Featured Image: John Pisani / Cosmic Perspective
|November 11, 2023 – 18:49 UTC |10:49 PST|
|Transporter-9, the ninth SpaceX dedicated small satellite rideshare mission|
|Falcon 9 Block 5, B1071-12; 60.49-day turnaround|
|Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E), Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, USA|
|Probably around 5,000 kg (~11,100 lb), but TBD|
Where did the spacecraft go?
|Approximately, a circular ~530 km (~330 mi) Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) at ~97.5 degrees inclination|
Did they attempt to recover the first stage?
Where did the first stage land?
|Landing Zone 4 (LZ-4), at ~400 m (~1,300 ft) from the launch pad|
Did they attempt to recover the fairings?
|The fairing halves will be recovered from the water ~551 km (~340 mi) downrange by GO Beyond|
Were these fairings new?
|Unconfirmed, but both of them looked flight-proven|
This was the:
|– 272nd Falcon 9 launch|
– 204th Falcon 9 flight with a flight-proven booster
– 216th re-flight of a booster
– 82nd re-flight of a booster in 2023
– 244th booster landing
– 170th consecutive landing (a record)
– 13th landing attempt on LZ-4
– 83rd launch for SpaceX in 2023
– 56th SpaceX launch from SLC-4E
– 182nd orbital launch of 2023
Where to watch
Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut, streamed this launch!
What’s All This Mean?
The Falcon 9 v1.2 Block 5 rocket by SpaceX launches its ninth dedicated mission under the Smallsat Rideshare Program: Transporter-9. The objective is to send a diverse range of spacecraft into orbit, provided by an array of clients. The rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, USA.
After stage separation, the booster accurately maneuvers and initiates a burn to redirect its trajectory, returning to its origin. Then, touchdown of the first stage takes place near the launch pad at Landing Zone 4 (LZ-4). Afterward, the primary objective of the launch vehicle — through its second stage — is to correctly deploy the satellites and other vehicles into a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO), at an altitude of approximately 530 km (~330 mi) with an inclination of 97.5 degrees.
How Did It Go?
As intended, the Falcon 9 rocket took to the skies on time opening the Transporter-9 mission. The launch vehicle saw all milestones for this flight achieved one after another. The most significant of them included the first stage separating and returning to land softly onto Landing Zone 4. Then, the second stage continued accelerating the payload stack, shedding the fairing, and igniting its engine twice. Finally, the deployment sequence took place and saw its completion, marking the success of the launch mission.
In the following days, confirmation of the many payloads’ health should be released. Further deployments from space tugs should also occur, implying additional need of confirmations. Considering the many small spacecraft flying on this rideshare flight, it is not uncommon for this phase to take longer.
What Is Transporter-9?
To meet the demands of the New Space market, SpaceX developed the Smallsat Rideshare Program — more on it below — Transporter-9 being a part of it. This mission consists of a flight to a SSO, where many satellites and orbital transfer vehicles (OTVs, also called space tugs) should see their deployment. Additionally, hosted payloads with a purpose of their own would be present, and dispensers from different providers.
This Transporter mission’s manifest is eventually made public by SpaceX. Usually, this is published only very close to the date of liftoff, with last-minute payload additions and stand-downs. However, sources report this mission would include OTVs from D-Orbit, and Impulse Space. Other integration providers listed are Exolaunch, Momentus, and Alba Orbital. Many entities provided payloads — considering both hosted ones and satellites — and we present them below to the best of our knowledge.
Typically, this kind of shared mission implied waiting for a primary payload — a larger one — to be ready for launch. Then, smallsats would hitch a ride with the launcher booked for the bigger spacecraft. Consequently, these additional passengers had to make do with going into an imposed orbit whenever the large satellite was already. As a result, these factors usually impact their on-orbit performance, unavoidable due to the established launch practices. Moreover, the cost of these rides remained mostly prohibitive for small entities like startups or educational institutions.
Contrary to the general belief back then, SpaceX realized that lowering costs, offering more frequent launches, and attempting to loft spacecraft to more convenient orbits, the smallsat segment of the market could prosper.
Thus, in 2019, the firm announced the offering of rideshare flights aboard its Falcon 9 for such customers, addressing their needs. In effect, these flights would come in two different ways: sharing the room inside the fairing on Starlink missions, or through dedicated rideshare missions named Transporter. Both options are part of the Smallsat Rideshare Program.
Moreover, leveraging Falcon 9’s mass to orbit capabilities, a rocket supporting a Transporter mission would see its payload volume subdivided. In this way, interested customers could buy a portion of it as needed, for a much more affordable price. Furthermore, these missions would showcase regular schedules, allowing better in-advance planning, regarding launch date and destination orbit. In spite of this, any payload missing launch day could re-book, paying a small additional fee.
SpaceX offers Transporter launches to low-Earth orbit (LEO), polar LEO, and — its most popular ride — to SSO. In fact, mid-inclination launches have only taken place through Starlink flights, while all past Transporter missions have been to SSO. Revisiting the same spot on Earth’s surface always at the same time of the day — offered by this type of orbit — turns it into a preferred destination.
Notably, a satellite of up to 50 kg (~110 lb) could travel to space for prices as low as USD 275,000 thanks to this type of mission.
