Minimize Transporter-1

Transporter-1 — First Rideshare mission of SpaceX


On January 24, 2021 (Sunday), a SpaceX Falcon 9 Block 5 vehicle of the Starlink constellation launched 143 small satellites for a wide range of customers on the company's first dedicated rideshare mission, a service that poses a competitive threat to emerging small launch vehicles. 1)

Launch: The Falcon 9 lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 15:00 UTC (10 a.m. Eastern), a launch delayed one day by poor weather. The first stage, making its fifth launch after being previously used for NASA and commercial launches, landed on a droneship off the northern coast of Cuba.

The rocket's second stage started deploying satellites 59 minutes after liftoff into sun-synchronous orbits, a process that took more than a half-hour to complete. The 143 satellites on what SpaceX called the Transporter-1 mission were the most deployed on a single launch, breaking the record of 104 set by an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) mission in February 2017.


Figure 1: A SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off Jan. 24 on the Transporter-1 dedicated rideshare mission (image credit: SpaceX)

Transporter-1 is the first dedicated rideshare mission for SpaceX's overall smallsat rideshare program, which also provides secondary payload opportunities on Starlink and other launches. SpaceX worked directly with satellite operators as well as several rideshare aggregators, including D-Orbit, Exolaunch, Nanoracks and Spaceflight, to fly payloads on the mission.

Orbit: SSO orbit of Rideshare mission: — SpaceX sent this mission with its 10 Starlink satellites into a polar SSO (Sun-Synchronous Orbit) with permission of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). Altitude of 560 km and inclination of 97.6º 2)
The Falcon 9 rocket soared toward the southeast from the launch pad at Cape Canaveral, then vectored its thrust to fly on a coast-hugging trajectory toward South Florida, before flying over Cuba, the Caribbean Sea, and Central America. The unusual trajectory was similar to the track followed by a Falcon 9 launch in August 2020, which was the first launch since the 1960s from Florida's Space Coast to head into a polar orbit.



Record rideshare launch challenges tracking capabilities, raises questions for regulators

U.S. military radars and optical sensors scattered around the world were ready to detect and track all 143 satellites after separation from the Falcon 9 rocket. 3)

That data will be fed to the U.S. Space Force's 18th Space Control Squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, where sophisticated computers and military personnel will generate datasets, or orbital elements, for each object and add them to the catalog of more than 27,000 human-made objects tracked in orbit.

The Space Force is responsible for maintaining the catalog of artificial space objects, and screening for potential collisions between satellites and space debris, which could generate even more junk in orbit.

"We're in the business of space domain awareness," said Lt. Col. Justin Sorice, commander of the 18th Space Control Squadron, in an interview with Spaceflight Now last year. "That means we want to understand what's going on in the domain so that we can be responsible and we can alert owner-operators.

"We're kind of like the lighthouse," Sorice said. "We're not the air traffic controllers, so I can't tell other owner-operators from either the U.S. or other countries to move their satellites. But what we can do is give them plenty of warning."

But it could take some time to sort identify each of the 143 satellites, along with debris generated from the Transporter-1 launch.

"Releasing so many objects on the same launch presents a huge challenge for the people that are tasked to track and identify those objects," said Brian Weeden, director of program planning and technical advisor for the Secure World Foundation. "It's really difficult for them to do that unless they have a lot of advance knowledge about how many payloads there are, when are they going to be deployed, what orbit are they deployed in, how are they going to be deployed? There are a lot of little nuances there that can help, but they have to know that information."

SpaceX is "generally pretty good" about providing the Space Force with information about the orbits targeted by its missions, Weeden said. That helps radars and optical sensors know when and where to look to detect the new satellites.

"Imagine you're the 18th Space Control Squadron, and you now see, let's say, 100 things that are all roughly 10-centimeter cubes?" Weeden said. "How the heck do you know which is which?"

Falcon 9 launches carrying batches of 60 Starlink satellites at a time have become the norm, and SpaceX typically releases its orbital targets and deployment times. The process is more simple for a Starlink launch, where SpaceX owns all the satellites, than for a rideshare mission with numerous customers.

