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Live coverage: South Korean military satellite to launch today from Florida

Live coverage of the countdown and launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida with the South Korean military’s Anasis 2 communications satellite. Text updates will appear automatically below. Follow us on Twitter.


SpaceX’s live video webcast begins around 15 minutes prior to launch, and will be available on this page.

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SpaceX going for rocket reuse record with South Korean satellite launch

File photo of a Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral’s Complex 40 launch pad. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX aims to re-launch the Falcon 9 booster Monday that catapulted astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken toward the International Space Station in May, this time carrying a South Korean military communications satellite while pursuing a record for the quickest turnaround time between flights of an orbital-class rocket stage.

In a tweet Saturday, the California-based launch company confirmed plans to launch the South Korean Anasis 2 military communications satellite Monday from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The mission was previously scheduled to launch Tuesday, July 14, but SpaceX delayed the launch to address a problem on the Falcon 9’s second stage.

The launch window Monday opens at 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) and runs until 8:55 p.m. EDT (0055 GMT). The official launch weather forecast calls for isolated rain showers at Cape Canaveral on Monday evening, but there’s a 70 percent chance of acceptable conditions for liftoff of the Falcon 9 rocket during the nearly four-hour launch window.

If the Falcon 9 rocket can take off with the Anasis 2 satellite Monday, or some time later this month, SpaceX will break its own record for the shortest turnaround between flights of the same Falcon 9 booster. The shortest span between launches of the same Falcon 9 booster to date has been 62 days, which SpaceX achieved with a Feb. 17 mission.

NASA achieved a 54-day turnaround time between two launches of the space shuttle Atlantis in late 1985, a record never again matched during the 30-year-long shuttle program. The time elapsed between Atlantis’s landing and next launch was 50 days.

Once the Anasis 2 mission is off the ground, SpaceX may eclipse its rocket turnaround time record again in the coming weeks.

Utilizing pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and pad 39A at the nearby Kennedy Space Center, SpaceX has five missions on its launch schedule from Florida’s Space Coast in the next month or so, beginning with the launch of Anasis 2 Monday.

SpaceX’s next launch of satellites for its Starlink broadband network is expected to launch some time in late July, although a firm launch date has not been confirmed by SpaceX. That mission was supposed to launch in late June from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, but SpaceX has called off two launch attempts due to unspecified technical issues with the rocket.

Two commercial Earth-imaging microsatellites from BlackSky are hitching a ride to space on the Falcon 9 rocket with 57 of SpaceX’s own Starlink platforms. An official from Spaceflight, the rideshare launch broker that secured the ride for the BlackSky satellites on the Falcon 9, said Wednesday that the mission was then expected to take off toward the end of July.

SpaceX’s drone ship returns to Florida’s Space Coast on June 2 with the Falcon 9 booster used to launch the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

Argentina’s SAOCOM 1B radar observation satellite was previously scheduled for liftoff as soon as July 25 on a Falcon 9 rocket, and another batch of Starlink satellites — flying in tandem with three Earth-observing satellites from Planet — was expected to launch around the end of July.

Those launches are expected to be delayed as a result of the schedule slips encountered by the previous Anasis 2 and Starlink/BlackSky missions. Another Starlink launch on a Falcon 9 is also planned is also planned later in August from Cape Canaveral.

Schedules for subsequent Starlink missions have not been announced, but SpaceX is booked to launch the next Crew Dragon spacecraft with astronauts to the International Space Station and a GPS navigation satellite as soon as September.

SpaceX currently has five Falcon 9 boosters in its inventory, and the company has flown two brand new first stages in its 11 missions so far this year. At least two more new Falcon 9 first stages are scheduled to enter service in the coming months, with SpaceX’s next launch of astronauts and the next launch of a U.S. military GPS navigation satellite, both currently planned no earlier than September.

A Falcon Heavy launch planned in late 2020 with a clandestine U.S. military payload will fly with three Falcon rocket boosters, all brand new. SpaceX officials said in December that the company planned to build around 10 new Falcon first stages in 2020.

With its success in reusing Falcon 9 booster stages, the company has ramped up production of Falcon 9 second stages, which are new on each mission.

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, has previously said he wants to launch, recover and re-launch Falcon 9 booster twice within a 24-hour period. But Musk has not recently repeated those comments, instead focusing on SpaceX’s larger, next-generation Starship launch vehicle to make the next leap in reusable rocket technology.

The Falcon 9 booster assigned to the Anasis 2 mission is designated B1058. The launch Monday will mark SpaceX’s 12th mission of the year, and the second to use the B1058 vehicle.

During its launch with astronauts May 30, the 156-foot-tall first stage detached from the Falcon 9’s upper stage and the Crew Dragon spacecraft around two-and-a-half minutes after liftoff. While the Crew Dragon accelerated into orbit, the booster fired engines in a series of maneuvers to land vertically on SpaceX’s drone ship parked in the Atlantic Ocean less than 10 minutes into the mission.

The drone ship returned to Florida’s Space Coast with the booster on its deck June 2, and SpaceX took the rocket back to a refurbishment facility at Cape Canaveral for inspections and preparations for its next mission.

SpaceX plans to recover the booster again after Monday’s launch.

The company’s drone ship “Just Read The Instructions” is in position around 400 miles (645 kilometers) east of Cape Canaveral, and two vessels have been dispatched into the Atlantic Ocean to retrieve the Falcon 9’s two-piece payload fairing.

The Anasis 2 satellite is prepared for shipment to Cape Canaveral from Airbus’s facility in Toulouse, France. Credit: Airbus Defense and Space

The Anasis 2 spacecraft awaiting launch Monday was manufactured by Airbus Defense and Space in Toulouse, France, and transported to Cape Canaveral last month on an Antonov An-124 cargo plane. Based on Airbus’s Eurostar E3000 satellite design, Anasis 2 “will provide secured communications over wide coverage,” Airbus said in a statement.

The spacecraft will launch into an elliptical, egg-shaped transfer orbit stretching tens of thousands of miles above Earth. The satellite’s on-board propulsion system will circularize its orbit at an altitude of more than 22,000 miles (nearly 36,000 kilometers) over the equator to reach a geostationary position, where Anasis 2 will remain over a fixed geographic location, circling the planet at the same rate as Earth’s rotation.