From the need for a particular product or service to arrive at the desired orbit and operate the spacecraft, in general many parties participate in one of these missions. To avoid getting lost in the logistics behind the scenes of one of them, it can be thought of in a simplified manner as follows:
- Customer and spacecraft manufacturers: those interested in having a payload in space and those who provide the platform, the instruments on board, or both (basically the payload itself).
- Launch/integration service providers: those who broker rideshare flights, offer last-mile trips (via space tugs), care for meeting regulations, provide dispensers or separation systems, and so on.
- Launch provider: SpaceX, which has overall responsibility for the launch and the correct insertion into the intended deployment orbit.
This structure will be reflected in a subsequent section later in this article where payloads are listed and discussed.
Mechanical Interfaces — Plates
Apart from the logistics aspect, the company also designed specific hardware to integrate payloads. These, in fact, need an interface to the launch vehicle, provided through rideshare plates, conceptually similar to ESPA rings. Each of these plates can be arranged in these configurations: square — four plates — or hexagon — six of them. The former allows for more available volume than the latter.
In turn, the volume corresponding to each of those can be subdivided, using a quarter of the plate, half of it, or full use. These portions enable unique payload accommodations — e.g., a CubeSat dispenser — or standard ports in three different diameters, as follows.
It is worth noting that, though previously designed, these plates were first implemented on Transporter-8.
|Volume Subdivision||8 in (~20.3 cm)||15 in (~38.1 cm)||24 in (~61.0 cm)|
|Full Plate XL||–||–||Yes|
Yet another position to integrate payloads in a rideshare is available at the top of the plate stack. This upper mount enables the launching of spacecraft massing from 500 kg to 2,500 kg during a shared flight. If required, two of them can travel in a side-by-side configuration. In any case, because of the different disposition, a whole separate set of requirements need to be observed when flying as a cake topper.
|Mission||Date & Time||Orbit||Pad|
|~528 km x 97.5°||SLC-40|
|~538 km x 97.5°||SLC-40|
|~528 km x 97.5°||SLC-40|
|~644 km x 97.5°|
~503 km x 97.5°
|~528 km x 97.5°||SLC-40|
|~525 km x 97.5°||SLC-40|
|Transporter-7||April 15, 2023|
|~500 km x 97,4°|
~675 km x 98.2°
|Transporter-8||June 12, 2023|
|~530 km x 97.5°||SLC-4E|
Payloads On Transporter-9
89 separation events will take place from Falcon 9’s second stage, including OTVs, MicroSats, and CubeSats, as listed on the company’s site. Moreover, the firm confirmed an additional 23 payloads separating later from space tugs. There is no official mention of hosted payloads, but it is our understanding there will be some. Our list of the payloads SpaceX is sending to space on this Transporter mission, showing type and quantity, is as follows.
|OTVs: 3||Deployers: >21||Satellites: 109||Hosted: 2|
Here is a more comprehensive description of Transporter-9’s manifest, to the best of our knowledge so far:
Based in the USA, this company offers vehicles capable of transporting satellites between orbits, i.e., space tugs. So far, the company has projected three increasingly more capable vehicles: Vigoride, Ardoride, and Fervoride. To this date, only Vigoride flew on two demonstration missions: Vigoride-3 did so on Transporter-5, while Vigoride-5 on Transporter-6.
This OTV offers a payload capacity of 750 kg, as well as 2 km/s of delta v. This change in velocity can be applied to increasing orbital altitude up to 2,000 km. Another possibility is to modify orbital inclination up to 7°. The satellites traveling on this space tug have access to electrical power, and communications. For its propulsion, Vigoride features a microwave electrothermal thruster, which uses water as propellant.
As a different service, the company also offers integration, and it is in this quality that Momentus takes part in the present Transporter mission.
Payloads Manifested by Momentus
|AMAN-1||1||3U CubeSat for SatRev.|
|Hello Test 1 & 2||2||PicoSatellites for Turkish Hello Space.|
|JinjuSat-1||1||2U CubeSat for the Korean CONTEC.|
|Picacho||1||1U CubeSat for Lunasonde from the US.|
This aerospace company has its headquarters in Italy, where it started to develop a vehicle capable of deorbiting spacecraft which were no longer in use. Later on, it moved to the business of satellite carriers, i.e., space tugs. So far, the firm has launched their vehicles on all of the previous Transporter missions, as well as on Starlink Group 2-5.
D-Orbit’s OTV can carry up to 160 kg of satellites, being capable of accommodating spacecraft of different shapes and sizes. This means MicroSats and CubeSats can be transported from the launcher’s drop-off point to other altitudes or inclinations. After this trip, proprietary (DPOD, DCUBE), or third party dispensers deploy the passengers. ION is also capable of supporting hosted payloads, run from the ground as a part of the carrier itself. On this mission, the ION serial number “SCV013” is going to space.
Payloads On ION SCV013
|Apogeo||9||1/3 U CubeSats belonging to Apogeo|
|OSW Cazorla||1||3 U research and arts CubeSat, by Odyssey SpaceWorks|
|Stars of Calm||1||Hosted payload by StardustMe|
Named as a homage to Santiago Cazorla, the Spanish footballer, this is Odyssey SpaceWorks’ (OSW) first satellite. Its CEO, Shishir Bankapur, is a huge fan of the sport, particularly of Arsenal FC. Having witnessed this player create wonders on the field — earning him the nick name The Little Magician — and satellite’s small size combined to inspire him. Considering that, together with the magically short design-to-deployment cycle of about one year, he found it fitting to christen the CubeSat after the football star, as he explained in an interview with Everyday Astronaut.
