SpaceX launches 105 satellites on its third smallsat launch

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully placed 105 satellites and other spacecraft into orbit using its Falcon 9 rocket.

The first stage successfully landed at Cape Canaveral, completing its 10th flight. The launch itself was SpaceX’s third launch dedicated to smallsats in its effort to compete against the small rockets of Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit, and Astra for that the smallsat market.

Of those 105 satellites, I actually know the owners of two. First, Joe Latrell, frequent commenter here on BtB, put his first Pocketqube cubesat into orbit, testing a variety of space sensors that could be used to track global water use. Second, Jeremiah Pate’s first Lunarsonde prototype cubesat was launched. If successful, he hopes to launch a constellation of similar cubesats for detecting Earth mineral resources, with six more launches already scheduled in ’22 with SpaceX, Virgin Orbit, Rocket Lab, Northrop Grumman, and Arianespace.

This was SpaceX’s second launch in ’22. At the moment the company is the only entity worldwide to launch anything this year, though Virgin Orbit is targeting its own launch later today.

Kickstarter campaign starts to finance launch of garage-built cubesat

Capitalism in space: PocketQube has initiated a 30-day Kickstarter campaign to fund the launch of its first home-made plastic cubesat.

I have written about this project previously, because it epitomizes the old-fashioned vision of a single guy or gal working in his or her basement or garage to build a new invention. It now appears they are getting close to being ready to launch.

Make sure you watch their video at the first link above. It not only explains what they’ve accomplished so far as well as what they hope to do, it is quite amusing at how it pokes fun at the kind of fake-epic videos we see from NASA, promising big but delivering little. In the case of this project, they are instead promising little, but if they succeed they should deliver big.

This quote from the Kickstarter page though I think reveals once again where the real barriers to commercial space lie:

The biggest risk to the project is licensing. The FCC has placed additional burdens on small satellite operators after an incident earlier this year that resulted in four unlicensed satellites being placed into orbit. Possible delays in our applications could result in Mini-Cubes missing the flight. We do have a backup flight should that happen but it will not launch until 2020 at the earliest.

The quote refers to Swarm’s unlicensed launch of four cubesats in March 2018, and the FCC’s subsequent response, imposing fines and strict reporting requirements on Swarm. It now appears some of those strict reporting requirements have been applied across the board to all cubesat companies, increasing costs and paperwork, and even threatening their viability.

No matter the justification, it is once again the government that stands in the way of the ability of free humans to follow their dreams. I have seen this pattern repeat itself for the last half century, resulting in little space exploration since the Apollo landings. It now stands in the way of a new revolution in commercial space.