"If the satellite operator knows where it is, and can contact their satellite quickly after launch, this is not a huge problem," Weeden said. "But if they can't contact quickly after launch, and then they turn to the military for help in trying to find their satellites so they can talk to it, that's where it becomes a real problem."

SpaceX provided predicted orbital information to the space traffic management community before the Transporter-1 mission, but only for satellites and support hardware that would separate directly from the Falcon 9 upper stage, not the payloads riding on carrier vehicles, or space tugs, designed to deploy small satellites hours or days later.

"They'll be tracking them relatively quickly," Weeden said. "They won't have them identified and catalogued for probably days, if not weeks."


Figure 2: This photo shows the stack of 143 small satellites aboard SpaceX's Transporter-1 mission before encapsulation inside the Falcon 9 rocket's payload shroud (image credit: SpaceX)

T. S. Kelso, an astrodynamicist who manages AGI's (Analytical Graphics Inc.) Center for Space Standards and Innovation (CSSI), agreed it could take weeks to identify and catalog all the objects from the Transporter-1 mission.

"I do think it is important to get all operators that are capable of independently tracking their satellites to publicly share their data, for the common benefit of all operators in Earth orbit," Kelso wrote in an email to Spaceflight Now.

"I have been trying to get that message out, but with many new operators who are not familiar with the limitations of current legacy systems, we continue to see operators just assuming that tracking and identifying their satellites is a done deal, or believing that all they need to know is where their satellites are located," said Kelso, who also runs the website

Although SpaceX provides the space traffic management community with predicted orbital parameters before most of its launches, there's no requirement for a launch or satellite company to do so.

SpaceX did not publicize the total number of satellites on the Transporter-1 mission until less than 24 hours before the first launch attempt, and the company has not released a comprehensive list of every satellite carried to orbit Sunday.

Many customers disclosed their participation in the Transporter-1 launch well in advance. Others announced they had payloads on the mission just days before liftoff, and some declined to publicly reveal their satellites were on the flight until after it launched.

"Interesting to see the varying amounts of transparency from the many companies involved in the Transporter-1 launch," tweeted Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer who tracks space activity, shortly after Sunday's launch. "Some have already tweeted about their successful deployments, and some have not even yet acknowledged that they were on the flight."

Spaceflight Now was able to create a list of the payloads using regulatory filings, customer disclosures, and other industry sources.

James Russell, principal investigator for NASA's AIM (Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere) atmospheric research satellite at Hampton University, said launches of large clusters of satellites can put other spacecraft at risk. Russell said the AIM satellite flies at roughly the same altitude as the Transporter-1 mission's target orbit.

"It's an uncalculated collision risk," Russell told Spaceflight Now "They have not calculated what the collision probability is once they launch the smaller satellites."

Many of the satellites on the Transporter-1 mission have no way to change their orbit. AIM also carries no propulsion system, so there would be no way to steer clear of a collision, according to Russell.

Russell called for the U.S. government to "create policy" and for Congress to "make laws" setting safety requirements to limit the chances of in-space collisions.

"That doesn't exist right now," Russell said. "I think the process for getting this in place is moving, but it's moving at a snail's pace."

The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) decided last year not to immediately introduce any new major requirements for commercial satellite operators. The FCC discussed requiring commercial satellites above a certain altitude — where they might remain in orbit for decades — to have propulsion to maneuver and deorbit at the end of their missions.

"They did not fundamentally change the actual requirement because they got a huge amount of pushback from industry," Weeden said. "So all of the serious changes got pushed to another round."

The FCC licenses all satellites that transmit radio signals, giving it outsized influence over a large swath of the commercial space industry. Other agencies in the federal government's disjointed space regulatory regime include the Federal Aviation Administration, which licenses commercial launches and re-entries, and NOAA in the Department of Commerce, which oversees commercial remote sensing satellites.

The FAA also reviews payloads flying on commercial space launches. Publicly available regulatory filings can give some hints about what payloads are flying in rideshare missions like Transporter-1, but they are often published months in advance of a launch.

In the rideshare launch business, payloads can be added or removed from a mission with little or no public notice.

Sensing explosive growth in the commercial space industry, the Obama administration started re-assessing the government's regulatory approach to commercial spaceflight nearly a decade ago, but never implemented any significant changes.

