Space

Space traffic control challenge for record-setting rideshare mission of SpaceX

Summary

In readiness for the Transporter-1, a rideshare spacecraft expected to deploy on January 23, which might set a modern record for even the most satellites ever deployed in one flight, United States Space Command’s traffic watchers have collaborated with SpaceX as well as […]

In readiness for the Transporter-1, a rideshare spacecraft expected to deploy on January 23, which might set a modern record for even the most satellites ever deployed in one flight, United States Space Command’s traffic watchers have collaborated with SpaceX as well as satellite operators in the recent days. At the Vandenberg Air Force Base situated in California, Space Command teams will attempt to map as many as about 143 government and commercial satellites, which Transporter-1 will launch 500 kilometers above the Earth to the sun-synchronous orbit.

According to Diana McKissock, expert of the space situational awareness, at 18th SPCS, the 18th Space Control Squadron, that tracks satellites as well as space debris for close encounters, has coordinated with SpaceX as well as the satellite owners and the operators “to comprehend the deployment schedule for the Transporter-1 as well as the satellite launch timeline so that we can be able to provide effective spaceflight safety assistance.” Transporter-1 on the Falcon 9 rocket is the first dedicated commercial rideshare of SpaceX. With 143 satellites, it will be a record-breaking flight, topping India’s PSLV-C37 deployment of 104 satellites in 2017 February.

A challenge of satellite watchers is the potential to monitor too many payloads from one launch. Spaceflight expert, as well as explorer Jonathan McDowell, informed SpaceNews, “One of the challenges seems to be that we do not even know with certainty what all of these 143 satellites are.” “It will definitely be a struggle to sort all of them out,” he added. McDowell also said SpaceX did not issue a comprehensive roadmap for this “frustrating” rideshare. McDowell stated that there are a few tests on this flight to evaluate RFID tags that will recognize satellites. “If they are eventually widely adopted, it will make it much easier to monitor these big cluster launches.”

Any of the data on the satellites operating on the Transporter-1 has appeared. The planet is the biggest customer on this flight, with a trip to space hitched by 48 SuperDove satellites. There are ten of the SpaceX’s own Starlink internet satellites as well as 36 very tiny Swarm Technologies satellites creating an internet-of-things infrastructure with a “SpaceBee” spaceship the size of the bread slice. Spaceflight’s SHERPA-FX, a new kind of spaceship that will distribute 18 secondary payloads, is another payload traveling on Transporter-1.

For small satellite operators, the favorable price and dependability of the SpaceX rideshare render them an appealing choice, so these volume launches are likely to become normal. Experts remember that consolidating hundreds of smallsats on one flight from multiple customers is successful but has repercussions that are yet to be worked out for the spaceflight safety.

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