SpaceX launches 40 satellites into orbit, lands rocket at sea

A two-stage Falcon 9 rocket lifted off today (April 1) at 12:24 p.m. EDT (1624 GMT) from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, carrying 40 spacecraft to orbit for a variety of customers.

These craft are a diverse bunch, consisting of “cubesats, microsats, picosats, non-deploying hosted payloads and an orbital transfer vehicle carrying spacecraft to be deployed at a later time,” SpaceX wrote in a description of today’s mission, which is known as Transporter Transporter

All of the immediately deployable payloads will be flying free within 90 minutes after launch, if all goes according to plan.

The Falcon 9’s first stage, meanwhile, came back down to Earth for a vertical, powered touchdown on SpaceX’s droneship Just Read the Instructions, which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean several hundred miles off the Florida coast.

It was the seventh launch and landing for this Falcon 9 first stage. The booster also helped launch the Crew-1 and Crew-2 astronaut missions to the International Space Station (ISS) in November 2020 and April 2021, respectively; the SiriusXM communications satellite in June 2021; the CRS-23 cargo run to the ISS in August 2021; and one batch of SpaceX’s Starlink internet satellites, according to the Transporter 4 mission description.

As impressive as seven launches and landings is, it’s far from a SpaceX record. Less than two weeks ago, a Falcon 9 first stage lifted off for the 12th time, successfully sending 53 Starlink satellites to orbit. The booster came down for a droneship landing that day as well.

Transporter 4 is the fourth small-satellite “rideshare” mission that SpaceX has launched. The company’s first such mission, Transporter 1, lofted a record 143 satellites to orbit in January 2021.

Transporter 4 wasn’t the only mission to get off the ground today. About four hours before it launched, a Rocket Lab Electron vehicle launched two Earth-observation satellites to orbit for the Virginia-based company BlackSky.

And there’s more action yet to come today: At 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT), NASA will officially begin the “wet dress rehearsal” for its Artemis 1 moon mission, a crucial test that will help pave the way for launch a few months from now.

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