The Trump administration issued a space policy directive in 2018 that would transition space traffic management responsibility from the military to the Department of Commerce. The Trump administration also directed the Commerce Department take on a "mission authorization" function, which would review, authorize and supervise commercial space activities that don't fall under the regulatory authority of the FAA, the FCC, or NOAA.

"That's not ideal," Weeden said. "That is, I would say, about as light touch as you can possibly get, but it would at least put someone, a government agency, nominally responsible for looking at this stuff."


Figure 3: A visualization of space debris in low Earth orbit (image credit: NASA)

Congress would need to act to give the Commerce Department the mission authorization authority. But that is "probably not going to happen for a while," Weeden said.

Until then, there is no specific federal agency empowered to look into issues like space debris mitigation or public disclosures about commercial space activity.

"This is why the FCC is involved because right now, since they regulate spectrum, that means they touch just about every single commercial satellite out there," Weeden said. "So they're really the only existing entity that already has regulatory authority over all these commercial activities.

"That is why right now they're the vehicle for regulating these large constellations," Weeden said. "But they're probably not the ideal way to do that because they do spectrum. They don't really do debris mitigation and this other stuff."

Governments are required to provide the United Nations with basic information about the orbit and purpose of satellites under the Registration Convention. But that information is usually published well after a launch.

Space traffic management experts have also developed RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) tags that could help identify satellites in orbit. But that, too, has gotten little traction beyond a few technical experiments.

"There's a lot of interest and support for that from the technical community, but the Trump administration was not wiling to put any kind of requirements on companies like that," Weeden said. "Unknown if the Biden administration will."

Without regulatory requirements in place, government agencies urge commercial satellite operators to follow guidelines and "best practices" to avoid generating more space junk.

"But in the end these companies, in this case SpaceX, they've got a financial incentive to launch these small satellites, so they have to make their own decisions," Russell said. "And they're very, very tight-lipped about what they're launching because they have individual agreements with different people.

"I think we need to take some action now to step up the process to get regulations in place where not only the private interests but the public interests can be met, and it'll help everybody."



SpaceX's rideshare launch prices are the ‘cheapest to date' (Ref. 3)

SpaceX announced its small satellite rideshare launch offering in 2019, and Sunday's launch was the first of a series of Transporter missions set to take off every four months. SpaceX's next dedicated rideshare launch, Transporter-2, is tentatively scheduled to launch in mid-2021 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

On its website, SpaceX says it charges customers as little as $1 million to launch a payload of 440 pounds (200 kg) on a dedicated rideshare flight to sun-synchronous orbit. Enabled by cost reductions from reusing Falcon 9 rocket hardware, the SpaceX prices are significantly less than the rate charged by any other launch provider for a payload of similar mass.

"These launches are very cost-efficient, the cheapest to date," said Jeanne Medvedeva, vice president of launch services at Berlin-based Exolaunch, a rideshare broker that arranged the launch of 30 of the 143 satellites on the Transporter-1 mission.

Companies like Exolaunch reserved ports on the Transporter-1 payload stack, then divided that capacity among multiple small satellite customers. Spaceflight, based in Seattle, the Italian company D-Orbit, the Dutch small satellite launch broker Innovative Solutions in Space, Houston-based Nanoracks, and Maverick Space Systems of California all booked capacity on the Transporter-1 mission, then divvied their slots among their customers.

"When we launch more than one satellite on each port, we make the price even better for the customer," Medvedeva said in a pre-launch interview with Spaceflight Now. "SpaceX sells a 200 kg port .... I know few satellites which are 200 kg precisely, so if you are lighter than 200, there is a chance to add other payloads just to share the slot."

SpaceX's prices undercut those of small satellite launch companies like Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit. Those launch providers offer rides for payloads into different types of orbits, where the small satellite owner has the choice of altitude and inclination.

The Transporter missions from SpaceX are more akin to a train or bus line than a taxi or an Uber, says Peter Beck, Rocket Lab's founder and CEO. They are cheaper, but don't always get you exactly where you need to go.

The SSO (Sun-Synchronous Orbit), in which satellites fly in a north-south direction around Earth, is a popular destination for Earth observation satellites because it offers regular revisits over imaging targets at the same time of day, allowing the collection of imagery under the same lighting conditions.