South Korea purchased the satellite — formerly known as KMilSatCom 1 — through an arrangement to offset South Korea’s purchase of F-35A fighter jets from Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin ultimately subcontracted the satellite manufacturing deal to Airbus.

Before Anasis 2, South Korea’s military has relied on international and civilian-owned satellites for communications.

Further details about the Anasis 2 satellite are shrouded in secrecy at the wishes of the the spacecraft’s owner — the South Korean government.

Citing a request from its customer, SpaceX said Saturday that its launch webcast for the Anasis 2 launch will end after landing of the Falcon 9’s first stage booster, expected around eight-and-a-half minutes after liftoff. At that time, Anasis 2 and the Falcon 9’s upper stage should be in a low-altitude parking orbit, coasting until restart of the second stage’s Merlin engine at T+plus 26 minutes, 32 seconds.

After a 56-second second stage burn to send Anasis 2 into a higher orbit, the spacecraft will separate from the Falcon 9 rocket at T+plus 32 minutes, 29 seconds.

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Falcon 9 launch of South Korean military satellite postponed

EDITOR’S NOTE: Updated at 2:15 p.m. EDT (1815 GMT) with SpaceX statement.

The Anasis 2 satellite is prepared for shipment to Cape Canaveral from Airbus’s facility in Toulouse, France. Credit: Airbus Defense and Space

The planned launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket Tuesday from Cape Canaveral of a South Korean military communications satellite has been delayed in order to address an issue on the launcher’s second stage, and potentially replace the hardware if necessary, officials said Monday.

“Standing down from tomorrow’s launch of Anasis 2 to take a closer look at the second stage, (and) swap hardware if needed,” SpaceX tweeted Monday. “Will announce new target launch date once confirmed on the range.”

It’s the second SpaceX mission to be postponed indefinitely in recent days as the company tries to cut turnaround times for reused rockets and produce new upper stages at a rapid rate to to meet a fast-paced launch schedule in the coming weeks.

SpaceX on Saturday test-fired the Falcon 9 rocket assigned to launch South Korea’s Anasis 2 communications satellite, and the company confirmed the mission was on track for liftoff Tuesday from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The launch window Tuesday was to open at 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) and close at 8:55 p.m. EDT (0055 GMT).

But sources said Monday morning that the mission would be delayed, and SpaceX confirmed the delay in a tweet Monday afternoon.

And the Eastern Range, which oversees launch operations from Cape Canaveral, on Monday canceled launch hazard area notices for offshore airline and marine traffic that were associated with Tuesday’s launch opportunity.

The Anasis 2 spacecraft was manufactured by Airbus Defense and Space in Toulouse, France, and transported to Cape Canaveral last month on an Antonov An-124 cargo plane. Based on Airbus’s Eurostar E3000 satellite design, Anasis 2 “will provide secured communications over wide coverage,” Airbus said in a statement.

The launch of Anasis 2 is one of five missions SpaceX has planned through early August. A Falcon 9 launch from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, a few miles north of pad 40, was to take off Saturday with a cluster of commercial satellites for SpaceX’s Starlink broadband fleet and BlackSky’s Earth-imaging constellation, but SpaceX called off the countdown “to allow more time for checkouts.”

The Falcon 9 launch with the Starlink and BlackSky satellites was initially targeted for launch June 26, but SpaceX scrubbed the launch attempt that day and was similarly vague about the reason, again citing the need for “additional time for pre-launch checkouts.”

A Falcon 9 rocket — without its payload fairing — fired up on Cape Canaveral’s Complex 40 launch Saturday for a pre-flight test-firing. Credit: William Harwood/CBS News

Two more SpaceX missions were slated to launch later in July from launch pads on Florida’s Space Coast.

Argentina’s SAOCOM 1B radar observation satellite was scheduled for liftoff as soon as July 25 on a Falcon 9 rocket, and another batch of Starlink satellites — flying in tandem with three Earth-observing satellites from Planet — were expected to launch around the end of July.

Another Starlink launch on a Falcon 9 was planned in early August. Schedules for subsequent Starlink missions have not been announced, but SpaceX is booked to launch the next Crew Dragon spacecraft with astronauts to the International Space Station and a GPS navigation satellite as soon as September.

The launch dates for those missions could be delayed as a ripple effect from the back-to-back postponements of the Starlink/BlackSky mission and the Anasis 2 flight.

The Anasis 2 mission will use a Falcon 9 first stage that previously flew May 30 to carry aloft NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. The booster, designated B1058, landed on SpaceX’s drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean, and then returned to Port Canaveral for refurbishment ahead of its second flight.

In order to achieve the rapid-fire launch cadence planned in the coming weeks, SpaceX is aiming to cut its turnaround time for reused rockets. The shortest span between launches of the same Falcon 9 booster to date has been 62 days, which SpaceX achieved with a Feb. 17 mission.

If the Anasis 2 launch had gone ahead Tuesday, the booster for that mission would have launched on its second flight just 45 days after its first flight May 30.

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, has previously said he wants to launch, recover and re-launch Falcon 9 booster twice within a 24-hour period. But Musk has not recently repeated those comments, instead focusing on SpaceX’s larger, next-generation Starship launch vehicle to make the next leap in reusable rocket technology.

The Falcon 9 booster from the Crew Dragon Demo-2 launch will be reused for the Anasis 2 mission. Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

SpaceX currently has five Falcon 9 boosters in its inventory, and the company has flown two brand new first stages in its 11 missions so far this year. At least two more new Falcon 9 first stages are scheduled to enter service in the coming months, with SpaceX’s next launch of astronauts and the next launch of a U.S. military GPS navigation satellite, both currently planned no earlier than September.

A Falcon Heavy launch planned in late 2020 with a clandestine U.S. military payload will fly with three Falcon rocket boosters, all brand new. SpaceX officials said in December that the company planned to build around 10 new Falcon first stages in 2020.

With its success in reusing Falcon 9 booster stages, the company haas ramped up production of Falcon 9 second stages, which are new on each mission.

