SpaceX launches 64 "smallsats" in record flight


Hawthorne-based SpaceX again postponed a planned launch of its SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base Sunday for a mission dubbed Spaceflight SSO-A: SmallSat Express. The launch has been postponed three times - once to accommodate additional pre-flight inspections, another time due to weather, and on Sunday to "conduct additional inspections of the second stage, according to SpaceX".

The Falcon 9 purchased by Spaceflight was the first fully dedicated to a smallsat "rideshare" mission using a single rocket to carry dozens of spacecraft to orbit that otherwise might have difficulty finding a ride to space.

But it was clear sailing Monday with an on-time launch and a spectacular southerly climb out of the thick lower atmosphere.

Under the new schedule, the launch will take place from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California around 10:32 a.m. local time (18.32 GMT) on December 3. Minutes after launch, it touched down on a drone ship stationed out in the Pacific Ocean, christened "Just Read the Instructions".

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This will be the second largest rideshare mission ever and the largest for a single mission on USA soil. The upper stage of the Falcon 9 is set to deploy a total of 64 cubesats and smallsats representing 34 different organizations and 17 countries.

Some of the satellites are aiming to build an internet network that could support smart devices.

The Block 5 booster had its previous liftoffs in May and August, and SpaceX recovered the booster for a third time today.

"Most of the start-ups are planning to eventually have constellations of between 60 and 100 satellites", Wired reported. No SpaceX rocket has ever flown more than twice.