In another remark, Odyssey’s CEO emphasizes that the company’s pursuit of automating in-space research. A considerable amount of such work does not actually require human supervision. In contrast, a bulky backlog is what any scientist has to go through to send their experiments to the International Space Station (ISS).
Certification times for the ISS range between two to three years, versus approximately six months via Odyssey. Finally, this automation not only eliminates hazards to humans, as well as their introduction of errors, but also reduces costs. In fact, in 2021, the reported cost of renting one hour of an astronaut’s work ascended to USD 130,000.
About This Mission
OSW is a New York-based nanosatellite manufacturer, and manifested the OSW Cazorla on this Transporter mission. In order to ready the CubeSat, it made use of one of Endurosat’s buses, assembling into it both subsystems, and payloads. The latter involve the Kaplan Lab at Tufts University and Physical Synthesis, from NY, along with Austrian USound.
In addition to them, German Exolaunch ensures the spacecraft’s integration and deployment through its EXOpod Nova. Final integration to Falcon 9’s second stage occurs via Italian D-Orbit’s ION SCV013 space tug. Additionally, this tug is the one actually in charge of taking the OSW Cazorla to its target destination in orbit: nominally, 540 km (~335 mi) in altitude and 97.5 degrees in inclination.
Once in its orbital home, the CubeSat will work for about three to six months. After completing its expected lifetime and all of its exciting tasks, the satellite will passively deorbit itself. Its atmospheric reentry will destroy it completely, posing no risk to people on the surface, as a consequence.
Featuring a CubeSat form factor of 3U, the Cazorla’s platform comprises an aluminum frame with external dimensions of 30x10x10 cm (~12x4x4 in), and a launch mass of about 3.6 kg (~8 lb). On its longest faces, the satellite presents four non-deployable solar panels, generating, in sum, 70 W of average electrical power. A commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) lithium-ion (Li-Ion) battery with a charge capacity of 161 Wh stores that energy.
The NanoSat includes no propulsion, consequently meaning its orientation happens thanks to three magnetorquers — devices that feel Earth’s magnetic field and interact with it. So that they guarantee a good orientation, there are four Sun sensors, seven gyroscopes, and an inertial measurement unit (IMU) comprising three accelerometers. In order to keep the payloads at the right temperature, a carefully designed insulation wraps each of them. However, if needed, the satellite could feature other means of control.
Communications occur over microwave, specifically the S-Band, along the range between 2025 MHz and 2290 MHz. In particular, power for downlink will be up to 2.0 W, and for uplink, 15 W. Ground stations listening and talking to the OSW Cazorla include about twenty, scattered around the world. On a different note, there are two cameras on board: one external, for taking macro images of the Earth and aiding with orientation and mission assurance; another one internal, monitoring the payloads.
Making use of the bus’ 1.7 U payload volume, two of them are hosted in it, each being a self-contained lab. Inside the first lab a bioreactor will carry out cell culture growth, while the second one is about interactively mixing sounds in real time using in-space sources.
Odyssey SpaceWorks offers, as one of its proprietary products, bioreactors for a variety of biological applications. It consists of 12 chambers, where cell cultures could grow in space, while researchers monitor them on demand from Earth. A number of options are available for that, as it allows spectrophotometry, as well as detects many parameters, e.g., temperature, pressure, or others. Additionally, its full capabilities for the handling of fluids mean a certain growth can begin or end at any desired point in time, be it microbes, animal tissue, and so on.
The Kaplan Lab at Tufts University will precisely recreate in space an experiment that takes place on Earth. In doing so, it will be able to compare the effectiveness of growing certain cell cultures in those two different contexts. Particularly, the experiment will involve animal muscle tissue from caterpillars, with samples remaining at 38 °C (~100 °F) ±2.0 °C (~3.6 °F). Apart from demonstrating it is possible to achieve this kind of growth robotically, in orbit, and aboard Odyssey SpaceWorks’ satellites, its CEO expanded by explaining the team seeks other goals. That is, the study could provide insight on how to produce food in-space.
Naturally, this is of great interest for the future of crewed, deep-space exploration, changing logistics operations, and reducing costs. Further still, other niches could profit, too, such as pharmaceutical production, protein production, and the effects of prolonged spaceflight. In the latter studies, muscle degradation and other phenomena are the focus. All of them could help understand muscle diseases already occurring on the surface of the planet.
In a further remark, Shishir Bunkapar highlighted that anything in the body, and needing a compressive force to work, will probably struggle in space. Therefore, it could potentially become a subject matter for the company’s reactors.
In a project that brings together the two US-based Physical Synthesis, and Odyssey SpaceWorks, and also Austrian USound, the second laboratory consists of a synthesizer that can only work in space. Resonating with those having a passion for both music and space, at the crossroads of art and science, this instrument will enable a new way to create sound and music. As a crowdfunding enterprise, different levels of contributors will have different levels of access to the synthesizer, accordingly.