Figure 4: Artist's illustration of Swarm's tiny SpaceBEE satellites (image credit: Swarm)

SpaceX launched a rideshare mission to sun-synchronous orbit in December 2018 with 64 small satellites on-board. But that mission, named SSO-A, was managed by Spaceflight, which purchased the full capacity of a Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX. Spaceflight returned to SpaceX as a customer on the Transporter-1 mission, opting to buy a fraction of the Falcon 9's overall capacity rather than booking the entire rocket.

Spaceflight's Sherpa space tug carried 13 of the satellites on the Transporter-1 mission, plus a pair of non-separating hosted payloads. The hosted customers included a pod containing the cremated remains of 104 people, a commercial service provided by Celestis.

The Sherpa-FX vehicle separated from the Falcon 9's payload stack as a single unit, then commenced a mission scheduled to last several hours to release its 13 satellites.

"Effectively, to SpaceX, we're just another microsatellite sitting on their vehicle," said Ryan Olcott, Spaceflight's mission manager.

"Spaceflight can come in and do what we've always done, fractionalize the cost of launch, and figure out smart ways to bring in hardware and know-how," Olcott said. The Sherpa system is designed to "get everyone where they want to go a little bit cheaper, and make us a little money in the process," he said.


Figure 5: Artist's concept of Spaceflight's Sherpa orbital transportation vehicle (image credit: Spaceflight)

The battery-powered Sherpa-FX spacecraft was designed to test out systems for more advanced Sherpa tugs in the future. Spaceflight is developing Sherpa vehicles with propulsion, attitude control systems, and solar panels to ferry small satellites into different orbits than the altitude and inclination targeted by massive rideshare launches like SpaceX's Transporter missions.

Another space tug from D-Orbit, a company headquartered in Italy, was also deployed on the Transporter-1 mission. Similar in function to Spaceflight's Sherpa, D-Orbit's ION SCV Laurentius vehicle carried 20 small satellites for Planet and Swarm.

Exolaunch and Nanoracks deployed their customers' payloads directly from carriers that remained on-board the Transporter-1 stack. And Maverick Space Systems integrated three small NASA CubeSats into a deployer mounted on the rear of the Falcon 9 rocket's upper stage, near the Merlin engine.


Transporter-1 payloads begin menagerie of missions

The 143 satellites launched Sunday have missions ranging from communications to Earth observation, scientific research, and technology demonstrations. The payloads come from customers in the United States, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Taiwan, and Turkey.

Planet, a San Francisco-based company, had 48 shoebox-sized SuperDove nanosatellites (3U CubeSats) aboard Sunday's mission. They join more than 150 other small satellites in Planet's fleet providing daily remote sensing imagery around the world.

There were 36 tiny SpaceBEE data relay satellites on Sunday's launch from Swarm Technologies Inc.(a commercial company located in Palo Alto, CA, USA), each weighing less than 2 pounds (<1 kg). The "BEE" in SpaceBEE stands for Basic Electronic Element. Swarm is developing a low-data-rate satellite communications fleet the company says could be used by connected cars, remote environmental sensors, industrial farming operations, transportation, smart meters, and for text messaging in rural areas outside the range of terrestrial networks. - The company said the 36 SpaceBEEs, each about the size of a slice of bread, doubled the number of satellites in its network.

There were eight nanosatellites launched Sunday for Kepler Communications, a Toronto-based company with plans to field a fleet of 140 small spacecraft for data relay and IoT (Internet of Things) services. Kepler's eight "GEN1" nanosatellites were built at the company's own production facility in Toronto.

Kepler previously launched three prototype nanosatellites and the first two GEN1 satellites in September. The GEN1 satellites, based on a 6U-XL CubeSat bus, are production models with higher power and improved antennas to support Ku-band and narrowband communications capabilities, according to Kepler.

"We're excited to continue our network deployment in response to the overwhelming global demand for our network capacity. As our network continues to grow, we move closer to recognizing Kepler's vision of providing connectivity on and off the surface of the Earth," said Mina Mitry, Kepler's CEO, in a statement.

