SpaceX’s 64-Satellite Launch, Largest Rideshare In US Rocket History, Pushed To December 1

Known as 'SSO-A: SmallSat Express,' the mission marks three new milestones for SpaceX.

Photo of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket prior to the launch of NOAA’s Jason-3 spacecraft from Vandenberg in 2016.
Bill Ingalls / NASA via Getty Images

Known as 'SSO-A: SmallSat Express,' the mission marks three new milestones for SpaceX.

SpaceX is getting ready to embark on a momentous rocket ride that will send a huge bundle of satellites flying into sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). Dubbed the “SSO-A: SmallSat Express,” the mission was contracted by Seattle company Spaceflight Industries and entails the launch of no less than 64 satellites — all flying into space atop the same Falcon 9 rocket.

As the Inquisitr previously reported, this is the biggest satellite rideshare not only in SpaceX history, but also for any other US-based rocket.

The multi-satellite payload includes 49 CubeSats and 15 larger microsatellites, Spaceflight details in the mission’s manifest. The satellites belong to 34 government and commercial organizations from 17 countries — including the United States, Australia, India, Thailand, South Korea, Canada, Jordan, Kazakhstan, and nine European states (Italy, Netherlands, Finland, Spain, Switzerland, UK, Germany, Poland, and Brazil).

Originally scheduled for November 19, the Spaceflight SSO-A mission has been postponed twice so far — with the latest delay being only recently announced on Twitter.

Last week, SpaceX told its social media followers that the company was targeting a November 28 launch date for the historic Falcon 9 rideshare — as per a mission update shared on Twitter on Saturday afternoon.

According to Spaceflight Now, the launch was slated to occur tomorrow at 1.31 p.m. EST — with liftoff taking place from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. However, the much-anticipated satellite rideshare flight has been pushed back a second time and will take to the skies on December 1 at the earliest.

When it finally does happen, the Spaceflight SSO-A launch will mark a triple milestone for Elon Musk’s rocket company — aside from being the largest satellite rideshare on U.S. record, that is.

For one thing, the “SSO-A: SmallSat Express” mission is the first one in which someone has bought an entire Falcon 9 rocket to ferry small payloads for multiple clients. Spaceflight acquired the Falcon 9 in 2015 and has spent the last three years loading it up with satellites from various customers.

At the same time, the upcoming launch strengthens SpaceX’s commitment to rocket reusability with a historic third flight of the same Falcon 9 “Block 5” booster, notes Space.

The 64 satellites are bound to ride into orbit the Falcon 9 B1046 booster — the same one that flew the Bangabandhu-1 satellite for Bangladesh on May 11 and later the Merah Putih satellite for Indonesia on August 7, as per a previous report from the Inquisitr.

On its first two flights, the B1046 booster took off from Florida, launching from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in May and from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in August. With its third flight scheduled from Vandenberg, the Falcon 9 rocket is now poised to become the first one to lift off from all three of the company’s orbital launch facilities, as noticed by Teslarati.

Equally noteworthy is the fact that SpaceX plans to land the Falcon 9’s first stage on the “Just Read The Instructions” drone ship that is already stationed around 30 miles off the coast of California.

“In doing so, B1046 will — fingers crossed — become the first Falcon 9 booster to land on both SpaceX drone ships and launch from all three of the company’s orbital facilities, LC-40 (Cape Canaveral Air Force Station), LC-39A (Kennedy Space Center), and SLC-4 (Vandenberg Air Force Base),” reports Teslarati.

The reason why SpaceX decided not to attempt a land touchdown at Vandenberg has to do with the United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket parked near the company’s SLC-4 launch pad, waiting to take off on a yet-unannounced date with the National Reconnaissance Office’s classified NROL-71 satellite.

As Teslarati points out, SpaceX opted for a sea landing of the B1046 booster so as not to interfere in any way with ULA’s mission. Had the company been able to attempt a return-to-launch-site recovery, this would have been the first-ever Falcon 9 landing performed on the West Coast, as previously reported by the Inquisitr.