The Blue Marble name references Earth’s photo taken by the Apollo 17 crew while coasting to the Moon. This synthesizer comprises a pressurized capsule where a marble, a glass sphere, floats impelled by a fan on a wall — hence, it would not work on Earth. Laser sensors measure how far from them the sphere is, locating it precisely, while a microphone records any sound. RGB LED lightning and a wide-angle cam complete the internal capturing of the experience.
USound provides a MEMS (Microelectromechanical System) speaker with the characteristic of being non-magnetic, which is particularly useful to avoid interfering with the satellite. A computer controls everything related to this capsule. Externally, flight sensors measuring temperature, flight path, magnetic fields, light intensity, and a camera also partake in the creativity process. That is, all of this data is relayed back to Earth, where users can compose music. Depending on the case, they can play audio files, change the lighting, or pulse the fan, increasing the feedback level.
Profiting from the in-space interactions inside the Blue Marble, selected artists will compose, such as Andrew Huang, Benn Jordan, Trovarsi, and Maysun. People from the analog astronaut community will be a part of this musical adventure, including our very own MaryLiz Chylinski. Among other rewards, the project includes a vinyl album with the resulting tracks, which aims at fostering musical creativity.
The Germany-based company offers a series of services, from payload integration, to deployment, and mission management. In order to provide them, Exolaunch developed products such as separation hardware, CubeSat deployers, payload port adapters, deployment sequencers, and it is projecting an OTV named Reliant. Notably, the firm has all previous Transporter missions under its extensive flight expertise.
In order to better fit customers’ needs, Exolaunch may assign one or many of its deployment systems. These include:
- CarboNIX: this is a shock-free separator system capable of handling MicroSats massing in the range of 10 kg to 250 kg. To ensure this, different standard sizes are offered, as well as customization. Six CarboNIX separation systems were used in Transporter-9.
- EXOpod: flying since 2017, these deployers have evolved to host all sorts of CubeSat sizes, from 0.25U all the way up to 16U, allowing, in addition, for some combination. 15 EXOpods Nova were used during this mission.
- EXOport: these multiport adapters enable the use of one port on a rideshare plate for a whole CubeSat cluster. A combination of the previous two systems can be used for satellite deployment. Probably no EXOport is used this time, and SpaceX’s Rideshare Plates are used instead.
Payloads Integrated by Exolaunch
The company is flying for the 12th time with SpaceX, making this one its 23rd overall mission. In particular, this time, Exolaunch is integrating 34 small satellites for many customers from all over the world.
|Connecta T3.1 & T3.2||2||3U CubeSats for Plan-S destined for IoT, together with an intercoms demo.|
|Barry-1||1||3U CubeSat with Endurosat’s bus and a Rogue Space Systems payload: a demo of their space AI robots for inspection, relocation, mission extension, domain awareness and end-of-mission services.|
|Djibouti-1A||1||1U CubeSat collecting data from climate, rain, and limnimetric stations for the Djiboutian Centre for Studies and Research.|
|GHGSat C9, C10, and C11||3||16U CubeSats for emissions monitoring with names Mey-Lin, Gaspard, and Océane, by Spire Global.|
|ICEYE||4||MiniSats massing at 120 kg (~260 lb) for SAR Earth observation purposes.|
|Mango Two||2||3U LEMUR-class CubeSats by Spire for Earth observation through radio listening (SIGINT); also, intersatellite link (ISL) payload.|
|NinjaSat||1||6U CubeSat by RIKEN to observe black holes and neutron stars. More below.|
|Observer-1A||1||16U CubeSat for Nara Space, from Korea, destined for Earth observation, and aiming at generating a super-resolution algorithm.|
|Mission 2: Debug As You Go||1||3U Ferry-1 CubeSat by Outpost Technologies Corporation, similar to the one on Transporter-8, but with a test gas generator (NASA Langley’s GasPak) for application in deploying inflatable heat shields; a GPS payload for ETH Zurich.|
|Platero||1||6U Earth observation and IoT CubeSat monitoring farming’s impact, by Open Cosmos.|
|ProtoMéthée-1||1||16U Earth observation CubeSat by Nanoavionics for Prométhée Earth Intelligence; also ISL for IoT.|
|SNC||4||6U CubeSats for RF monitoring by Spire.|
|BRO-10 & -11||2||6U CubeSats for RF maritime surveillance: geolocation and characterization of vessel type, by UnseenLabs.|
|Veronika||1||1U Earth observation CubeSat by Spacemanic with two cameras for amateur radio club OM3KSI.|
|SPIP||1||Earth observation demo MiniSat massing at 120 kg (~260 lb) by Aerospacelab.|
|Platform-5||1||Endurosat’s space-as-a-service NanoSat featuring a software-flexible test platform.|
|PEARL-1H & 1C||2||6U (XL) proof of concept CubeSats for Foxconn tasked with testing internal systems, and space broadband communications.|
|Mantis||1||Earth observation CubeSat with a high-resolution payload, and AI-powered processing, by Open Cosmos.|
|OrbAstro-TR-1 & -PC-1||2||CubeSats by British OrbAstro.|
|Pelican-1||1||An Earth observation technology demonstrator satellite by Planet Labs.|
True to the spirit of Transporter missions, NinjaSat shows how even the “small guy” can dream and try to make reality a very exciting project. Given, RIKEN, the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research is a prestigious Japanese research entity. However, as the researchers state, excellent scientific observation is completely possible, in spite of using a small satellite. NinjaSat represents precisely that, comprising relatively inexpensive parts and following a development cycle of about two years.