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SpaceX test-fires Falcon 9 rocket launch next week with Korean military satellite

A Falcon 9 rocket — without its payload fairing — fired up on Cape Canaveral’s Complex 40 launch Saturday for a pre-flight test-firing. Credit: William Harwood/CBS News

Hours after calling off a launch of a different rocket from a nearby launch pad, SpaceX’s launch team loaded a Falcon 9 rocket with propellant Saturday and fired its nine main engines on pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, setting the stage for a liftoff with a South Korean military satellite as soon as Tuesday amid a busy stretch of missions for the California-based rocket company.

SpaceX ground crews raised the Falcon 9 rocket vertical on pad 40 Saturday morning. An automated computer-controlled sequencer commanded super-chilled, densified kerosene and liquid oxygen into the Falcon 9 Saturday afternoon.

The countdown culminated in ignition of the rocket’s nine Merlin 1D main engines at 6 p.m. EDT (2200 GMT). The engines throttled up to full power, generating 1.7 million pounds of thrust for several seconds while clamps restrained the Falcon 9 on the launch pad.

Onlookers observed a plume of exhaust coming from the rocket and confirmed the the test-firing occurred. SpaceX was expected to officially release an update on the outcome of the static fire test after a quick-look data review.

The Falcon 9 will be lowered and rolled back inside SpaceX’s hangar near pad 40, where technicians will attach a European-made communications satellite named Anasis 2 built for the South Korean military.

Assuming the final days of launch preparations go according to plan, SpaceX plans to launch the mission Tuesday during a nearly four-hour window opening at 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) and extending until 8:55 p.m. EDT (0055 GMT).

The static fire test Saturday for the Anasis 2 mission occurred the same day SpaceX planned to launch a Falcon 9 rocket from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, located a few miles north of pad 40. SpaceX announced Saturday morning that it called off the launch from pad 39A “to allow more time for checkouts.”

SpaceX tweeted that teams “working to identify the next launch opportunity” for the mission from pad 39A, which will loft SpaceX’s next 57 Starlink broadband Internet satellites and a pair of commercial BlackSky Earth-imaging microsatellites.

The Starlink/BlackSky launch was supposed to take off June 26, but SpaceX delayed the mission to conduct additional pre-launch checkouts. A launch attempt Wednesday was scrubbed minutes before liftoff by poor weather.

The company has not disclosed any details about the nature of the problems — other than weather — that have delayed the Starlink/BlackSky mission. As of Saturday evening, it was not clear whether SpaceX might proceed with Tuesday’s planned Anasis 2 launch next, or if there might be another opportunity to launch the Starlink/BlackSky mission as soon as Monday.

SpaceX has launched 11 Falcon 9 missions so far this year, most recently on June 30, when a Falcon 9 rocket took off from pad 40 with a U.S. military GPS navigation satellite.

The Anasis 2 satellite is prepared for shipment to Cape Canaveral from Airbus’s facility in Toulouse, France. Credit: Airbus Defense and Space

Developed by Airbus Defense and Space, the Anasis 2 satellite is shrouded in secrecy at the wishes of the the spacecraft’s owner — the South Korean government.

Anasis 2 is based on the Eurostar E3000 spacecraft platform made by Airbus, but details about its performance have been kept under wraps. The Anasis 2 satellite is expected to launch into an elliptical transfer orbit, then use its on-board propulsion system to reach a circular orbit at geostationary altitude more than 22,000 miles (nearly 36,000 kilometers) over the equator.,

South Korea purchased the satellite — formerly known as KMilSatCom 1 — through an arrangement to offset South Korea’s purchase of F-35A fighter jets from Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin ultimately subcontracted the satellite manufacturing deal to Airbus.

Before Anasis 2, South Korea’s military has relied on international and civilian-owned satellites for communications.

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GPS satellite ready for installation on Falcon 9 rocket for launch next week

The third GPS 3-series navigation satellite, named “Columbus,” is seen before shipment from Lockheed Martin’s factory in Denver. Credit: Lockheed Martin

The U.S. military’s next GPS navigation satellite moved to a SpaceX launch facility late Thursday at Cape Canaveral, ready for attachment with a Falcon 9 rocket for liftoff June 30 to take the place of an aging GPS spacecraft launched from Florida’s Space Coast more than 20 years ago.

Built by Lockheed Martin, the spacecraft was closed up inside the payload shroud of its Falcon 9 rocket Sunday inside the Astrotech payload processing facility in Titusville, then trucked to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station late Thursday. Once in position inside a SpaceX rocket hangar, ground teams planned to mount the spacecraft and payload fairing to the Falcon 9 launcher that will carry the GPS satellite into orbit.

The third in the military’s new GPS 3-series of navigation satellites is scheduled for launch from Cape Canaveral’s Complex 40 launch pad during a 15-minute window opening at 3:55 p.m. EDT (1955 GMT) Tuesday, June 30.

The GPS 3 SV03 spacecraft follows the launch of SV01 and SV02 in December 2018 and August 2019. Those satellites launched on SpaceX Falcon 9 and United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rockets, respectively.

Both of the previous GPS 3-series satellites are healthy, according to the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center. They were “set healthy” and officially entered the operational GPS constellation Jan. 13 and April 1, an SMC spokesperson said.

The GPS 3 SV03 satellite will launch into an elliptical transfer orbit aboard the Falcon 9 rocket. After deployment from the launch vehicle, the GPS satellite will use its own propulsion system to reach a circular orbit inclined 55 degrees to the equator at an altitude of about 12,550 miles (20,200 kilometers).

The launch June 30 is timed to place the GPS 3 SV03 spacecraft into Plane E, Slot 4 of the GPS constellation. That position is currently occupied by a GPS satellite launched May 10, 2000, from Cape Canaveral on a Delta 2 rocket. Military officials did not say whether that satellite, which was originally designed for a 10-year mission, will be decommissioned or moved to another slot in the GPS network.

The GPS satellites are spread among six orbital planes, each with four primary spacecraft, plus spares.

The GPS network provides positioning and timing services worldwide for military and civilian users, beaming signals relied upon by airliners, ATMs, drivers and smart bombs, among numerous other users.

The GPS 3 satellites provide more accurate navigation signals and boasting longer design lifetimes of 15 years. The new GPS 3 satellites also broadcast e a new L1C civilian signal that is compatible with Europe’s Galileo network and Japan’s Quasi-Zenith Satellite System.

