SpaceX launches Transporter-10 rideshare from Vandenberg

by Danny Lentz

On Monday, March 4, 2024, SpaceX launched the Transporter-10 rideshare mission from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Space Force Base (VSFB). Liftoff occurred at 2:05 PM PST (22:05 UTC).

Deployment of payloads from the second stage to two Sun-synchronous orbits (SSO) at altitudes of approximately 520 kilometers and 600 kilometers began almost an hour after launch and lasted until two hours and 33 minutes after launch, including moving to the second orbit.

There were 48 deployment events from Falcon 9, releasing 51 spacecraft, some of which are orbital transfer vehicles (OTVs) carrying other satellites for later deployment, for a total of 53 payloads. SpaceX announced successful deployement of all payloads.

The booster used for this flight was B1081-5, which had previously flown Crew-7, CRS-29, PACE, and a Starlink mission, all from Florida. After stage separation, the booster returned to land on Landing Zone 4 at VSFB. Support ship GO Beyond will recover the payload fairing halves downrange in the Pacific Ocean.

The second stage for this mission sported a grey stripe used to help maintain propellant temperatures during longer missions. The stage conducted its first burn of a little less than six minutes to reach an elliptical parking orbit, then performed a short four second circularization burn 50 minutes after launch to reach the first SSO deployment orbit at an altitude of approximately 510 by 520 kilometers and inclination of 97.45 degrees. More than three-quarters of the satellites were released in this orbit beginning 53 minutes after launch.

An hour and 45 minutes after launch, the second stage began another sequence of two one-second burns to reach the second payload deployment orbit at an altitude of approximately 590 by 600 kilometers and inclination of 97.75 degrees. Deployment of the remaining satellites began about two and a half hours after launch.

After releasing the remaining satellites, the second stage conducted a final burn to deorbit.

This was the 21st Falcon mission of the year for SpaceX. The company is continuing to launch at a rapid pace, with this being the second of three flights in 20 hours. The next flight, a Starlink mission, launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida while Transporter-10 was still deploying its payloads. The next SpaceX rideshare will be the first of the Bandwagon missions launching to mid-inclination orbit from Cape Canaveral in April.

Mission Overview

This was the tenth dedicated rideshare mission organized by SpaceX, with payloads ranging in size from picosatellites of less than a kilogram that are only a few centimeters on a side to satellites massing a few hundred kilograms. While most of the payloads were released directly from the launch vehicle, there are two new Orbital Transfer Vehicles from Space Machines and Atomos which may later release more spacecraft. Rideshare integrators handling payloads on this flight include Exolaunch, Maverick, and SEOPS.

Optimus-2 OTV. (Credit: Space Machines Company)

Australia’s Space Machines Company is launching Optimus-2, its first Optimus OTV. Payloads on board include an inertial navigation system from Advanced Navigation, a space domain awareness camera from HEO Robotics, a hyperspectral camera from Esper, an in-space image processor from Spiral Blue, a network processor from Dandelion, and an AI processor from ANT61.

Argentina’s Satellogic has another high-resolution optical and hyperspectral satellite, NuSat-44, adding to its constellation of about two dozen spacecraft. ICEYE has the X36, X-37, and X-38 synthetic aperture radar microsatellites, bringing their constellation to around 30 spacecraft in orbit.

Lynk Global has Tower 5 and Tower 6, a pair of 85-kilogram satellites for direct-to-device connectivity. This pair of satellites will join the three Lynk spacecraft already on orbit to provide messaging services for cell phones.

Luxembourg’s OQ Technology add to its constellation Tiger-7 and Tiger-8, a pair of 6U CubeSats for providing 5G Internet of things communications.

The volume of CubeSats is usually given in units (“U”) of 10 by 10 by 10 centimeters. For example, a 6U CubeSat would measure 10 by 20 by 30 centimeters. The volume of PocketQubes is usually given in P units of five by five by five centimeters, so a 2P PocketQube measures five by five by 10 centimeters.

Atomos Space has Mission 1, featuring the first of their Quark orbital transfer vehicles. The Quark-LITE spacecraft (Meson-1) will carry the Gluon-1 satellite that will later separate from Quark and then serve as a target for rendezvous and proximity operations, docking, and refueling demonstrations. Each of the two spacecraft will mass around 100 kilograms.

Loft Orbital has the 90 kilogram YAM-6 satellite with hyperspectral and multi-spectral imagers, which will support a Virtual Mission capability that enables developers to deploy software applications to the satellite with interfaces to support use of the onboard sensors.

The Environmental Defense Fund’s 366-kilogram MethaneSat will be used to collect and distribute observations of methane emissions, focusing on areas with oil and gas production. The satellite can collect data over a 200-kilometer-wide swath at a resolution of 100 x 400 meters per pixel. Other methane detection satellites launched recently have much higher resolution but also a much narrower field of view. The government of New Zealand contributed to the project, and mission control will be handled from that country after initial commissioning by Ball Aerospace, who led spacecraft production.

Methane plumes detected by Orbital Sidekick’s GHOSt satellites. (Credit: Orbital Sidekick)

Orbital Sidekick is adding the GHOSt-4 and GHOSt-5 satellites to their hyperspectral imaging constellation. These 90 kilogram spacecraft can detect methane emissions with eight meter resolution.

Spanish firm Satlantis has HORACIO, a 16U Earth observation CubeSat, with a high-resolution multi-spectral imaging payload supporting missions such as detecting greenhouse gas emissions. CONTEC of Korea has ContecSat-1/Oreum, a 16U optical Earth observation spacecraft built by NanoAvionics.

