SpaceX has launched 40 satellites on its latest rideshare rocket

Including one long-awaited and colossal German satellite.
Brad Bergan
A Falcon 9 launching on a previous mission.SpaceX / YouTube

It's never too late to join the party when you're headed to space.

This is what Elon Musk probably had in mind when he agreed to launch a long-delayed satellite for Germany aboard its April 1 launch — which went forward without incident.

SpaceX launched 40 satellites for several customers on Friday atop its Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, according to the firm's official YouTube channel.

The aerospace firm's Falcon 9 lifted off at roughly 12:24 PM, EDT.

SpaceX launched 40 satellites, including one long-awaited German spacecraft

Called Transporter-4, SpaceX's April 1 launch had only a 20% chance of favorable weather today, but everything went perfectly. This launch marked the smallest number of satellites SpaceX has ever lifted on a rideshare mission — and there doesn't seem to be an obvious reason as to why this launch was comparably light, save for a single customer.

Germany's National Space Agency (DLR) loaded its hyperspectral Earth observation satellite (EnMAP), which contrasts with other satellites aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9. An extremely ambitious smallsat was first scheduled to launch in 2012, but was delayed for an entire decade amid consistent issues.

These delays have allowed other companies and nations to catch up to Germany's initial aims — for example, Italy designed a nearly identical spacecraft called PRISMA in 2008 for roughly $140 million, and it launched in 2019.

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EnMAP's cost probably surged from roughly $100 million to more than $330 — a gigantic jump, which could mean that SpaceX charged DLR far more than other rideshare customers who hitched a ride on Transporter-4. This could have worked to SpaceX and its rideshare customers' advantage: with a larger share of the launch costs covered by Germany, the other rideshare customers may have paid less for the cosmic lift — potentially $15 to $30 million, according to Teslarati.

The German satellite weighs roughly 2,100 lbs — a little heavier than SpaceX's typical maximum weight for its conventional rideshare price — which is $4.6 million for a 1,830-lb spacecraft. 

Varying solutions for SpaceX's services

"Payloads for our upcoming fourth dedicated smallsat rideshare mission — Transporter-4 — were encapsulated into Falcon 9's fairing late last week," read a pre-launch tweet from SpaceX. "On this flight are 40 spacecraft, including cubesats, microsats, picosats, hosted payloads and an orbital transfer vehicle."

At least 16 of the 40 payloads aboard Transporter-4 are employing intermediaries like Exolaunch, D-Orbit, and Spaceflight — each of which in turn works with SpaceX on behalf of satellite manufacturers. Six additional satellite customers (not counting EnMAP) probably booked their flight with SpaceX directly.

SpaceX goes beyond one-size-fits-all satellite launches

After its launch, the first stage of SpaceX's Falcon 9 touched down on one of the firm's drone ships precisely 10 minutes and 33 seconds after launch. As of writing, stage 2 of the rocket was in low-Earth orbit, achieving the optimal trajectory to release its payload, heading North several thousand miles west of Indonesia, approaching the Indian Sea.

Custom launch servicer - This was a clockwork mission despite high odds of unfriendly weather, and it shows not only that Elon Musk's SpaceX is continuing its primary fundraising activity as a launch servicer, but also that it can adapt its payload balance to suit custom launch requirements.

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