A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carried 88 satellites into orbit in one fell swoop. The rocket lifted off from the Cape Canaveral space station in Florida at 3:31 p.m. ET and flew south along the east coast as it headed into space. The satellites it put into orbit came from a range of government and commercial customers – including NASA and radar satellite company ICEYE – as well as three satellites for SpaceX’s Starlink Internet constellation.
This was mission number two for SpaceX’s cost-cutting SmallSat Rideshare Program, which offers tiny satellites rides to space for a starting price of $1 million. The Pentagon’s Space Development Agency (SDA) had five satellites aboard Transporter-2 that will test laser communications between one another in space as well as a separate experiment designed to test in-space data processing.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets are much larger than Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit’s rockets, and they’re typically used to launch hefty communications or spy satellites or Dragon spacecraft, which ferry astronauts and cargo to and from the International Space Station. As the number of devices in orbit grows, however, experts are becoming increasingly concerned about congestion. Satellites have collided in orbit before, and though such incidents don’t post much of a threat to people on the ground, the debris from the crash can stay in orbit for years or decades.