On June 12, 2023, the 8th Rideshare mission (Transporter-8) by SpaceX successfully delivered a batch of small satellites into space. The payloads were sent into sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) at an altitude of 525 km, thanks to a Falcon 9 launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base, which lifted off at 23:35 CET.
Falcon 9 booster B1071-9 completed its primary job after a good 2 minutes, smoothly touching the ground again at Vandenberg Landing Zone 4 (LZ4) less than 8 minutes after liftoff. This landing marked the 200th successful booster recovery for SpaceX.
The Falcon 9 second stage and its satellite dispenser finished deploying the seventy-two spacecraft at 01:01 CET, marking the end of the mission.
After delivering 72 spacecraft to orbit, Falcon 9 returns to Earth and completes SpaceX’s 200th landing of an orbital class rocket pic.twitter.com/7Aw52C97jk— SpaceX (@SpaceX) June 13, 2023
Transporter-8 payload, a harlequin of satellites in SSO
As with the previous Transporter missions, SpaceX had many different clients, like universities, private companies, and national space agencies. Spacecraft carried into orbit were of all kinds, including technology demonstrators, telecommunications devices, and Earth observation satellites.
The Spei Satelles (Guardian of Hope) satellite was a one-of-a-kind payload. This 3U cubesat was made by students at the Politecnico of Turin, it is owned by the Vatican State and operated by the Italian Space Agency. It reached its final orbit thanks to the D-Orbit ION SCV-011 orbital transfer vehicle.
Its peaceful mission is to give a sign of hope to the entire humanity. To achieve this purpose, Spei Satelles will hold in space a nanobook version of Pope Francis’ prayer “Why Are You Afraid? Have You No Faith?”, beaming down to Earth some excerpts of the book itself.
By tuning in to a 437.5 MHz UHF radio frequency, radio amateurs in the world will be able to pick up this peaceful message from the heavens every day at the same time.
The first Varda W-series spacecraft was delivered in SSO too. Based on the Rocket Lab Photon bus, this in-space manufacturing satellite will synthesize pharmaceuticals in microgravity, a special condition for easily producing crystalline molecules.
The spacecraft will store the products in a new hypersonic capsule developed by Varda itself. Photon engines and avionics will then place the capsule on the re-entry trajectory, thus bringing back to Earth the precious cargo produced in space,
SpaceX Rideshare Program, opening space for everybody
SpaceX introduced this new service in August 2019 to address the needs of small satellite operators at an affordable price. As indicated on its dedicated webpage, it allows sending in LEO a payload of up to 50 Kg for an indicative base price of 275.000 dollars, target orbit depending.
However, an entity such as a university cannot afford by itself every aspect of a space mission. For this reason, several companies offer launch services based on the Rideshare program, such as the Italian D-Orbit (see Spei Satelles above) or the German Exolaunch.
These space logistics services could include all the aspects of an orbital launch, from planning to preparation, transportation, testing, and integration with the launcher. For example, Exolaunch managed to deliver 32 payloads into the desired orbit throughout this Transporter-8 mission.
Thanks to these prices and services available in the market, Rideshare Program has already launched eight Transporter missions, placing in orbit more than 600 spacecraft. The next Transporter mission is scheduled for October 2023, the launches in 2024 seem to be complete, while “seats” are only available for 2025.