A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket boosted a record 143 small satellites into a polar orbit on Sunday in the company’s first dedicated “rideshare” mission, a response to the growing demand for low-cost access to space by smaller, non-traditional companies and institutions.
The “Transporter 1” mission also served as a reminder of the ongoing debate over what role the government should play regulating the increasingly crowded domain of low-Earth orbit where collisions would create high-speed shrapnel threatening other spacecraft.
“No universally accepted ‘rules of the road’ exist for the safety of space operations, much less a regulatory regime for active risk management and collision avoidance,” NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel wrote in its recently released 2020 annual report.
“As the potential for orbital collisions rises with increasing congestion, it is important to recognize that risks to astronauts, critical national security capabilities and global space commerce are also on the rise.”
Running a day late because of bad weather, the Transporter 1 mission began with a ground-shaking roar at 10 a.m. ET as the Falcon 9 lifted off from Cape Canaveral and arced away on a rare southeasterly trajectory toward a 326-mile-high orbit around Earth’s poles.
After propelling the rocket out of the lower atmosphere, the first stage, making its fifth flight, fell away and