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SpaceX to launch 40 satellites rideshare mission from Florida today

Yusuf Balogun
Yusuf Balogun
Yusuf is a law graduate and freelance journalist with a keen interest in tech reporting.

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SpaceX has hoisted a Falcon 9 rocket vertical on pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in preparation for a launch with 40 satellites on Friday at 12:24 p.m. EDT (1624 GMT) to begin Earth-observing, communications, and technological demonstration missions.

According to the 45th Weather Squadron of the United States Space Force, there is only a 30% probability that weather conditions would be good for a launch on Friday. At the time of Friday’s instantaneous launch chance, a stalled cold front is expected to be over Central Florida.

The Falcon 9 rocket will launch from Cape Canaveral and will travel southeast before heading south along Florida’s east coast to deliver the mission’s 40 payloads into polar orbit.

The first stage of the rocket is scheduled to crash into the drone ship “Just Read the Instructions,” which is moored in the Atlantic Ocean between Cuba and the Bahamas, some 330 miles (530 kilometers) south of Cape Canaveral. Since its debut mission with NASA’s Crew-1 astronauts in November 2020, the booster has made seven trips to space.

The mission’s main cargo, Germany’s EnMAP environmental monitoring probe, will be launched to an altitude of around 404 miles in the second stage (650 kilometers). At that altitude, two smaller payloads will be deployed, followed by two more second-stage burns to reduce the orbit to around 310 miles (500 kilometers), allowing the remaining satellites to be separated.

The hyperspectral Earth-imaging sensor onboard the 2,160-pound (980-kilogram) EnMAP spacecraft will survey crops, woods, and other surfaces, delivering comprehensive information about the state of vegetation and plant health.

SpaceX’s Transporter 4 mission is the company’s fourth dedicated small satellite rideshare launch since January 2021, and the second of four Transporter rides planned this year.

On January 24, 2021, SpaceX launched the first Transporter mission, carrying a record 143 satellites on a single rocket. On June 30, 2021, Transporter 2 launched 88 payloads into orbit, while Transporter 3 launched on January 13 with 105 spacecraft.

The Transporter 4 manifest has been reduced to 40 spacecraft, however, this is mostly due to EnMAP’s participation in the mission. The satellite is heavier than any of the prior SpaceX Transporter missions’ satellites, and the Falcon 9 will transport EnMAP to a higher orbit than previous rideshare flights.

Because of these conditions, the Falcon 9 booster will not be able to land at Cape Canaveral, as it did on the previous two Transporter rideshare flights. The first stage on Transporter 4 will deliver a boost lasting 15 seconds longer than on the Transporter 3 mission in January, but there will be the insufficient propellant to return to Florida’s Space Coast. The booster will instead be sent to SpaceX’s rocket landing platform.

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