Eight Lemur-2 CubeSats (3U) from Spire Global were also on the launch. They join Spire's fleet of smallsats providing aircraft and maritime tracking services, and collecting atmospheric data for use in weather forecasting.

Radar imaging satellites also received a boost Sunday. All are microsatellites weighing up to a couple hundred pounds, bigger than most of the payloads on the Transporter-1 mission.

Three radar remote sensing spacecraft from the Finnish company ICEYE were on the Sunday's launch. Capella Space, an ICEYE competitor in the United States, launched its second and third radar imaging satellites for commercial use, named Capella 3 and Capella 4.

A Japanese remote sensing company, named iQPS (Institute for Q-shu Pioneers of Space) Inc. of Fukuoka, Japan, launched its second SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) surveillance satellite (iQPS-2, 100 kg) on the Transporter-1 mission.

HawkEye 360, the U.S. company of Herndon, VA, is planning a satellite constellation to monitor terrestrial radio signals, said its second cluster of formation-flying spacecraft were on Sunday's launch. They were to be deployed from Spaceflight's Sherpa-FX space tug.

"The expansion of our pioneering constellation is the first of several strong steps we have planned to multiply our existing capabilities and explore new possibilities for RF geospatial intelligence," said John Serafini, HawkEye 360's CEO. "We are proud to be the leading provider of RF insights to U.S. government, international governments, commercial and humanitarian interests, and we believe our newest deployment, which increases the frequency, quality and quantity of insights we are able to deliver, will be an invaluable resource for our customers."

The company's satellites are capable of detecting, characterizing, and locating the source of radio transmissions. Such data are useful in government intelligence-gathering operations.



Figure 6: HawkEye 360's three newest satellites on Transporter-1 (image credit: HawkEye 360)

Astrocast SA, a company of Chavannes-près-Renens, Vaud, Switzerland, had five 3U CubeSats on Sunday's Transporter-1 mission, also on the Sherpa-FX tug of Spaceflight. The nanosatellites are the latest in Astrocast's planned IoT network of 80 small spacecraft to collect and downlink data from weather buoys, wellhead sensors, pollution monitors and other remote stations.

The Transporter-1 rideshare mission also delivered into orbit a small satellite designed to monitor greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere. The GHGSat-C2 satellite, also known as "Hugo," is owned by a startup named GHGSat based in Montreal, Canada. GHGSat-C2 is a microsatellite with a mass of 16 kg.

Some missions had to drop off the Transporter-1 mission in final weeks before launch, including a pair of tech demo Mandrake 2 satellites for DARPA, the Pentagon's research and development agency. The two 85 kg microsatellites were damaged during launch processing at a SpaceX facility at Cape Canaveral, according to DARPA. The twin Mandrake 2 satellites were designed to test inter-satellite broadband links in orbit.

The first Vigoride space tug developed by the in-space transportation startup Momentus was also removed from the Transporter-1 launch. Momentus said in regulatory filings that the Vigoride mission did not clear an FAA review in time.

The Vigoride space tug was supposed to maneuver into a slightly higher orbit after separating from the Transporter-1 stack, then deploy five small CubeSats for commercial customers. The Vigoride tug and its five satellite ridealongs were all removed from the Transporter-1 mission.

SpaceX responded to the late subtractions by requesting and receiving FCC approval to add 10 more Starlink satellites to the Falcon 9 rocket. The 250 kg flat-panel satellites are the first Starlinks to launch into a polar orbit, joining more 1,000 other Starlink platforms flying in lower-inclination orbits from previous Falcon 9 flights.

The Starlink network is designed to provide low-latency broadband connectivity. Polar-orbiting satellites will extend the network's coverage globally.

• 48 SuperDove satellites of Planet, San Francisco

• 36 SpaceBEE satellites of Swarm Technologies, built to a 0.25U CubeSat form factor.

10 Starlink satellites for SpaceX (note: the launch of the 10 Starlink satellites is described in the Starlink file on the eoPortal)

• 8 GEN1 satellites of Kepler Communications, Toronto, Canada.

• 8 Lemur-2 satellites, 3U CubeSats, of Spire Global, San Francisco. The Lemur-2 satellites carry two payloads: STRATOS GPS radio occultation payload and the SENSE AIS-receiver.