Generalities, Commissioning, Operation
This spacecraft will look at binary systems including a normal star and a black hole, or a neutron star. These are, as a matter of fact, bright sources of X-Rays. Additionally, the CubeSat will pursue this endeavor for a prolonged period of time. Previously, the plan was for the CubeSat to see deployment from the International Space Station (ISS). This, however, could have meant its lifetime on orbit would have been reduced to even less than a year. The higher SSO where Falcon 9 is dropping it allows for a two year-long mission, though it exposes the satellite to auroral regions. On the other hand, it enables more passes over a ground station near the poles, which is beneficial for opportunity observations.
Once it is floating in space, NanoAvionics will check the good health of the satellite bus for about a month. Moving into the operational phase, another week will see the start-up of the radiation belt monitor (RBM), mapping where the satellite can operate or not. Thirdly, the gas multiplier counter (GMC) needs to go through its own commissioning for a week, too. Calibration occurs by pointing at the Crab Nebula, a well-known X-Ray source. During this phase, a series of tests and check-ups will take place, ensuring pointing accuracy, GMC mutual alignment, and star tracker alignment with respect to both GMCs.
Calibrations should be complete by December 2023, or January 2024, making way for astronomical observations to begin. Throughout its operational life, NinjaSat will be in one from its three different modes. The first one is the “charging mode,” which does not allow observations. When it completes the charge, the satellite switches to the “pointing mode,” observing a predefined celestial object for as long as possible. This mode should comprise as much as 30 % to 50 % of its functioning time. Finally, a “ground communications mode,” to exchange all needed information and commands.
For its platform, NinjaSat uses NanoAvionics’ M6P bus, as it is flight-proven and enables little need for customization. Mitsui Bussan Aerospace secured the contract for the Lithuanian company not only to build the NinjaSat on its proprietary bus, but also to integrate the RIKEN-developed payloads. These comprise two gas multiplier counters (GMCs), as well as two radiation belt monitors (RBMs).
An onboard flight computer commands the attitude control system (ACS), which consists of:
- six sun sensors,
- one star tracker,
- four reaction wheels,
- one 3-axis magnetorquer,
- one inertial sensor,
- 3-axis magnetometers, and
- one GNSS (GPS) receiver.
Thanks to this system, the satellite is capable of achieving a pointing accuracy of 0.06° the vast majority of the times (95 % confidence). On a different note, its electrical system consists of the solar arrays — partly deployable, partly fixed — that work coupled with Li-ion batteries. Like this, the system satisfies the NanoSat’s demand of 16.4 W daily. In sum, all the whole of the satellite masses at 8.14 kg (~18 lb).
Each payload pair — one GMC, one RBM — takes up a volume of 2U, and hence the selection of a 6U bus. Inside of it, the X-Ray detectors, the GMCs, occupy as much of the room destined to instruments inside the satellite. In turn, this increases the chances of a better quality observation. The positioning of the deployable solar arrays is equally important, preventing noise in the measurements from Sun-originated X-Rays.
Gas Multiplier Counter (GMC)
For the purpose of detecting X-Rays from celestial bodies, there are actually two of these instruments aboard NinjaSat. Each of them showcases a volume of 1U, a mass of 1.2 kg (~2.5 lb), and an electrical consumption of 1.8 W. Its field of view is of 2.3°, and its area of observation is of 32 cm2 (~5 in2). Each GMC comprises an aluminum chamber with its insides filled with a mix of gases: xenon (75 %), argon (24 %), and dimethyl ether (1 %, all in volume).
The observation surface is a window allowing for X-Rays to go into the chamber of the GMC. Free electrons emission occurs, because of the photoelectric effect. This happens when electrons get loose as a consequence to atoms being hit by high energy radiation, like X-Rays. In this case, the gases inside the chamber lose some of their electrons.
In turn, high electrical potential (colloquially, voltage) makes the electrons drift toward an electrode. Before hitting the latter, a gas electron multiplier produces 400 times more electrons than it receives. Therefore, a readable signal comes out of the chamber, subsequently passing through more amplifiers, and filters. Finally, a clean measurement of the X-Ray comes out of the GMC.
As an important note about the GMCs are their vital interaction with the RBMs. Even when throughout an orbit each GMC stops any observation as it flies through fixed, high radiation regions, the RBMs can also shut it down. The South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA) or auroral zones are at fixed points on the satellite’s path, but another event, like a Solar flare, could damage the instrument.
Radiation Belt Monitor (RBM)
These are smaller instruments, each occupying only 0.07U of the payload volume, with a mass of 0.07 kg (~0.15 lb), and consuming 1 W of energy. The main task of the RBM is to detect high energy particles, such as electrons with an energy higher than 150 keV, and protons higher than 300 keV. Comparatively, its detection surface is much smaller measuring only 1.0 cm2 (~0.2 in2). Additionally, it has a thickness of 500 µm, and once operational, it will constantly work warning the GMCs of any dangerous increase in particles.
