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Live coverage: SpaceX launches rideshare mission, lands another Falcon booster

Live coverage of the countdown and launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida. The Transporter 5 mission will launch 59 small payloads from customers around the world. Follow us on .

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Fifty-nine small satellites and hosted experiments launched Wednesday at 2:35 p.m. EDT (1835 GMT) from Cape Canaveral aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The reusable Falcon booster returned to Florida’s Space Coast for landing about eight-and-a-half minutes later. The mission was the fifth for SpaceX’s Transporter smallsat rideshare program.

Weather conditions were favorable for launch from Cape Canaveral. Liftoff occurred eight minutes later than originally planned to allow more time to complete thermal testing for the Falcon 9’s payload deployment sequence.

The Falcon 9 rocket headed southeast from Cape Canaveral, then veered south along Florida’s east coast to place the mission’s 59 payloads into polar orbit. The first stage fired its nine Merlin engines for 2 minutes, 16 seconds, then separated from the Falcon upper stage to begin its return to Florida.

The first stage pulsed cold gas nitrogen thrusters to flip around and fly tail-first, then ignited three of the Merlin engines for a boost-back burn at the edge of space to reverse course and head back to Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

The booster extended titanium grid fins to help steer the rocket back through the atmosphere, then fired three of its engines again for a re-entry burn. After slowing to a velocity less than the speed of sound, the rocket fired its center engine for a final braking maneuver just before a vertical touchdown on four legs at Landing Zone 1, less than 6 miles (10 kilometers) from the launch pad.

The first stage on Wednesday’s mission — tail number B1061 — made its eighth launch and landing. It debuted in November 2020 on a NASA crew mission carrying four astronauts to space, then launched another four astronauts on a crew flight in April 2021.

SpaceX launched the booster again last June with a radio broadcasting satellite for SiriusXM, last August with a Dragon cargo capsule heading to the International Space Station, and in December with a NASA X-ray astronomy satellite. The booster has now launched three times this year: Feb. 3 with 49 Starlink internet satellites, April 1 with the Transporter 4 rideshare mission, and Wednesday on the Transporter 5 mission.

While the booster returned to Cape Canaveral after Wednesday’s liftoff, the Falcon 9’s second stage engine burned about six minutes to reach a preliminary parking orbit.

After engine cutoff, a self-contained payload from Nanoracks inside a box mounted on the upper stage was programmed to begin a 10-minute experiment to demonstrate metal cutting in orbit. The Outpost Mars Demo-1 experiment included three small coupons of corrosion resistant steel, which a robotic arm will attempt to cut using friction milling technology.

Nanoracks says the experiment is a first step in demonstrating metalworks in orbit, which could lead to advancements in space manufacturing and salvaging, including the conversion of used launch vehicle upper stages into orbiting habitats and research platforms.

The metal cutting experiment was expected to complete about 20 minutes after launch, then was supposed to downlink data and imagery to scientists through ground receiving stations. Nanoracks expected to know the results of the experiment late Wednesday or Thursday.

The upper stage’s work wasn’t finished. Another engine firing occurred 55 minutes into the flight to place the satellite payloads into a near-circular orbit at an altitude of about 326 miles (525 kilometers), and an inclination of 97.5 degrees to the equator.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket on pad 40 at Cape Canaveral early Wednesday, hours before the launch of the Transporter 5 mission. Credit: SpaceX

Then the Falcon 9 began releasing the rest of its commercial and government payloads.

The satellite passengers on the Transporter 5 mission included the first Vigoride orbital transfer vehicle built by a startup named Momentus, which will demonstrate a novel water-based propulsion system.

There was also a Sherpa transfer vehicle from Spaceflight, a company that specializes in brokering rides to space for small satellites, with its own roster of payloads. Another orbital transfer vehicle from the Italian company D-Orbit also separated from the Falcon 9 upper stage to conduct orbital maneuvers before releasing multiple commercial smallsats.

Other payloads on the Transporter 5 mission included five commercial ICEYE radar observation satellites, each nearly 200 pounds (100 kilograms) in mass. There were four small optical Earth-imaging satellites from the Argentine company Satellogic, growing its constellation to 26 operational spacecraft. The Transporter 5 mission launched three microsats from the Canadian company GHGSat, which is deploying a fleet of small satellites to monitor global greenhouse gas emissions.

There were also three formation-flying spacecraft on the Transporter 5 launch for HawkEye 360, a U.S. company building a satellite constellation to detect and locate the source of terrestrial radio signals. HawkEye 360 said earlier this year its RF monitoring satellites detected GPS interference in Ukraine as Russian military forces invaded the country.

Umbra, a startup based in Santa Barbara, California, launched its third radar remote sensing satellite on the Transporter 5 mission. Another California-based company, GeoOptics, also launched two small satellites for its commercial weather monitoring constellation.

There were five Lemur 2 CubeSats on-board from Spire Global to track weather, aviation and maritime activity from space, support data relay services, host an optical payload, and test radio frequency detection technology for the UK Ministry of Defense.

The U.S. military’s Missile Defense Agency had two small tech demo spacecraft on the Transporter 5 mission to test inter-satellite communications links.

NASA had two CubeSat missions launching on the Transporter 5 mission.