• 5 Astrocast satellites

• 3 HawkEye 360 satellites

• 3 ICEYE X-band SAR satellites of the ICEYE SAR constellation, Finland.

• 3 V-R3x, 3 demonstration 1U CubeSats of NASA. The V-R3x tech demo will demonstrate low-cost and low-SWaP autonomous high-speed cross-linking, ranging, coordinated radiation measurements, and relative topology recovery utilizing three (3) 1U CubeSats.

• 3 ARCE-1 (Articulated Reconnaissance and Communications Expedition) 0.5 U CubeSats of USF (University of South Florida) to test inter-satellite networked communications.

• 2 Capella Space SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) satellites

• Sherpa-FX1 space tug, developed by Spaceflight, is a free flying satellite deployer. Sherpa-FX1 will deploy the HawkEye, Astrocast, PTD-1, 3 ARCE-1 and Prometheus-2 satellites. In addition to the separable payloads, there will be up to four, approximately 1U-sized, hosted payloads. These hosted payloads will be non-separating and will deorbit with the Sherpa-FX1 structure.

• D-Orbit's ION-SCV (In Orbit Now - Satellite Carrier Vehicle) Laurentius space tug. During the mission, named PULSE, the vehicle will deploy 20 satellites including 8 SuperDove satellites from Earth imaging company Planet Labs, and it will then perform the in-orbit demonstration of several payloads including an optical instrument from EICAS Automazione and one from Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC). [Ref. 8), 7)]

• iQPS-2 (Institute for Q-shu Pioneers of Space-2). A X-band SAR satellite with a mass of ~100 kg for iQPS of Japan

• YUSAT (Yushan Satellite 1), a 1.5U CubeSat of the National Taiwan Ocean University, Taiwan.

• IDEASSAT (Ionospheric Dynamics Explorer and Attitude Subsystem Satellite), a 3U CubeSat of the National Central University), Taiwan.

• UVQS-SAT (UltraViolet & infrared Sensors at high Quantum efficiency onboard a small Satellite), a 1U CubeSat of LATMOS of France.

• ASELSAT, a 3U CubeSat of ASELSAN, Turkey

• Hiber Four, a 3U CubeSat of Hiber, the Netherlands

• SOMP2b (Student On-Orbit Measurement Project 2b) of TU Dresden of Germany

• PIXL-1, a 3U CubeSat of DLR, partnered with Tesat, Germany to test laser communications for CubeSats.

• Charlie, a 6U CubeSat of U.S.-based Aurora Insight

• GHGSat-C2 (Hugo) of GHGSat, Montreal, Canada. The microsatellite (16 kg) was built by UTIAS/SFL

• PTD-1 (Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator-1), a 6U CubeSat (11 kg) of NASA/ARC

• Prometheus-2, a 1.5U CubeSat for technology development and demonstration of LANL (Los Alamos National Laboratory)

Table 1: List of all 143 satellites launched on the Transporter-1 mission (Ref. 3)



Launch Integration & Service Providers of the Transporter-1 Rideshare Mission

1) Exolaunch, Berlin Germany

Exolaunch's manifest on the mission included 30 small satellites for its U.S. and European customers, including satellites from DLR (German Aerospace Center), Dresden Technical University, NanoAvionics and other commercial companies for the IoT, Earth Observation and scientific applications.

Exolaunch utilized its brand-new product, the EXOport, which is a flexible multi-satellite adapter designed to enable optimal accommodation of microsatellites and nanosatellites on the Falcon 9 ESPA ports. The company will also utilize its proprietary flight-proven separation systems – CarboNIX, the next generation shock-free separation system for microsatellites, upgraded modifications of EXOpod deployers and EXObox sequencers to flawlessly deploy its customers' satellites into the target orbit.

• January 24, 2021: Exolaunch announced a successful launch of 30 commercial, space agency, and university satellites for its customers from Europe and the U.S. on the first dedicated rideshare mission of SpaceX's SmallSat Rideshare Program. The mission, named "Zeitgeist," lifted off on January 24 at 15:00 UTC on Falcon 9 "Transporter-1," completing one of the largest and most diverse rideshare missions for Exolaunch. 4)

- Zeitgeist kicked-off the first of several rideshares Exolaunch will manifest on Falcon 9 as part of a multi-launch agreement with SpaceX. On this mission, Exolaunch provided deployment, mission management and integration services to the German Aerospace Center (DLR), Dresden Technical University, ICEYE, NanoAvionics and other commercial companies for IoT, Earth observation and scientific applications.

