SpaceX launched Transporter-5, a dedicated smallsat rideshare mission

On May 25, SpaceX flew numerous dozen payloads on its 5th dedicated rideshare mission, demonstrating that demand for such trips remains strong even as the dedicated small launch vehicles proliferate.

At 2:35 p.m. Eastern, the Falcon 9 launched from Space Launch Complex 40 facility at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The rocket’s booster, which was on its seventh flight, landed 8.5 minutes after liftoff at Cape Canaveral’s Landing Zone One.

The Transporter-5 flight carried 59 payloads, comprising satellites, orbital transfer vehicles, as well as non-deploying hosted payloads, according to SpaceX. Nanoracks’ Outpost Mars Demo 1 project, which tested technology for cutting into upper stages, was part of the latter.

Exolaunch, a rideshare aggregator, was responsible for 21 of the satellites launched by Transporter-5 into sun-synchronous orbit, comprising satellites for Satellogic, Spire and Iceye. Terran Orbital, a smallsat maker, flew satellites for NASA, Fleet, and GeoOptics.

HawkEye 360, which launched another cluster of 3 radio-frequency intelligence satellites, GHGSat, which deployed 3 satellites to measure greenhouse emissions, and Umbra, that deployed a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imaging satellite, were among the firms with satellites on Transporter-5.

Numerous orbital transfer vehicles were carried on the mission, notably the first from Momentus. The Vigoride-3 tug transported payloads for clients, FOSSA Systems as well as Orbit NTNU, although it was primarily a technology showcase of the tug as well as its propulsion system, that utilizes microwave electrothermal thruster (MET) technology.

“One of the critical tasks that we intend to accomplish as we continue to enhance and enhance its performance is evaluating the MET on this maiden Vigoride aircraft,” John Rood, Momentus’ chief executive, stated in a release after the launch. After the government vetoed two efforts to fly a Vigoride tug on earlier Transporter ridesharing missions last year, the launch represented the culmination of not only the tug’s technological development but also regulatory approvals.

On Transporter-5, D-Orbit flew its tug, the Infinite Blue Ion Satellite Carrier mission. Two cubesat payloads will be deployed, and two hosted payloads will be supported by the tug.

On Transporter-5, Spaceflight also flew its Sherpa-AC spacecraft. Sherpa’s improved attitude control capabilities, according to the manufacturer, make it well-suited for carrying hosted payloads. Two hosted payloads and three smallsats were carried on this vehicle. In March, SpaceX said that it would cut connections with Spaceflight, although only after missions were completed.

After Transporter-4 and Transporter-3 in January in April, Transporter-5 was SpaceX’s 5th dedicated smallsat rideshare flight, and the third this year. Transporter-6, the next rideshare flight, is planned for October.

The need for these missions is still high. During a session at the Space Tech Expo on 25th May, Max Haot, CEO of Launcher, said, “SpaceX rideshare is becoming fully booked.” Orbiter, his company’s orbital transfer spacecraft, will make its inaugural flight on Transporter-6.

Orbiter flights on numerous more Transporter missions have been booked by Launcher for 2023, and he stated those future Transporter flights are already filling up. He believes orbital transfer vehicles can assist fill the void between pure rideshare missions, in which payloads have limited or no control over the orbit they’re placed in, as well as dedicated smallsat deployments, such as Rocket Lab’s Electron, which provide more control although at a higher cost. “We’ll be able to improve the use of SpaceX rideshare.”

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