Spaceflight to put 71 satellites on SpaceX launch

Satellite deployers
An artist’s conception shows Spaceflight’s satellite deployers emerging from their SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle. (Spaceflight Illustration)

LOGAN, Utah — Seattle-based Spaceflight is confirming that it has more than 70 satellites from 18 countries signed up for launch on a first-of-its-kind dedicated rideshare mission, due to fly on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket by the end of the year.

The dozens of spacecraft include two SkySat high-resolution Earth-imaging satellites from Planet, which are designated as the lead payloads. But there’ll also be more exotic payloads on board — including an art project that’s designed to shine in the night sky, and a satellite built by middle-schoolers to test the viability of bacteria in the vacuum of space.

The current tally of 71 satellites on Spaceflight’s SmallSat Express won’t set the record for the most satellites launched at one time. That distinction will still belong to the Indian Space Research Organization, which launched a PSLV rocket with 104 satellites on board last year. But it will represent Spaceflight’s first purchase of the full capacity of a Falcon 9 rocket, and the first use of an innovative set of satellite deployers known as the Upper Free Flyer and the Lower Free Flyer.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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