Other space-based navigation networks operated by Japan and China are also adopting similar compatible signals.

Like the previous line of Boeing-built GPS 2F satellites, all GPS 3-series spacecraft broadcast a dedicated L5 signal geared to support air navigation. The GPS 3 satellites also continue beaming an encrypted military-grade navigation signal known as M-code.

The M-code signal allows GPS satellites to broadcast higher-power, jam-resistant signals over specific regions, such as a military theater or battlefield. The capability provides U.S. and allied forces with more reliable navigation services, and could also allow the military to intentionally disrupt or jam civilian-grade GPS signals in a particular region, while the M-code signal remains unimpeded.

L3Harris Technologies builds the navigation payloads for the GPS 3 satellites.

SpaceX test-fired a brand new Falcon 9 rocket Thursday on pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in preparation for the GPS satellite launch. Credit: William Harwood/CBS News

The launch June 30 will be the first dedicated flight by SpaceX for the U.S. Space Force since the new military branch was established in December.

It comes four days after the scheduled launch Friday of a different Falcon 9 rocket from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, a few miles to the north of pad 40. That mission was set to loft 57 satellites for SpaceX’s Starlink broadband Internet constellation, along with a pair of commercial Earth-imaging microsatellites for BlackSky.

SpaceX test-fired the Falcon 9 rocket assigned to the GPS launch Thursday, less than a day after a similar static fire test of the Falcon booster for the Starlink/BlackSky mission.

Unlike SpaceX’s launch of the first GPS 3-series satellite in 2018, military officials overseeing the flight have allowed SpaceX to set aside enough propellant reserve on the Falcon 9 booster to attempt a landing on an offshore drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. SpaceX flew the Falcon 9 rocket in a fully expendable configuration for the GPS 3 SV01 launch in 2018.

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Live coverage: SpaceX launch on schedule for Friday afternoon

Live coverage of the countdown and launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission will launch SpaceX’s tenth batch of Starlink broadband satellites. Text updates will appear automatically below. Follow us on Twitter.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket test-fired its engines at 6:30 p.m. EDT (2230 GMT) Wednesday. Credit: Spaceflight Now

Spaceflight Now members can watch a live view of the pad. Join now.

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SpaceX gearing up for another launch of Starlink broadband satellites this week

File photo of a Falcon 9 launch. Credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now

For the third time in three weeks, SpaceX is preparing to launch a batch of satellites for the company’s Starlink Internet network from Florida’s Space Coast. Liftoff of a Falcon 9 rocket is set for Thursday afternoon from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, weather permitting.

Liftoff of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled for Thursday at 4:39 p.m. EDT (2039 GMT), and two commercial Earth-imaging microsatellites owned by BlackSky will accompany the Starlink payloads into orbit.

The launch Thursday will be SpaceX’s fourth Falcon 9 mission in less than four weeks, continuing a whirlwind cadence of launches that began May 30 with the liftoff of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken into orbit.

SpaceX launched another Falcon 9 rocket June 3 with 60 Starlink satellites, and most recently delivered another 58 Starlink payloads into orbit with a Falcon 9 rocket June 13 on a flight that also carried three commercial SkySat Earth-imaging satellites to space for Planet.

Thursday’s mission will be SpaceX’s 11th launch of 2020, and will be followed by another Falcon 9 launch scheduled June 30 from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station with the U.S. Space Force’s next GPS navigation satellite.

The launch June 30 is scheduled for a 15-minute window opening at 3:55 p.m. EDT (1955 GMT).

SpaceX plans to test-fire the rockets for its next two missions this week. The previously-flown Falcon 9 rocket assigned to the Starlink/BlackSky launch is scheduled for a hold-down test-firing of its nine Merlin main engines Wednesday at pad 39A.

A test-firing of the brand new Falcon 9 booster for the GPS launch is scheduled later this week on pad 40, perhaps as soon as Thursday.

Forecasters predict typical summertime weather on Florida’s Space Coast for Thursday afternoon. There’s a 60 percent chance weather conditions could violate the Falcon 9’s liftoff weather constraints at launch time Thursday, according to an outlook issued Tuesday by the Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron.

The weather pattern over the next several days on the Space Coast “will favor afternoon showers and thunderstorms with daytime heating and the prevailing offshore flow,” forecasters wrote Tuesday. “The east coast sea breeze will remain closer to the coast, and the west coast sea breeze will move across the peninsula. Mid to upper level westerly steering flow will also help push showers and storms, along with their associated anvils, back towards the east coast.”

The main weather concerns for Thursday’s launch opportunity will be with the potential for violating the cumulus cloud, anvil cloud and lightning rules.

There’s some slight improvement in the forecast for a backup launch opportunity Friday afternoon, when there’s a 40 percent chance of weather violating launch criteria.

Artist’s concept of a Starlink satellite with its solar array wing unfurled. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX’s Starlink network is designed to provide low-latency, high-speed Internet service around the world. SpaceX has launched 538 flat-panel Starlink spacecraft since beginning full-scale deployment of the orbital network in May 2019, making the company the owner of the world’s largest fleet of satellites.

SpaceX says it needs 24 launches to provide Starlink Internet coverage over nearly all of the populated world, and 12 launches could enable coverage of higher latitude regions, such as Canada and the northern United States.

The Falcon 9 can loft up to 60 Starlink satellites — each weighing about a quarter-ton — on a single Falcon 9 launch. But launches with secondary payloads, such as BlackSky’s new Earth-imaging satellites, can carry fewer Starlinks to allow the rideshare passengers room to fit on the rocket.

The initial phase of the Starlink network will number 1,584 satellites, according to SpaceX’s regulatory filings with the Federal Communications Commission. But SpaceX plans launch thousands more satellites, depending on market demand, and the company has regulatory approval from the FCC to operate up to 12,000 Starlink relay nodes in low Earth orbit.

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, says the Starlink network could earn revenue to fund the company’s ambition for interplanetary space travel, and eventually establish a human settlement on Mars.

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Starlink satellite deployments continue with successful Falcon 9 launch

A Falcon 9 rocket streaked into space just before sunrise Saturday from Cape Canaveral. Credit: SpaceX

Breaking a SpaceX record for the shortest span between two missions from the same launch pad, a Falcon 9 rocket lifted off Saturday from Cape Canaveral carrying 58 more Starlink broadband satellites three Earth-imaging spacecraft for Planet.

