A Falcon 9 rocket has successfully put 88 spacecraft, including an Australian nanosatellite, into Low Earth Orbit (LEO), and gracefully landed back on Earth.
Through its SmallSat Rideshare Program, SpaceX lets small satellites hitch a ride into LEO, 450 kilometres above the Earth. In its eighth mission, called Transporter-2, SpaceX’s “first orbital class rocket capable of reflight” took a combination of CubeSats, microsats, orbital transfer vehicles and Starlink satellites in its payload.
The reusable part of the rocket separates from the first stage, and uses one of its nine engines to slow down as it heads home – in this case, to Cape Canaveral in Florida. It uses grid fins to steer and lands on SpaceX’s dedicated landing pad, using its onboard computer, thrust technology and four carbon-fibre landing legs that deploy and act as shock absorbers as the rocket reaches the pad.
SpaceX says this means the rocket’s most expensive parts can be recycled, driving down the cost of space access. This video shows the Falcon 9’s graceful landing. Elon Musk responded to the video, tweeting “Great shot!”.
As this second stage heads to the landing site, the first stage leaves Earth’s atmosphere and goes on to release the satellites into orbit at timed intervals.
One of them was a nanosatellite from Australia’s Fleet Space Technologies, which provides Internet Of Things technology.
Read More: Reusable rockets explained
Fleet called the deployment a “world first” for nanosatellites as Centauri 4 was put into LEO, adding to a constellation that will eventually comprise 140 nanosatellites.
The shoebox-sized satellite’s payload included digital beamforming technology that steers signals to increase efficiency, reduce interference and increase the data throughput.
“With a crowded radio spectrum containing all of the world’s wireless communications, bandwidth efficiency is everything,” says chief executive officer Flavia Tata Nardini.
“Our engineers have managed to fit this incredible technology in the vacuum of space on a tiny nanosat.
“Space is no longer the sole domain of governments and multi-billion-dollar satellites. Space is open for business, and we’re only just starting to tap into what is possible.”