X-rays astrophysics requires a satellite with an instrument in orbit, since such radiation is absorbed by the atmosphere. As a result, X-ray astrophysics is a relatively new discipline. Previous CubeSats for high energy astrophysics (HEA) featured small sensors, and lacked pointing capability. To date, no general-purpose Cubesat dedicated to X-ray astronomy until the launch of NinjaSat.
The CubeSat is capable of detecting X-ray sources brighter than a few 10-19 erg/(cm2 s) with a time-tagging resolution of 61 µs. That is, this allows it see the fast variations of rays originating from accretion processes between stars and black holes, or stars and neutron stars. In addition, NinjaSat can identify transient X-Ray objects by surveying the entire sky, like MAXI on the ISS.
Furthermore, accretion and relativistic jets from these binary systems will be among the study subjects. In order to do so, collaborative efforts with ground-based and space-based optical and radio instruments will take place. Moreover, the measurement of neutron star rotation can help other researchers in detecting gravitational waves, similar to what the LIGO observatory does.
Focused on PocketQube design, manufacturing, and deployment, the Scottish Alba Orbital is a thriving start-up. As a launch broker, the company has already flown on vehicles like the Atlas V, the Electron, and the Falcon 9. And because these satellites are very small, they need to be arranged in clusters, so they travel to space in groups. Presently, Alba Cluster 7 is expected to be aboard this Transporter mission.
Albapods are the PocketQube dispensers designed by this firm, allowing them to deploy up to 96P of spacecraft. These can be composed of tiny satellites of 1P, 1.5P, 2P, or 3P, which means a full deployment could very well place into orbit a whole constellation at once.
Payloads Integrated By Alba Orbital
This time, the company’s customers are part of Alba Cluster 8, which uses the mentioned Albapods. As far as we know, its manifest looks approximately like the following table:
|ROM-3||1||2P PocketQube for RomSpace, educational.|
|Space ANT-D||1||1P PocketQube for SpaceIn from Malaysia.|
|SpaceVan||1||Exotrail’s new space tug.|
|Space Selfie Stick||1||Hosted payload by DCubed riding on the SpaceVan.|
|Mira SN 2, LEO Express-1||1||Tom Muller’s company Impulse Space’s OTV, hosting the “Time We’ll Tell” mission, a position, navigation, and time satellite for TrustPoint.|
|SuperDove||36||3U Earth observation CubeSats with a mass of 5 kg (~11 lb) for the Flock 4q constellation by Planet Labs.|
|GENMAT-1||1||6U hyperspectral imaging CubeSat massign at 8.8 kg (~19 lb) to locate minerals and other resources on the ground,|
|OMNI-LER1||1||3U CubeSat for a blockchain demonstration.|
|EPICHyper-3||1||3U hyperspectral Earth observation CubeSat for the Canadian company Wyvern Inc.|
|RapidEO||1||US government classified satellite by L3Harris.|
|ScopeSat||8||High-resolution Earth observation satellites based on DeploScope technology.|
|SpIRIT||1||6U CubeSat with a mass of 11.5 kg (~25 lb) for the University of Melbourne destined for thermal imaging, and a payload for the Italian space agency for looking for black holes. It features metallic-fueled solar-electric propulsion.|
|Stork-7||1||3U Polish CubeSat featuring an optical payload, with 5m GSD resolution data, in RGB+NIR spectral bands.|
|Umbra 7 & 8||2||Block 2 MiniSats with a mass of 83 kg (~180 lb) for Umbra, and destined for high-resolution SAR Earth observation.|
|Xcraft||1||MicroSat for hyperspectral imaging, high-resolution video and ultraviolet data for Xplore.|
|Ymir-1||1||3U test CubeSat destined for maritime VHF Data Exchange System (VDES) communications, by AAC Clyde Space, for the Swedish Transport Administration, and Orbcomm.|
|Intuition-1||1||6U CubeSat intended for hyperspectral imaging, as well as an on-board processing demo, for the Polish KP Labs.|
Germany-based DCubed is flying one of its most well-known products: the selfie stick. Installed on Exotrail’s SpaceVan, it will deploy and then look back at the space tug. Thomas Sinn, the company’s CEO, described in an interview with Everyday Astronaut how the concept of this item was born out of a playful idea. Nowadays, the Space Selfie Stick is very popular, and it serves both mission assurance, and marketing purposes.
Dcubed became an entity when Sinn was working for a side project that would end up being part of Rocket Lab’s “It’s Business Time” mission. During the design phase, the now CEO of the firm could not find an appropriate release device. That was the kick-off point, as by using not much more than a basic 3D printer, his team developed a component that performed perfectly fine, setting the future course.
Presently, the company has many exciting projects on the works, and some of them are coming up really soon. An example of that is the In-Space Manufacturing (ISM) demo, that will actually fly in two occasions: on Skyroot’s maiden flight, expected in February, 2024, and on SpaceX’s Transporter-11 via a D-Orbit OTV, expected in June, 2024. These ISM demos are proofs of concept, extruding a UV-sensitive polymer in a very similar fashion to how 3D printers work. In contrast, there will be no bed on which a structural element, the part chosen for the test, could “grow.”