The Falcon 9 rocket roared into space from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 5:21:18 a.m. EDT (0921:18 GMT), heading to the northeast as it ascended into sunlight, creating a twilight spectacle visible for hundreds of miles.

SpaceX’s previous Falcon 9 launch took off from the same location less than 10 days before, the fastest turnaround between Falcon 9 flights from the same launch pad in the company’s history.

It was the third Falcon 9 launch in two weeks, and SpaceX has two more Falcon 9 rocket flights scheduled before the end of June.

Those missions are currently scheduled for launch from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on June 22 — with another batch of Starlink satellites — and on June 30 from pad 40 again with a U.S. Space Force GPS navigation satellite.

After shutting down its nine main engines two-and-a-half minutes into the mission Saturday, the Falcon 9’s first stage dropped away and flipped around to fly tail first and descend to a propulsive landing on SpaceX’s drone ship floating in the Atlantic Ocean around 400 miles (630 kilometers) northeast of Cape Canaveral.

The Falcon 9’s second stage engine ignited to accelerate the 58 Starlink satellites and three SkySats into an orbit with an average altitude of nearly 200 miles (300 kilometers). The rocket’s nose cone also jettisoned to parachute into the Atlantic, where two other SpaceX recovery ships retrieved the two-piece fairing for return to Port Canaveral.

The first stage booster and fairing flown on Saturday’s mission were both recovered and reused from previous Falcon 9 missions.

Saturday’s launch was the first to fly secondary payloads to ride to orbit on SpaceX’s commercial rideshare service, which the company announced last year.

Planet, headquartered in San Francisco, was the first company to publicly confirm plans to utilize the rideshare launch service.

The launch of three Planet SkySat spacecraft Saturday will be followed by another Falcon 9/Starlink mission in July carrying Planet’s final three SkySats, capping off the deployment of the company’s fleet of 21 commercial high-resolution Earth observation satellites.

Mike Safyan, Planet’s vice president of launch, said SpaceX’s small satellite rideshare service was “a very attractive offering” to launch the company’s last six SkySat satellites.

SpaceX’s 87th Falcon 9 rocket mission carried 58 Starlink satellites and three of Planet’s Earth-imaging SkySats into orbit. Credit: SpaceX

While Safyan would not disclose what Planet paid SpaceX to launch the six SkySats, SpaceX has published pricing for rideshare launch services on its website. The company lists a price as low as $1 million for a 440-pound payload on a rideshare to a polar sun-synchronous orbit.

“That’s incredibly competitive pricing,” Safyan said. “Coupled with the fact that the Falcon 9 is one of the world’s most reliable and well-flown vehicles out there, and they’re going to a variety of orbits very regularly, makes it a very attractive offering.”

The cost to purchase the entire capacity of an Electron rocket mission from Rocket Lab is around $5.7 million. Rocket Lab’s Electron launcher can carry up to 496 pounds (225 kilograms) to a low-altitude orbit, or 330 pounds (150 kilograms) to a higher sun-synchronous orbit.

Safyan said SpaceX provided Planet with parameters to integrate the SkySats on top of a flat-packed stack of Starlink satellites.

“SpaceX gave us the interface pattern, and then we designed a custom adapter plate in-house,” Safyan said. “We put together this adapter plate that would allow for three SkySats to fit onto that mounting. The SkySats sit at the top of the stack, and they get deployed as the first satellite deployment event, and Starlinks will follow thereafter.”

With the addition of three SkySats on top of the Starlink stack, SpaceX is only launching 58 Starlink platforms on Saturday’s mission, down from the typical number of 60 per launch.

The top-mounted SkySats separated from the rocket first Saturday after reaching a preliminary orbit inclined 53 degrees to the equator, deploying one-at-a-time at 30-second intervals beginning around-and-a-half minutes after liftoff.

Then the Falcon 9’s upper stage reoriented for the deployment of the 58 Starlink satellites, which separated from the rocket in one piece after the release of retention rods holding the flat-packed spacecraft onto the rocket.

Once the separation was initiated, the Starlink satellites — each weighing about a quarter-ton — were expected to slowly fly apart from each other as they prepare to unfurl solar arrays and activate their krypton ion drives.

The Starlink deployment occurred at T+plus 26 minutes when the Falcon 9 was flying outside the range of ground stations. SpaceX confirmed the separation sequence was initiated once the rocket flew over a tracking antenna at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

Saturday’s flight was also the first Falcon 9 launch to go ahead without a pre-flight test-firing of its nine Merlin first stage engines.

SpaceX was the only launch operator to perform static fire tests before every mission. Other companies, such as United Launch Alliance, conduct fueling rehearsals ahead of some missions, but most launch providers fuel their rockets for the first time on launch day.

It’s not clear whether SpaceX will perform static fire tests before future missions, or whether the company might only test-fire rockets making their first launch, or in preparation for missions with external customers, such as NASA or the U.S. military.

SpaceX is both the launch provider and the customer for a Falcon 9 launch with Starlink satellites. With 87 Falcon 9 flights in the books, the rocket is no longer a newly-designed launch vehicle. The Falcon 9 has logged more missions than any other U.S. launcher currently in service.

Three of Planet’s SkySat Earth-imaging satellites were mounted on top of 58 SpaceX Starlink Internet satellites for Saturday’s launch. Credit: Planet / SpaceX

With the Starlink satellites successfully placed in orbit, their krypton propulsion systems will raise the spacecraft’s orbits to an operating altitude of 341 miles, or 550 kilometers, while SpaceX ground teams perform checkouts of each spacecraft.

With Saturday’s launch, SpaceX has launched 538 Starlink satellites since May 2019, extending the company’s record as the owner of the largest fleet of commercial satellites. Planet operates between 100 and 150 satellites, making it the owner of the second-largest constellation of commercial satellites.

Continuing its rapid launch pace, SpaceX aims to launch around 1,000 more Starlink satellites later this year and next year to begin offering worldwide Internet service.

Thousands more Starlink spacecraft could launch in the coming years to meet global demand, according to SpaceX.

