SpaceX kicked off another busy year with the launch of the Transporter-6 passenger mission from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (CCSFS).
It was the sixth dedicated ride-along mission organized by SpaceX and delivered 114 payloads into orbit. Some of them will later be deployed by numerous space tug missions. Payload sizes range from picosatellites weighing less than a kilogram to microsatellites weighing around 100 kg.
The Transporter missions are designed to provide a consistent cadence of ridesharing to common orbits such as sun-synchronous orbits (SSO).
The payload is intended for SSO at an altitude of approximately 525 km and an inclination of 97.6 degrees. Payload deployment begins approximately one hour after launch and lasts approximately 30 minutes.
The Falcon 9 rocket for this mission was equipped with a B1060-15 booster, which set a record of 15 Falcon 9 booster flights. This record was only established back in December 2022, as SpaceX continues to extend the life of its booster fleet.
While some transporter customers deal directly with SpaceX to board their spacecraft, most payloads are handled by launch integrators, who purchase ports for their payload stacks and bring multiple customers into that space. The payloads are deployed directly from the launch adapter or by a removable deployer or space tug and released at a later date, possibly after orbital adjustment.
ISILaunch worked to integrate 47 spacecraft into CubeSat deployers at two ports. Some of them are run on behalf of his Spaceflight and SpaceBD launch service providers. ExoLaunch has a variety of CubeSat and microsatellite customers serviced by multiple ports in the payload stack. Maverick Space will also carry some US government payloads. Geometric Energy Corporation was scheduled to launch multiple payloads at Maverick Harbor, but they were postponed to subsequent flights.
Italian company D-Orbit will fly two ION tugs on this mission. Its ION SCV-007 (Glorious Gratia) and ION SCV-008 (Fierce Franciscus) will carry various spacecraft and hosted payloads for their customers. Such hosted payloads include SWIR cameras for repeater IACs, a propulsion system for Genergo and satellite hardware prototypes for Cryptosat.
Momentus will begin its second space tug test flight on Vigoride-5. After experiencing some problems on previous flights, Momentus will deploy Qosmosys' spacecraft to test an improved design while hosting a payload from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Caltech's Space Solar Power Demonstration One (SSPD-1) payload will test multiple technologies related to solar power generation and distribution mechanisms.
Launcher Inc. has its first Orbiter space tug on board. Launcher is also working on its own launch vehicle, which will eventually provide a complete end-to-end space transportation service. The Orbiter tug features a propulsion system using ethane and nitrous oxide as propellants. Orbiter SN1 carries a variety of customer spacecraft and hosted payloads. Spacecraft wll be deployed for customers, including Alba Orbital, Innova Space, NPC Spacemind, Bronco Space and Stanford Student Space Initiative. Payloads are being hosted for Logitech Mevo, TRL11 and Beyond Burials.
EPIC Aerospace will also debut its Chimera space tug with the CHIMERA LEO 1 spacecraft. These tugs feature a propulsion system with non-toxic liquid propellants.
Many of the payloads on this launch are intended for Earth Observation (EO) missions, whether they use optical imaging, Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imaging, or detect radio frequency transmissions to perform signals intelligence duties.
The optical imaging satellites include Planet’s Flock 4Y Super Dove satellites. These 36 spacecraft will replenish the Dove constellation with newer models that provide 8-band multispectral imaging.
Satellogic is expanding its constellation to 30 spacecraft with four more high-resolution satellites onboard the Transporter-6: Newsat 32 (Albania 1), Newsat 33 (Albania 2), Newsat 34 and Newsat 35. The government of Albania will have priority access to the Albania 1 & 2 satellites.
Open Cosmos is launching Menut, a 6U imaging satellite with a 5 m resolution that will prioritize taking imagery of the Catalonia region of Spain. Poland’s Scanway Space will have STAR VIBE, a 6U satellite testing an Earth observation telescope as well as a satellite self-inspection imager on a small boom. Alba Orbital will have two of their Unicorn 3P PocketQubes with prototype Earth observation payloads.
The volume of CubeSats is usually given in units (“U”) of 10 x 10 x 10 centimeters. For example, a 6U CubeSat would measure 10 x 20 x 30 centimeters. The volume of PocketQubes is usually given in P units of 5 x 5 x 5 centimeters, so a 2P PocketQube is 5 x 5 x 10 centimeters.
EOS Data Analytics — founded by Max Polyakov — has EOS Agrisat-1, the first satellite in their Earth imaging constellation focused on agricultural uses. The 100 kg-class satellite was built in South Africa by Dragonfly Aerospace and provides both panchromatic imaging at 1.4 m resolution and multispectral imaging at 2.8 m resolution.
For SAR imaging applications, Umbra Lab continues to expand its constellation with two more microsatellites, Umbra 04 and 05. ICEye has three more SAR satellites (X21, X22 and X27) onboard.
For signals intelligence, Kleos Space of Luxembourg has its fourth cluster of satellites, the Observer mission, consisting of four 6U CubeSats (KSF3A-D) that will fly in formation. Unseenlabs of France has their Bro-8 satellite, also 6U in size. Birkeland and Huygens are a pair of 6U satellites owned by the Norwegian and Dutch ministries of defense that will fly in formation to detect radar emissions from ships.
There are a number of different satellites set to perform various communications tasks, including service to cell phones, aircraft and ships.
Lynk Global will have two more satellites, Tower 3 & 4, to provide messaging services directly to cell phones.
The next SpaceX launch is scheduled to carry a number of satellites for OneWeb from the same launch pad on January 8th. His busy SpaceX manifesto also includes his two US Space Force missions in January. One uses the Falcon Heavy to launch payloads into geostationary orbit, and the other uses the Falcon 9 to launch his GPS III satellites.
SpaceX aims to launch at least 100 missions in 2023.