The underlying idea is that if this experiment gives good results, it would make the manufacturing of whole structures on orbit closer to reality. Given that the launch onboard a rocket represents the highest stresses a payload goes through, its structures’ design focuses on that phase. However, once in space, they do not need to endure such great efforts. It follows that by building it where it will live, costs should considerably go down. In fact, Sinn is of the opinion that the difference could be of one or two orders of magnitude.
Another very exciting prospect is the deployment of a foldable solar array, that should ride atop the RFA One on its maiden flight. In line with origami techniques, the array is stored inside the volume of a 1U CubeSat. Once all the other payloads separate from the rocket’s upper stage, the solar array will unfold without separating. Also in the solar array business, DCubed aims at supplying space tugs with more powerful solar arrays. This is a much needed feature considering this kind of vehicle could see lots of action in the coming years.
Beyond this, the company has set its sight on a large number of ideas and concepts. From components, passing through solar arrays and deployable structures, and getting even into the lunar bases realm, the future certainly looks exciting for DCubed!
What Is Falcon 9 Block 5?
The Falcon 9 Block 5 is SpaceX’s partially reusable two-stage medium-lift launch vehicle. It consists of a reusable first stage, an expendable second stage, and, when in payload configuration, a pair of reusable fairing halves.
The Falcon 9 first stage contains nine Merlin 1D+ sea-level engines. Each engine uses an open gas generator cycle and runs on RP-1 and liquid oxygen (LOx). Each engine produces 845 kN of thrust at sea level, with a specific impulse (ISP) of 285 seconds, and 934 kN in a vacuum with an ISP of 313 seconds. Due to the powerful nature of the engine, and the large amount of them, the Falcon 9 first stage is able to lose an engine right off the pad, or up to two later in the flight, and be able to successfully place the payload into orbit.
The Merlin engines are ignited by triethylaluminum and triethylborane (TEA-TEB), which instantly burst into flames when mixed in the presence of oxygen. During static fire and launch the TEA-TEB is provided by the ground service equipment. However, as the Falcon 9 first stage is able to propulsively land, three of the Merlin engines (E1, E5, and E9) contain TEA-TEB canisters to relight for the boost back, reentry, and landing burns.
The Falcon 9 second stage is the only expendable part of the Falcon 9. It contains a singular MVacD engine that produces 992 kN of thrust and an ISP of 348 seconds. The second stage is capable of doing several burns, allowing the Falcon 9 to put payloads in several different orbits.
SpaceX is currently flying two different versions of the MVacD engine’s nozzle. The standard nozzle design is used on high-performance missions. The other nozzle is a significantly shorter version of the standard, decreasing both performance and material usage; with this nozzle, the MVacD engine produces 10% less thrust in space. This nozzle is only used on lower-performance missions, as it decreases the amount of material needed by 75%. This means that SpaceX can launch over three times as many missions with the same amount of Niobium as with the longer design.
For missions with many burns and/or long coasts between burns, the second stage is able to be equipped with a mission extension package. When the second stage has this package it has a gray strip, which helps keep the RP-1 warm, an increased number of composite-overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs) for pressurization control, and additional TEA-TEB.
Falcon 9 Booster
The booster supporting the Transporter-9 mission was B1071-12; as the name implies, the booster had flown eleven previous times. The booster’s designation changed to B1071-13 upon successful landing.
|B1071’s previous missions||Launch Date (UTC)||Turnaround Time (Days)|
|NROL-87||February 2, 2022 20:27||N/A|
|NROL-85||April 17, 2022 13:13||73.70|
|SARah 1||June 18, 2022 14:19||62.05|
|Starlink Group 3-2||July 22, 2022 17:39||33.14|
|Starlink Group 4-29||October 03, 2022 23:56||73.26|
|SWOT||December 16, 2022 11:46||71.52|
|Starlink Group 2-6||January 31, 2023 16:15||46.19|
|Starlink Group 2-8||March 17, 2023 19:26||45.13|
|Transporter-8||June 12, 2023 21:35||87.09|
|Starlink Group 6-15||July 20, 2023 04:09||37.27|
|Starlink Group 7-2||September 12, 2023 06:57||55.12|
Following stage separation, the Falcon 9 successfully conducted three burns. These burns allowed it to softly touch down the booster on SpaceX’s Landing Zone 4 (LZ-4).
Falcon 9 Fairings
The Falcon 9’s fairing consists of two dissimilar reusable halves. The first half (the half that faces away from the transport erector) is called the active half, and houses the pneumatics for the separation system. The other fairing half is called the passive half. As the name implies, this half plays a purely passive role in the fairing separation process, as it relies on the pneumatics from the active half.
Both fairing halves are equipped with cold gas thrusters and a parafoil which are used to softly touch down the fairing half in the ocean. SpaceX used to attempt to catch the fairing halves, however, at the end of 2020 this program was canceled due to safety risks and a low success rate. On Transporter-9, SpaceX will attempt to recover the fairing halves from the water with their recovery vessel GO Beyond.
In 2021, SpaceX started flying a new version of the Falcon 9 fairing. The new “upgraded” version has vents only at the top of each fairing half, by the gap between the halves, whereas the old version had vents placed spread equidistantly around the base of the fairing. Moving the vents decreases the chance of water getting into the fairing, making the chance of a successful scoop significantly higher.