- "This Zeitgeist mission set a new standard for rideshare launches and not only was a successful demonstration of Exolaunch's capabilities, but also paved the way for smallsat developers from around the world to participate in SpaceX's SmallSat Rideshare Program," said Jeanne Medvedeva, Vice President of Launch Services at Exolaunch. "We are proud to be working with so many of the world's leading satellite and technology companies to advance the NewSpace industry, and we are already looking ahead to additional Falcon 9 launches later this year."

- Zeitgeist was Exolaunch's 12th rideshare mission. As with previous launches, Exolaunch utilized its proprietary flight-proven separation systems – CarboNIX, the next generation shock-free separation system for microsatellites, upgraded modifications of EXOpod CubeSat deployers, as well as its EXObox sequencers to flawlessly deploy its customers' satellites into the target orbit. With this launch, Exolaunch has flown 140 smallsats on multiple launch vehicles.

Exolaunch's manifest on the Transporter-1 mission includes the following satellites

- Charlie nanosatellite built by NanoAvionics for Aurora Insight: The first of two nanosatellites, built and integrated by NanoAvionics for US radio frequency spectrum and wireless data provider Aurora Insight.

- CubeLCT nanosatellite, named PIXL-1, from the German Aerospace Center (DLR): The CubeLCT is developed by DLR Institute of Communications and Navigation in close cooperation with its commercialization partner Tesat-Spacecom (TESAT). The satellite has been developed and integrated by the Danish company GomSpace. The development of the CubeLCT serves the demand for increasing bandwidth, resulting in new sensor capabilities on small satellites.

- SOMP2b (Student On-Orbit Measurement Project 2b) designed and built by TU Dresden to examine new nanomaterials under the extreme conditions of space, to test systems for converting solar heat into electrical current and to precisely measure the residual atmosphere around the satellite.

- 3 x ICEYE satellites: Three more satellites of the commercial constellation of radar imaging satellites built and operated by ICEYE.

- 24 satellites from unnamed commercial customers.

- Exolaunch continues to make space more accessible through regular and cost-efficient rideshare missions for small satellites. In addition to successful satellite deployments from SpaceX's Falcon 9, Exolaunch's flight heritage includes Arianespace's Soyuz-ST, RocketLab's Electron, Roscosmos' Soyuz-2 and a scheduled mission with ISRO's PSLV later this year.


Figure 7: Artist's rendition of rideshare smallsat deployments from Falcon 9 into space (image credit: Exolaunch)


2) Spaceflight Inc., Seattle, WA

Spaceflight successfully launched and deployed 16 payloads, including 15 from its next-generation OTV (Orbital Transfer Vehicle), Sherpa-FX1, aboard the SpaceX Transporter-1 mission. Spaceflight managed the end-to-end launch experience for 10 CubeSats, four microsatellites and two hosted payloads. Customers onboard the launch represented both commercial and government entities from four countries, and included organizations such as HawkEye 360, iQPS, Astrocast, Celestis, and the University of South Florida Institute of Applied Engineering.

Spaceflight's Sherpa-NG (next generation) program delivers it all. The Sherpa family of ESPA-class space vehicles are designed to minimize development timelines while maximizing flight and schedule reliability and mission assurance (Figure 5). 5)


Figure 8: Spaceflight Inc. integration team (with the Sherpa-FX OTV in the background) at the SpaceX Payload Processing Facility at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Back row: M. Coletti, A. Lewandowski, J. Larkin, M. Foster, M. Boysen Front row: A. Taylor, R. Olcott (image credit: Spaceflight)


3) ISILaunch of ISISpace, Delft, the Netherlands

A total of 53 satellites were accommodated in ISISpace deployers by the ISILAUNCH team as part of the ISILAUNCH34 launch campaign. 6)

For this mission, Kepler Communications of Toronto Canada, had contracted ISISPACE and ISILAUNCH to take care of the integration of their satellites on board the Transporter-1 mission, including interface design and development, deployers, sequencer, and full-service integration support to get all satellites and equipment to the launch site at Cape Canaveral and mated with Falcon 9.