SpaceX recently started soliciting information from prospective Starlink customers. Those who sign up can receive email updates on the Starlink network, those who submitted their zip codes will be “notified via email if beta testing opportunities become available in your area,” SpaceX said.

“Starlink is designed to deliver high-speed broadband Internet to locations where access has been unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable,” SpaceX said. “Private beta testing is expected to begin later this summer, followed by public beta testing, starting with higher latitudes.”

Planet’s fleet includes more than 100 medium-resolution Dove and SuperDove CubeSats — each the size of a toaster oven — and 15 larger SkySats with sharper vision.

Built by Maxar, each of the SkySat satellites weighs around 242 pounds (110 kilograms) at launch. The SkySats are about the side of a mini-refrigerator.

The first 15 SkySat satellites launched into polar sun-synchronous orbits and fly in in north-south paths around Earth. Sun-synchronous orbits are popular for remote sensing and environmental satellites because they allow regular imaging of the Earth’s surface with the sun at the same angle.

Around half of the SkySats fly in orbits timed to fly overhead in the morning, and the other half soar over imaging targets in the afternoon, providing coverage of certain parts of the globe twice per day.

The six remaining SkySats are the last of a block of spacecraft ordered from Maxar, formerly known as SSL, by Skybox Imaging. Skybox was acquired by Google and renamed Terra Bella in 2014, then Planet acquired Terra Bella and the SkySat assets in 2017.

The three SkySat satellites launching Saturday, and another three set to launch on a following Starlink mission in July, will fly at a lower-inclination orbit inclined 53 degrees to the equator. Planet says the new satellites “will offer more targeted coverage and raw image capacity in key geographic regions.”

Safyan told Spaceflight Now the SkySats will use their own propulsion to maneuver from the Starlink injection orbit to an operating altitude of around 250 miles (400 kilometers).

At that altitude, the SkySats will be able to produce images of Earth at a resolution of less than 20 inches, or 50 centimeters. Planet announced it has also lowered the orbits of its SkySats already in space to allow the collection imagery of the same quality.

The first 15 SkySats have launched on a range of rockets, riding a Ukrainian-Russian Dnepr booster in 2013, a Russian Soyuz launcher in 2014, an Indian PSLV and a European Vega rocket in 2016, Northrop Grumman’s Minotaur-C rocket in 2017, and a Falcon 9 mission in 2018.

In addition to selling excess room on Starlink missions, SpaceX is planning as many as three dedicated Falcon 9 rideshare launches per year to sun-synchronous orbit. The first of the company’s dedicated rideshare missions is scheduled for December from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The rideshare launches are similar to a sun-synchronous orbit multi-satellite launch from Vandenberg on a Falcon 9 rocket in December 2018. But that mission was managed by Spaceflight, a rideshare launch broker based in Seattle, which purchased the entire capacity of a Falcon 9 rocket and sold slots to commercial and government customers.

Now SpaceX itself is putting together rideshare launches, selling slots directly to satellite operators and brokers that then distribute mass and volume allotments to their customers.

Starlink launches take up the majority of the Falcon 9 rocket’s launch manifest this year. SpaceX has also sold capacity on the next Starlink launch, set for June 22, for two Earth-imaging satellites owned by BlackSky.

“SpaceX had a lot of different orbits we could choose from,” Safyan said. “That’s one of the advantages of going with a SpaceX rideshare because with other launch providers, they may be going to the orbit that you’re looking for, but with only one or two missions every now and again.

“But SpaceX is launching so frequently that if you’re looking for mid-inclination, you could go on a Starlink,” Safyan said. “If you’re looking for sun-synchronous, they have other rideshare opportunities. Other orbits are being offered as well. So it’s the number and frequency of opportunities that really makes a difference.”

The launch contract between SpaceX and Planet was signed just six months ago, Safyan said.

Artist’s concept of SkySat satellites. Credit: Planet

“We not only recognize that these Starlink launch opportunities were very cost-competitive on a very reliable launch vehicle, and going to the right orbit, but also the timing,” Safyan said. “We were ready to launch, and if we were to go to a dedicated launch service provider, then it could take 12 or 18 months for them to build their launch vehicle from scratch and fit it into their manifest.

“Launch companies typically don’t just have rockets sitting around on inventory that haven’t been assigned,” he said. “So being able to turn this around really quickly was another big advantage, and SpaceX is one of the few launch providers in the world that could do this so quickly.”

Planet could have launched all six of their remaining SkySats clustered together on same Starlink rideshare mission, but the company preferred to put them on two different rockets to be released into different orbital planes. That will help spread out the fleet for broader coverage, Safyan said.

“I think that there has been what appears to be kind of like a culture shift at SpaceX with respect to the smallsat market,” Safyan said. “Previously, I think that they were much more focused on bigger payloads and dedicated launch services, and they preferred to kind of outsource aggregating smaller payloads to other brokers. With their smallsat rideshare announcement, I think that was a turning point for SpaceX where they recognize that this is a real and important market, and that they wanted to be working directly with customers.

“That’s been a really great shift for us because SpaceX works very fast. They work at a very similar pace as we do. So we were able to put together this launch in a very quick timeframe.”

The SkySats are designed for six-year missions, according to Planet.

“That gives us a pretty long runway with respect to what these SkySats will be able to provide,” Safyan said. “We’re looking at the future of high-res at Planet. It’s still too early to talk about the details of that. But we will continue to offer both medium-res and high-res products to our customers.

“One of the promises that Planet always makes to its customers is that our products get better over time,” Safyan said. “We don’t like to rest on our laurels. We really like to listen to the market and understand what are they evolving needs, especially as we grow the customer base.

“It’s not just industries that are traditional users of remote sensing, like government agencies and agriculture,” he said. “There are newer markets that are being opened up in finance and insurance, so better understanding those market needs as well helps us inform how we develop the product going forward. Because we’re vertically-integrated, that gives us a really big advantage of being able to take customer feedback and actually incorporate that into satellite design and operations.”

