SpaceX’s first dedicated rideshare – a collection of small satellites manifested for launch and organized by a third party – is into the final stretches of prelaunch preparations, readying for a ride to orbit on a flight-proven Falcon 9 no earlier than (NET) November 19th.
While unconfirmed, it appears that SpaceX is working to make SSO-A’s launch the first time the same Falcon 9 booster flies three missions, an accomplishment that may look minor up close but is actually a major step forward for orbital-class reusable rockets.
— Spaceflight (@SpaceflightInc) October 22, 2018
SSO-A organizer and launch customer Spaceflight Industries announced yesterday (Oct. 22) that the collection of several dozen satellites – called a “stack” when integrated together in and on Spaceflight’s custom dispenser – arrived at Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) within the last few days, setting the stage for post-shipment health checkouts and encapsulation inside Falcon 9’s payload fairing.
“The assembled stack has now traveled by road 1,075 miles (1730 km) from Seattle. It will travel another 357 miles (575 km) to reach its targeted orbit. So we could say that the longest part of the journey is over…but the most exciting part is still to come!”
Arrival at the launch site is a huge milestone for any satellite or spacecraft and that is perhaps even more so the case for massive rideshare missions like SSO-A. The task of wrangling together dozens upon dozens of satellites of all different shapes and sizes – all coming from dozens of customers spread across the world – is understandably unenviable from a logistical standpoint. Despite the major hurdles and the apparent loss or slippage of a few dozen previously-planned satellites, it appears that Spaceflight Industries has made it through logistical hell and can now begin to focus on prelaunch operations after arriving at or near SpaceX’s California launch site.
If there were any stragglers with satellites that were not quite able to make it to Spaceflight’s Auburn, WA integration facilities ahead of shipment to California, there may still be a very limited time-frame for those customers to redirect their spacecraft to California and integrate with the full stack before the whole thing is closed up inside Falcon 9’s payload fairing.
Third time’s the charm
For Falcon 9, SSO-A is equally exciting. Likely to fly on either booster B1048 or B1046, both now with two successful launches on their records, this mission could mark the first time a Falcon 9 booster completes three orbital-class missions. If the rocket managed a successful recovery, either at SpaceX’s recently-inaugurated Landing Zone-4 (LZ-4) or well-worn drone ship Just Read The Instructions, it would pave the way for its fourth reflight and beyond. SpaceX designed Falcon 9 Block 5 to be capable of a minimum of 10 launches per booster with little to no refurbishment, potentially enabling 100+ flights each with regular maintenance.
If schedules hold, SSO-A will launch as few as five days after SpaceX’s NET November 14th launch of communications satellite Es’Hail-2 on the opposite coast.
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