Axelspace of Japan has their 145-kilogram PYXIS spacecraft demonstrating the new satellite bus for their AxelLiner service and next-generation sensors for their AxelGlobe imaging constellation. It also carries a satellite radio demonstration from SONY and is equipped with two D-SAIL drag membranes that can be deployed to speed up reentry at end of mission.

Unseenlabs of France has BRO-12 and BRO-13, two more of its radio frequency sensing/signals intelligence (SIGINT) satellites, which seem to have moved from the previous 6U form factor to a new 8U size. These will join nine satellites from the company already in orbit.

Aerospacelab satellites undergoing integration onto Transporter rideshare plates. (Credit: Exolaunch)

Belgian company Aerospacelab has four 100-kilogram class microsatellites on this flight. Three of those have SIGINT payloads while the fourth has a high resolution optical imaging payload.

UK-based OrbAstro has OrbAstro-TR2, a 6U CubeSat, to demonstrate radio frequency payloads. Spire Global has built and will operate a pair of 16U LEMUR-2 CubeSats for Hubble, which is developing a satellite network to connect with BlueTooth devices on Earth. Hubble refers to these spacecraft as Hubble-1 and Hubble-2. Spire also has two more LEMUR-2 spacecraft with ADS-B and Myriota IoT payloads on the flight that appear to be 3U in size based on the deployer containing them.

RROCI-2 from Orion Space Solutions is a 12U CubeSat demonstration for the US Space Force to provide cloud characterization weather data supporting the Department of Defense. This replaces the initial Electro Optical/Infrared Weather System Rapid Revisit Optical Cloud Imager (EWS-RROCI) spacecraft which failed to deploy on the Transporter-6 mission in early 2023.

MuSat-2 from Muon Space will also demonstrate weather data collection for the Department of Defense. This 67-kilogram satellite will include GNSS occultation and reflectometry sensors among its payloads and will provide information such as ocean wind speed, soil moisture products, and ionospheric data.

A Jackal spacecraft in the cleanroom. (Credit: True Anomaly)

Colorado Springs-based True Anomaly has a demonstration mission with their first two Jackal spacecraft, massing around 275 kilograms each. These vehicles will perform rendezvous and proximity operations while taking multi-spectral imagery of each other. True Anomaly is targeting the defense market for missions such as space domain awareness and space operations training.

Quantum Space has the 6U Sentry/Scout-1, a space situational awareness demonstrator with an optical payload to observe other objects in space. UK firm Open Cosmos has IOD-6 Hammer, a 6U CubeSat, with a hyperspectral imager, AI edge processer from Ubotica, and an inter-satellite link payload.

Sidus Space, based on the Florida Space Coast, has LizzieSat-1. This 100-kilogram class spacecraft will host payloads including optical and hyperspectral imaging, AIS, and edge computing. Los Angeles based spacecraft manufacturer Apex has their first satellite, Aries-1, which is a 100 kilogram bus that can carry up to 100 kilograms of payload. This mission has payloads from Orbit Fab, Ubotica, and a defense contractor.

Lockheed Martin and Terran Orbital have the Pony Express 2 mission, a pair of 12U CubeSats (PE2-SV1/Tyvak-0261 and PE2-SV2/Tyvak-0262) that will demonstrate payloads such as satellite RF crosslinks, ranging, synchronization, and AI processing while flying in formation several kilometers apart.

NASA’s PY4 mission has four identical 1.5U CubeSats that will demonstrate spacecraft-to-spacecraft ranging, on-orbit relative navigation, and coordinated multi-point radiation measurements using low size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP-C) satellites.

The Transporter-10 payload stack. Annotations by (Photo Credit: SpaceX)

CBAS-LCE is a pair of 6U CubeSats from the US Navy and Missile Defense Agency that will evaluate optical laser communications in space and space-to-Earth network protocols. Portugal’s CEIIA has AEROS/MH-1, a 3U CubeSat with RGB and hyperspectral imaging that will serve as a pathfinder for ocean observation missions.

Germany’s Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg has SONATE-2, a 6U+ CubeSat with imaging and AI payloads. Taiwan’s SATORO in partnership with National Cheng Kung University have IRIS-F1, a 3U CubeSat technology demonstration mission that includes an AIS system.

Missouri University of Science and Technology has M3, a 3U CubeSat that will test a propulsion system. M3 does not generate power and the mission will last a couple of days until the batteries are depleted. Care Weather has Veery-0E “Ectobius,” a 1U CubeSat, with a small radar payload and an amateur radio payload that will be operated by the BYU Spacecraft Club.

Mongolia’s ONDO Space has OWLSAT-1 and OWLSAT-2, a pair of 0.5U CubeSats with amateur radio payloads. Payload information for the flight will be updated as more information becomes available. Some companies do not provide information before the launch.

Notes on previous Transporter missions

Transporter-6: The D-Orbit ION vehicle launched on Jan. 3, 2023 finally released four satellites for Astrocast in a series of deployments from late November through January.

Transporter-8: The capsule from the Varda W-1 mission, launched in June, landed in Utah on Feb. 21 after having its reentry delayed for several months by licensing issues.

Transporter-9: The AMAN-1/Stork-7, JinjuSat-1, and Picacho satellites did not release from their CubeSat deployer which was integrated by Momentus. The Mira vehicle from Impulse Space has performed at least five burns of its thrusters, raising the semi-major axis of its orbit by a total of approximately seven kilometers. The Exotrail spacevan 001 vehicle does not appear to have maneuvered yet, and released it’s EXO-0 passenger on Feb. 28. Of the 113 total spacecraft expected on the mission, 105 have appeared in the satellite catalog so far, with some still on board the D-Orbit ION vehicle.

(Lead Image: Falcon 9 launches from SLC-4E for the Transporter 10 mission. Credit: SpaceX)

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