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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Live coverage: Falcon 9 rocket ready for predawn launch Saturday

Live coverage of the countdown and launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The mission will launch SpaceX’s ninth batch of Starlink broadband satellites. Text updates will appear automatically below. Follow us on Twitter

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Hitching a ride with SpaceX, Planet poised to complete SkySat fleet

Three of Planet’s SkySat Earth-imaging satellites are mounted on top of 58 SpaceX Starlink Internet satellites for launch Saturday. Credit: Planet / SpaceX

Three of Planet’s SkySat Earth-imaging satellites are mounted on top of 58 of SpaceX’s Starlink broadband satellites for launch Saturday from Cape Canaveral on top of a Falcon 9 rocket, the first secondary payloads to ride to orbit on SpaceX’s commercial rideshare service.

The launch of three Planet SkySat spacecraft Saturday will be followed by another Falcon 9/Starlink mission in July carrying Planet’s final three SkySats, capping off the deployment of the company’s fleet of 21 commercial high-resolution Earth observation satellites.

Mike Safyan, Planet’s vice president of launch, said SpaceX’s small satellite rideshare service, which the launch provider announced last year, was “a very attractive offering” to launch the company’s last six SkySat satellites.

While Safyan would not disclose what Planet paid SpaceX to launch the six SkySats, SpaceX has published pricing for rideshare launch services on its website. The company lists a price as low as $1 million for a 440-pound payload on a rideshare to a polar sun-synchronous orbit.

“That’s incredibly competitive pricing,” Safyan said. “Coupled with the fact that the Falcon 9 is one of the world’s most reliable and well-flown vehicles out there, and they’re going to a variety of orbits very regularly, makes it a very attractive offering.”

The cost to purchase the entire capacity of an Electron rocket mission from Rocket Lab is around $5.7 million. Rocket Lab’s Electron launcher can carry up to 496 pounds (225 kilograms) to a low-altitude orbit, or 330 pounds (150 kilograms) to a higher sun-synchronous orbit.

Safyan said SpaceX provided Planet with parameters to integrate the SkySats on top of a flat-packed stack of Starlink satellites.

Planet, headquartered in San Francisco, dispatched a small team to Cape Canaveral to prepare the three SkySats for launch.

“We were able to do it with a skeleton crew,” Safyan said in an interview with Spaceflight Now. “We were trying to minimize the number of people that needed to travel given the pandemic conditions.”

Liftoff of the Falcon 9 rocket with the SkySat and Starlink satellites is set for 5:21:18 a.m. EDT (0921:18 GMT) from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The launch comes less than 10 days after the previous Falcon 9 mission lifted off from pad 40, the shortest span between flights from the same launch pad in SpaceX’s history.

It’s also the first Falcon 9 launch to go ahead without a pre-flight test-firing of its nine Merlin first stage engines. Although SpaceX has not responded to questions on the matter, the launch team Friday was preparing for an overnight countdown ahead of Saturday’s predawn launch.

SpaceX was the only launch operator to perform static fire tests before every mission. Other companies, such as United Launch Alliance, conduct fueling rehearsals ahead of some missions, but most launch providers fuel their rockets for the first time on launch day.

The first stage booster flying on Saturday’s Falcon 9 flight previously launched and landed on two missions in December and March, each carrying a Dragon cargo capsule into space on a resupply mission to the International Space Station. The booster is flying for a third time Saturday.

It’s not clear whether SpaceX will perform static fire tests before future missions, or whether the company might only test-fire rockets making their first launch, or in preparation for missions with external customers, such as NASA or the U.S. military.

SpaceX is both the launch provider and the customer for a Falcon 9 launch with Starlink satellites. With 86 Falcon 9 flights in the books, the rocket is no longer a newly-designed launch vehicle. The Falcon 9 has logged more missions than any other U.S. launcher currently in service.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket stands on pad 40. Credit: SpaceX

In an interview with Spaceflight Now, Safyan said Planet was comfortable with launching on the Falcon 9 with or without a static fire test.

“SpaceX gave us the interface pattern, and then we designed a custom adapter plate in-house,” Safyan said. “We put together this adapter plate that would allow for three SkySats to fit onto that mounting. The SkySats sit at the top of the stack, and they get deployed as the first satellite deployment event, and Starlinks will follow thereafter.”

With the addition of three SkySats on top of the Starlink stack, SpaceX is only launching 58 Starlink platforms on Saturday’s mission, down from the typical number of 60 per launch.

Like all Starlink launches to date, the Falcon 9 rocket will blast off and head northeast from Cape Canaveral powered by 1.7 million pounds of thrust from nine Merlin 1D main engines.

Fueled by kerosene, the nine Merlin engines will burn for two-and-a-half minutes before shutting down, allowing the Falcon 9’s first stage to drop away and head for landing on SpaceX’s drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” parked in the Atlantic Ocean nearly 400 miles (630 kilometers) northeast of Cape Canaveral.

The second stage’s Merlin Vacuum engine will ignite at T+plus 2 minutes, 43 seconds. Around 30 seconds later, the Falcon 9’s clamshell-like payload fairing will jettison in two halves to drop into the Atlantic Ocean.

The two halves of the fairing launching Saturday are also reused from previous missions.

SpaceX’s two fairing recovery vessels — named Ms. Tree and Ms. Chief — are stationed in the Atlantic Ocean, presumably to attempt recovery of the payload shroud halves again.

Landing of the first stage booster on SpaceX’s drone ship is scheduled nearly nine minutes after liftoff, followed moments later by shutdown of the Falcon 9’s upper stage engine after reaching an elliptical, or egg-shaped, orbit ranging between 132 miles and 228 miles (213-by-367 kilometers) in altitude.

The orbit will be inclined 53 degrees to the equator.

The SkySats will separate from the rocket first, deploying one-at-a-time at 30-second intervals beginning around-and-a-half minutes after liftoff.

Then the Falcon 9’s upper stage will reorient for the deployment of the 58 Starlink satellites, which will separate from the rocket in one piece after the release of retention rods holding the flat-packed spacecraft onto the rocket.

Once the separation is initiated, the Starlink satellites — each weighing about a quarter-ton — will slowly fly apart from each other as they prepare to unfurl solar arrays and activate their krypton ion drives.

The krypton propulsion system will raise the satellites’ orbits to an operating altitude of 341 miles, or 550 kilometers, while SpaceX ground teams perform checkouts of each spacecraft.