All times are approximate
|00:38:00||SpaceX Launch Director verifies go for propellant load|
|00:35:00||RP-1 (rocket grade kerosene) loading begins|
|00:35:00||1st stage LOX (liquid oxygen) loading begins|
|00:16:00||2nd stage LOX loading begins|
|00:07:00||Falcon 9 begins engine chill prior to launch|
|00:01:00||Command flight computer to begin final prelaunch checks|
|00:01:00||Propellant tank pressurization to flight pressure begins|
|00:00:45||SpaceX Launch Director verifies go for launch|
|00:00:03||Engine controller commands engine ignition sequence to start|
|00:00:00||Falcon 9 liftoff|
Launch, And Landing
All times are approximate
|00:01:05||Max Q (moment of peak mechanical stress on the rocket)|
|00:02:19||1st stage main engine cutoff (MECO)|
|00:02:22||1st and 2nd stages separate|
|00:02:30||2nd stage engine starts (SES-1)|
|00:02:35||1st stage boostback burn begins|
|00:03:29||1st stage boostback burn ends|
|00:06:13||1st stage entry burn begins|
|00:06:29||1st stage entry burn ends|
|00:07:22||1st stage landing burn begins|
|00:07:24||1st stage landing|
|00:08:31||2nd stage engine cutoff (SECO-1)|
|00:50:52||2nd stage engine starts (SES-2)|
|00:56:55||2nd stage engine cutoff (SECO-2)|
All times are approximate
|00:54:01||JUBA deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|00:54:04||NinjaSat deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|00:54:23||DJIBOUTI-1A deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|00:54:33||VERONIKA deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|00:54:41||ELLIOT deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|00:54:44||Platero deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|00:54:59||MANTIS deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|00:55:04||OrbAstro-TR1 deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|00:55:08||VANGUARD deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|00:55:21||Observer-1A deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|00:55:27||Barry-1 deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|00:55:28||IRIS-C2 deploys, manifested by Maverick Space Systems|
|00:55:53||Platform 5 deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|00:56:29||BRO-10 deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|00:56:40||LEMUR 2 DILIGHTFUL deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|00:56:58||Foxconn PEARL-1C deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|00:57:14||LEMUR 2 GOOD-VIBES deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|00:57:15||Outpost Mission 2 deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|00:57:25||LEMUR 2 SANITA-VERTRA deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|00:58:30||LEMUR 2 THE-CLEANER deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|00:58:40||BRO-11 deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|00:59:00||Plan – S / Connecta T3.2 deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|00:59:01||Observer-1A deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|00:59:02||Hello Test 1 & 2 deploy, manifested by Momentus|
|00:59:04||First Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|00:59:10||Plan – S / Connecta T3.1 deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|00:59:13||Picacho deploys, manifested by Momentus|
|00:59:22||Foxconn PEARL-1H deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|00:59:39||Second Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|00:59:40||JinjuSat-1 deploys, manifested by Momentus|
|01:00:20||OMNI-LER1 deploys, manifested by Maverick Space Systems|
|01:00:26||Protométhée-1 deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|01:00:37||LEMUR 2 MARAPAMASM deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|01:00:43||GENMAT-1 deploys, manifested by Maverick Space Systems|
|01:00:58||Third Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:01:40||Fourth Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:01:47||Fifth Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:01:54||Sixth Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:01:57||LEMUR 2 MANGO2A deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|01:02:06||Seventh Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:02:15||Eighth Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:02:17||Ninth Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:02:23||LEMUR 2 MANGO2B deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|01:03:08||10th Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:03:21||11th Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:03:31||12th Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:03:58||13th Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:04:09||14th Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:04:29||Aman-1 deploys, manifested via Momentus|
|01:04:48||15th Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:05:10||16th Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:05:23||17th Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:05:34||18th Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:05:41||19th Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:05:56||20th Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:06:09||21st Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:06:19||22nd Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:07:00||23rd Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:08:01||24th Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:08:12||25th Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:08:49||26th Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:09:01||27th Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:10:01||28th Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:10:12||29th Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:12:09||30th Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:12:21||31st Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:13:29||32nd Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:14:11||33rd Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:14:23||34th Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:15:05||Tiger-6 deploys, manifested by SEOPS|
|01:15:10||ÆTHER-2 deploys, manifested by Kepler Communications|
|01:15:17||Tiger-5 deploys, manifested by SEOPS|
|01:15:31||35th Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:15:36||ÆTHER-1 deploys, manifested by Kepler Communications|
|01:15:38||Heron Mark II deploys, manifested by SEOPS|
|01:15:42||Impulse-1, deploys manifested by Impulse Space|
|01:16:10||36th Flock 4Q deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:16:30||Umbra-08 deploys, manifested by Umbra Lab|
|01:16:32||1st ICEYE satellite deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|01:17:16||Umbra-07 deploys, manifested by Umbra Lab|
|01:17:22||2nd ICEYE satellite deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|01:17:54||SPIP deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|01:18:16||3rd ICEYE satellite deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|01:20:20||KAFASat deploys, manifested by SEOPS|
|01:23:59||4th ICEYE satellite deploys, manifested by Exolaunch|
|01:24:04||Pelican-1 deploys, manifested by Planet|
|01:24:29||ION SCV-013 Ultimate Hugo deploys, manifested by D-Orbit|
|01:25:16||spacevan – 001 deploys, manifested by Exotrail|
|01:25:31||FalconSAT-X deploys, manifested by US Air Force Academy|