One of the CubeSats is named PTD 3, developed at NASA’s Ames Research Center to host a laser communication experiment from MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. The Terabyte Infrared Delivery, or TBIRD, experiment will test laser data links between a small satellite and a ground station, helping prove technology that could allow satellite networks to transmit vast volumes of data much faster than through conventional radio systems.

The other NASA payload on the Transporter 5 launch was the CubeSat Proximity Operations Demonstration, which will demonstrate rendezvous, proximity operations, and docking using two shoebox-sized CubeSats.

One of the CubeSats on the Transporter 5 mission also carried the cremated remains of 47 people, part of a commercial memorial service provided by Celestis.

on the Nanoracks metal cutting experiment on the Transporter 5 launch.

ROCKET: Falcon 9 (B1061.8)

PAYLOAD: 59 microsatellites, CubeSats, orbital transfer vehicles, and hosted payloads

LAUNCH SITE: SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida

LAUNCH DATE: May 25, 2022

LAUNCH TIME: 2:35:00 p.m. EDT (1835:00 GMT)

LAUNCH WINDOW: 57 minutes

WEATHER FORECAST: 80% probability of acceptable weather

BOOSTER RECOVERY: Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station

LAUNCH AZIMUTH: South-southeast, then south

TARGET ORBIT: Approximately 326 miles (525 kilometers), 97.5 degrees inclination

LAUNCH TIMELINE:

  • T+00:00: Liftoff
  • T+01:12: Maximum aerodynamic pressure (Max-Q)
  • T+02:16: First stage main engine cutoff (MECO)
  • T+02:19: Stage separation
  • T+02:27: Second stage engine ignition
  • T+02:32: First stage boost-back burn ignition (three engines)
  • T+03:19: First stage boost-back burn ends
  • T+03:47: Fairing jettison
  • T+06:43: First stage entry burn ignition (three engines)
  • T+07:08: First stage entry burn ends
  • T+08:00: First stage landing burn ignition (one engine)
  • T+08:25: Second stage engine cutoff (SECO 1)
  • T+08:33: First stage landing
  • T+08:35: Nanoracks Outpost Mars Demo-1 experiment initiation
  • T+55:27: Second stage engine restart
  • T+55:59: Second stage engine cutoff (SECO 2)
  • T+59:00: GeoOptics CICERO 2 Vehicle 2 separation
  • T+59:09: SharedSat_2141 separation
  • T+59:17: Spire’s Lemur-2 Karen_B separation
  • T+59:18: NASA Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator 3 separation
  • T+59:37: Urdaneta separation
  • T+59:46: GeoOptics CICERO 2 Vehicle 1 separation
  • T+59:56: Spire’s Lemur 2 Vandendries separation
  • T+1:00:05: Omnispace Spark-2 separation
  • T+1:00:24: Spire’s Lemur 2 Tennysonlily separation
  • T+1:00:47: GHGSat-C4 Penny separation
  • T+1:01:00: Planetum 1 and SPiN 1 separation
  • T+1:01:09: Spire’s Lemur 2 Hancom-1 separation
  • T+1:01:21: GHGSat-C3 Luca separation
  • T+1:01:38: NASA CubeSat Proximity Operations Demonstration separation
  • T+1:01:50: Connecta T1.1 separation
  • T+1:01:59: Spire’s Lemur 2 Mimi1307 separation
  • T+1:02:13: GHGSat-C5 Diako separation
  • T+1:03:18: Foresail-1 separation
  • T+1:03:49: Fleet Space Centauri-5 separation
  • T+1:04:04: MDA’s CNCE V4 and CNCE V5 separation
  • T+1:04:20: Satellogic’s Newsat 28 separation
  • T+1:04:42: Spaceflight’s Sherpa-AC1 transfer vehicle separation
  • T+1:05:28: Varisat-1C separation
  • T+1:05:43: AMS separation
  • T+1:06:07: BroncoSat-1 separation
  • T+1:06:35: Satellogic’s Newsat 29 separation
  • T+1:08:19: Satellogic’s Newsat 30 separation
  • T+1:08:40: First ICEYE satellite separation
  • T+1:09:00: Satellogic’s Newsat 31 separation
  • T+1:09:22: D-Orbit’s ION SCV 006 transfer vehicle separation
  • T+1:09:44: Umbra separation
  • T+1:10:05: HawkEye 360’s Hawk-5B separation
  • T+1:10:26: HawkEye 360’s Hawk-5C separation
  • T+1:10:48: HawkEye 360’s Hawk-5A separation
  • T+1:11:17: Momentus’ Vigoride transfer vehicle separation
  • T+1:11:56: Second ICEYE satellite separation
  • T+1:12:29: Third ICEYE satellite separation
  • T+1:12:51: Fourth ICEYE satellite separation
  • T+1:15:22: Fifth ICEYE satellite separation

MISSION STATS:

  • 156th launch of a Falcon 9 rocket since 2010
  • 164th launch of Falcon rocket family since 2006
  • 8th launch of Falcon 9 booster B1061
  • 136th Falcon 9 launch from Florida’s Space Coast
  • 87th Falcon 9 launch from pad 40
  • 142nd launch overall from pad 40
  • 98th flight of a reused Falcon 9 booster
  • 5th Transporter rideshare mission launched by SpaceX
  • 22nd Falcon 9 launch of 2022
  • 22nd launch by SpaceX in 2022
  • 22nd orbital launch based out of Cape Canaveral in 2022

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