With Saturday’s launch, SpaceX will have launched 538 Starlink satellites since May 2019, extending the company’s record as the owner of the largest fleet of commercial satellites.

SpaceX is on a rapid-fire launch pace, following the launch of the previous batch of Starlink satellites June 3, and another Falcon 9/Starlink mission scheduled for June 22.

SpaceX aims to launch around 1,000 more Starlink satellites later this year and next year to begin offering worldwide Internet service. Initial beta testing of the Starlink network could begin later this year, beginning in higher latitude regions like Canada and the northern United States.

Thousands more Starlink spacecraft could launch in the coming years to meet global demand, according to SpaceX.

Artist’s concept of SkySat satellites. Credit: Planet

Planet is the owner of the world’s second-largest satellite constellation, with between 100 and 150 spacecraft currently in operation. That fleet includes more than 100 medium-resolution Dove and SuperDove CubeSats — each the size of a toaster oven — and 15 larger SkySats with sharper vision.

Built by Maxar, each of the SkySat satellites weighs around 242 pounds (110 kilograms) at launch. The SkySats are about the side of a mini-refrigerator.

The first 15 SkySat satellites launched into polar sun-synchronous orbits and fly in in north-south paths around Earth. Sun-synchronous orbits are popular for remote sensing and environmental satellites because they allow regular imaging of the Earth’s surface with the sun at the same angle.

Around half of the SkySats fly in orbits timed to fly overhead in the morning, and the other half soar over imaging targets in the afternoon, providing coverage of certain parts of the globe twice per day.

The six remaining SkySats are the last of a block of spacecraft ordered from Maxar, formerly known as SSL, by Skybox Imaging. Skybox was acquired by Google and renamed Terra Bella in 2014, then Planet acquired Terra Bella and the SkySat assets in 2017.

The three SkySat satellites launching Saturday, and another three set to launch on a following Starlink mission in July, will fly at a lower-inclination orbit inclined 53 degrees to the equator. Planet says the new satellites “will offer more targeted coverage and raw image capacity in key geographic regions.”

Safyan told Spaceflight Now the SkySats will use their own propulsion to maneuver from the Starlink injection orbit to an operating altitude of around 250 miles (400 kilometers).

At that altitude, the SkySats will be able to produce images of Earth at a resolution of less than 20 inches, or 50 centimeters. Planet announced it has also lowered the orbits of its SkySats already in space to allow the collection imagery of the same quality.

The first 15 SkySats have launched on a range of rockets, riding a Ukrainian-Russian Dnepr booster in 2013, a Russian Soyuz launcher in 2014, an Indian PSLV and a European Vega rocket in 2016, Northrop Grumman’s Minotaur-C rocket in 2017, and a Falcon 9 mission in 2018.

In addition to selling excess room on Starlink missions, SpaceX is planning as many as three dedicated Falcon 9 rideshare launches per year to sun-synchronous orbit. The first of the company’s dedicated rideshare missions is scheduled for December from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The rideshare launches are similar to a sun-synchronous orbit multi-satellite launch from Vandenberg on a Falcon 9 rocket in December 2018. But that mission was managed by Spaceflight, a rideshare launch broker based in Seattle, which purchased the entire capacity of a Falcon 9 rocket and sold slots to commercial and government customers.

Now SpaceX itself is putting together rideshare launches, selling slots directly to satellite operators and brokers that then distribute mass and volume allotments to their customers.

Starlink launches take up the majority of the Falcon 9 rocket’s launch manifest this year. SpaceX has also sold capacity on the next Starlink launch, set for June 22, for two Earth-imaging satellites owned by BlackSky.

“SpaceX had a lot of different orbits we could choose from,” Safyan said. “That’s one of the advantages of going with a SpaceX rideshare because with other launch providers, they may be going to the orbit that you’re looking for, but with only one or two missions every now and again.

“But SpaceX is launching so frequently that if you’re looking for mid-inclination, you could go on a Starlink,” Safyan said. “If you’re looking for sun-synchronous, they have other rideshare opportunities. Other orbits are being offered as well. So it’s the number and frequency of opportunities that really makes a difference.”

The launch contract between SpaceX and Planet was signed just six months ago, Safyan said.

“We not only recognize that these Starlink launch opportunities were very cost-competitive on a very reliable launch vehicle, and going to the right orbit, but also the timing,” Safyan said. “We were ready to launch, and if we were to go to a dedicated launch service provider, then it could take 12 or 18 months for them to build their launch vehicle from scratch and fit it into their manifest.

“Launch companies typically don’t just have rockets sitting around on inventory that haven’t been assigned,” he said. “So being able to turn this around really quickly was another big advantage, and SpaceX is one of the few launch providers in the world that could do this so quickly.”

Planet could have launched all six of their remaining SkySats clustered together on same Starlink rideshare mission, but the company preferred to put them on two different rockets to be released into different orbital planes. That will help spread out the fleet for broader coverage, Safyan said.

“I think that there has been what appears to be kind of like a culture shirt at SpaceX with respect to the smallsat market,” Safyan said. “Previously, I think that they were much more focused on bigger payloads and dedicated launch services, and they preferred to kind of outsource aggregating smaller payloads to other brokers. With their smallsat rideshare announcement, I think that was a turning point for SpaceX where they recognize that this is a real and important market, and that they wanted to be working directly with customers.

“That’s been a really great shift for us because SpaceX works very fast. They work at a very similar pace as we do. So we were able to put together this launch in a very quick timeframe.”

The SkySats are designed for six-year missions, according to Planet.

“That gives us a pretty long runway with respect to what these SkySats will be able to provide,” Safyan said. “We’re looking at the future of high-res at Planet. It’s still too early to talk about the details of that. But we will continue to offer both medium-res and high-res products to our customers.

“One of the promises that Planet always makes to its customers is that our products get better over time,” Safyan said. “We don’t like to rest on our laurels. We really like to listen to the market and understand what are they evolving needs, especially as we grow the customer base.

“It’s not just industries that are traditional users of remote sensing, like government agencies and agriculture,” he said. “There are newer markets that are being opened up in finance and insurance, so better understanding those market needs as well helps us inform how we develop the product going forward. Because we’re vertically-integrated, that gives us a really big advantage of being able to take customer feedback and actually incorporate that into satellite design and operations.”

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.