SpaceX launched 58 new Starlink satellites on its Falcon 9 rocket on Saturday morning, and three satellites from Planet tagged along for the ride. The SpaceX satellites are part of its growing Starlink constellation, which it’s building to provide internet connectivity on Earth. The company has permission to launch some 12,000 satellites as part of the project.
The mission used a Falcon 9 booster that flew two cargo missions to the International Space Station for NASA, the last being CRS-20 in March. The rocket featured a previously flown payload fairing, with one half recovered from the Jcsat-18/Kacific-1 satellite mission in December, and the other from SpaceX’s third Starlink mission, which took place in January.
SpaceX recovered the rocket’s first-stage for a third time, landing the booster on the drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean.
The launch marks the beginning of the rideshare program SpaceX announced in August 2019, offering regular opportunities for smallsat operators to hitch rides on Starlink missions.
SpaceX Lead Manufacturing Engineer Jessie Anderson said the launch contract covering Planet’s three SkySat satellites was signed six months ago. Planet’s Saturday launch, and a second Starlink rideshare scheduled for July will complete the operator’s constellation of 21 SkySats, a fleet that complements Planet’s larger constellation of Dove cubesats.
Once all 21 SkySats are in orbit, Planet says it will be able to image locations an average of seven times a day, with some locations seeing up to 12 revisits a day, at 50-centimeter resolution. Planet’s cubesats collect imagery in 3-5 meter resolution.
The Planet satellites are part of that company’s existing SkySat constellation, which includes just over a dozen washing machine-sized craft that generate high-resolution images of our home planet. Three more Planet satellites will go up on SpaceX’s next Falcon 9 Starlink launch in July. Both Planet launches are part of SpaceX’s new SmallSat Rideshare Program, which gives smaller satellite operators a chance to book a ride aboard a SpaceX launch.
SpaceX has opened its Starlink website to allow people to sign up for “updates on Starlink news and service availability in your area.” The company is expected to conduct private beta testing of its internet-providing satellites later this summer, followed by a public beta test.