To optimize the number of satellites that can be integrated within the available volume and mass constraints, ISISPACE developed the CubeSat MultiPack (CSMP), and partnered with SkyEnergy to develop a special MultiPack Adapter Plate (MPAP) for that purpose. The MPAP is designed to accommodate up to 9 QuadPack deployers, along with our iMDC (Modular Deployment Controller) sequencer to provide a single point interface between the launch vehicle control and telemetry system and the deployers.


Figure 9: ISISPACE's launch service integration team at ISILAUNCH managed and executed the launch campaign on Kepler's behalf. With excess capacity for more deployers available on the MPAP, several other customer satellites were integrated on the Transporter-1 mission by ISILAUNCH (image credit: ISISpace)


Figure 10: The development of the CubeSat MultiPack also made it possible to support our long-term customer Planet, with the inclusion of 36 Planet Type 3.XL+ SuperDove satellite, all integrated in 9 QuadPacks making up a very full plate and an amazing sight after integration to the launch vehicle. Another QuadPack with SuperDoves could be included on the other plate, bringing the total number of Planet satellites to the 40 they required to be launched (image credit: ISISpace)

Achieving such a milestone right after celebrating ISISPACE's 15th anniversary earlier this month stands as another record milestone in our company history. We are grateful for the trust we have received from our customers in achieving this success!


4) D-Orbit of Fino Mornasco (HQs), Italy

On January 24th, 2021, at 4:00 pm CET, D-Orbit launched another ION-SCV (In Orbit Now - Satellite Carrier Vehicle) atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (CCSFS), Florida. On the same day, 1 hour 16 minutes and 28 seconds later, the vehicle was successfully deployed into a polar orbit. 7)

The spacecraft, named ION SCV Laurentius, is an upgraded and enhanced version of the vehicle launched in the fall of 2020 which precisely deployed 12 satellites in orbit. ION Satellite Carrier is a space cargo designed to accommodate several satellites, transport them into space and release them precisely into independent orbits and orbital slots. ION's integrated capabilities also enable the spacecraft to perform on-orbit demonstration (IOD) services for third-party hosted payloads.


Figure 11: Twenty satellites in orbit thanks to a space platform made in Italy (image credit: D-Orbit)


Figure 12: Photo of the ION-SCV Laurentius (image credit: D-Orbit)

During the mission, named PULSE, the vehicle deployed 20 satellites, including 8 SuperDove satellites from Earth imaging company Planet Labs, San Francisco. It then performed the on-orbit demonstration of several payloads, including an optical instrument from EICAS Automazione and one from Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC). 8)

"In D-Orbit we focus on our customers' success, no matter what it takes. We are the company with most heritage, reliability and results accomplished in the market in this business. It has been just two months since the historical success of our previous ION Satellite Carrier mission, and we are back in space already," said Luca Rossettini, D-Orbit's CEO. "We are already building the space logistics infrastructure enabling the next trillion-dollar space economy."


1) Jeff Foust, "SpaceX launches record-setting cluster of smallsats," SpaceNews, 24 January 2021, URL:

2) Jeff Foust, "FCC grants permission for polar launch of Starlink satellites," SpaceNews, 9 January 2021, URL:

3) Stephen Clark, "SpaceX smashes record with launch of 143 small satellites," Spaceflight Now, 24 January 2021, URL:

4) "Exolaunch Delivers 30 Small Satellites into Orbit on SpaceX's First Dedicated Rideshare Launch —Zeitgeist Mission Marks New Milestone for the Company and NewSpace Industry," Exolaunch news, 24 January 2021, URL:

5) Jodi Sorensen, "All aboard! Transporter-1 (SXRS-3) departing soon," Spaceflight, 20 January, 2021, URL:

6) "ISILAUNCH34 successfully launched on board Falcon 9," 25 January 2021, URL:

7) "D-Orbit's ION SCV Laurentius Smallsat Launched By SpaceX," Satnews, 24 January 2021, URL:

8) The PULSE mission has launched," D-Orbit, URL:

The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: "Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors" (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (

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