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SpaceX plans record-breaking launch with 143 satellites

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, similar to the one shown that was launched in 2020, is packed with dozens of satellites for the Transporter-1 rideshare launch Saturday. File Photo by Joe Marino/UPI
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, similar to the one shown that was launched in 2020, is packed with dozens of satellites for the Transporter-1 rideshare launch Saturday. File Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo

ORLANDO, Fla., Jan. 22 (UPI) -- SpaceX plans to launch the most satellites ever deployed in a single mission, 143, on Saturday morning from Florida for more than a dozen customers.

A 2017 mission by the India Space Research Organization launched 104 spacecraft, which would be the previous record if the SpaceX launch is a success.

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Liftoff aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station is planned for at 9:40 a.m. EST, but could come up to 42 minutes later in case of a problem.

The mission has been postponed several times dating to mid-December. A U.S. Space Force forecast shows a 40 percent chance that thick clouds could prompt another delay.

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The Transporter-1 mission is the first in a series of regularly scheduled SpaceX rideshare projects for multiple customers. SpaceX also plans to carry 10 of its Starlink communications satellites on this mission.

"The Starlink satellites aboard this mission will be the first in the constellation to deploy to a polar orbit," according to the SpaceX mission description. Polar orbits circle the globe by passing over the North Pole and South Pole, while many satellites circle above equatorial regions.

Houston-based space firm Nanoracks is acting as a broker to arrange some customers for the launch, said Tristan Prejean, a mission manager at Nanoracks.

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"SpaceX will be offering several Transporter missions per year moving forward," Prejean said. "The orbital parameters and launch timeline were the exact opportunities our customers were looking for."

Nanoracks' two customers for Transporter-1 are two satellite companies, California-based Spire Global and Montreal-based GHGSat.

Spire launches fleets of small satellites that monitor weather and patterns for shipping for aviation interests. GHGSat monitors industrial emissions of gasses from space -- especially greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

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These rideshare missions offer lower costs to reach orbit, but don't allow much flexibility for time of launch and orbital location, said Phil Smith, senior analyst at Bryce Space and Technology, a Virginia-based space research firm.

"SpaceX is making a significant impact on satellite deployment with these missions," Smith said. "Traditionally, large satellites have needed a dedicated rocket where the operator can pick the time and orbit, but satellites have been shrinking dramatically for years now."

Some of the satellites for Transporter-1 are known as CubeSats or even nano-satellites -- no bigger than a shoebox.

The cost of such rideshare missions is much lower, Smith said -- as low as $2,000 for just over 2 pounds compared to around $30,000 for a launch for a single customer.

A growing number of launch opportunities provides more flexible and timely schedules to replace aging satellites or launch new ones, said Claude Rousseau, senior analyst with Northern Sky Research based in France.

SpaceX rideshare missions "certainly provide more options for small-sat satellite operators to launch and rideshares on heavy launchers are gaining traction at the moment," Rousseau said.

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Support teams work around the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft shortly after it landed with NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Shannon Walker and Victor Glover and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi aboard in the Gulf of Mexico off Panama City, Fla., on Sunday. Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA | License Photo

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