging satellites included a number of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) spacecraft and 48 Planet Labs SuperDove imaging satellites. The SuperDove spacecraft are 3U cubesats capable of providing 3-5 meter imagery in up to 8 spectral bands and are part of a planned upgrade to the entire Planet Dove imaging network.
SAR satellites put into orbit include Japan’s QPS-SAR 2, Capella Space’s 3 and 4, ICEYE X8, X8, and X2. The QPS Institute now has two 100 kg. class SAR satellites in orbit with a planned constellation of 36 satellite total, with imaging resolution of 1 meter. Capella Space’s satellites are also in the 100 kg. size and are capable of delivering 50 centimeter resolution; the company plans a 30 satellite constellation. ICEYE satellites are 6U satellites that deliver 3 meter resolution in “Stripmap” mode but can provide more detail down to 0.25×0.5 meter resolution.
RF survey company passengers included a cluster of three HawkEye 360 satellites and Aurora Insight Charlie. The Hawk cluster is the first of a total of 18 production satellites the company plans to put into orbit and join the company’s three pathfinders. Aurora Insight Charley is a 6U experimental cubesat that will provide the company with data and experience with conducting RF survey missions on orbit to supplement/complement its commercial ground and aircraft efforts.
Astrocast, Hiber Global, Kepler Communications, and Swarm Technology all added satellites to their IoT constellations. With the launch of five 3U satellites, Astrocast announced the availability of commercial service and plans to launch 10 more satellites by the end of the year for a total constellation of 15. Hiber 4 is a 3U cubesat built in-house by Hiber. The company expects to build up to 18 to 24 cubesats, with several more scheduled to be launched this year. Kepler Communication now has eight 6UXL satellites into orbit that support high speed Ku-band store-and-forward data delivery and a lower-speed S-band IoT service. Swarm Technology added 35 SpaceBEE satellites to its constellation; each satellite is only 0.25 in size, with a planned 150 satellites to be put into orbit.
Spire Global added 8 Lemur-2 satellites to its constellation, making over 100 Lemurs in orbit collecting a combination of AIS ship tracking, ADS-B aircraft tracking, and GPS-RO weather data.
Also onboard was GHGSat C2. Designed to monitor greenhouse gases, C2 is the second of five planned commercial satellites.