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First Dedicated Rideshare Mission with a Mid-Inclination is Launched by SpaceX

On April 7, SpaceX launched the first in a planned series of dedicated rideshare missions, putting 11 military and commercial satellites into orbits with a mid-inclination.

On the Bandwagon-1 mission, a Falcon 9 blasted out from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center at 7:16 p.m. Eastern. After taking off, the first stage of the rocket made its 14th flight and returned to Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral seven and a half minutes later.

The first of a planned series of ridesharing flights meant to supplement SpaceX’s current Transporter missions was launched today. The goal of the Bandwagon missions is to transfer payloads to low Earth orbits at an inclination of roughly 45 degrees, in contrast to the Transporter missions, which launch payloads into sun-synchronous orbits frequently employed by remote sensing satellites.

At the Small Satellite Conference in August of last year, SpaceX revealed their plans to launch two Bandwagon missions in 2024 and 2025. At the time, the business claimed that after sun-synchronous orbits, mid-inclination orbits were the most often requested orbits by rideshare users.

Of the 11 satellites carried by Bandwagon-1, the largest was probably a “425 Project” satellite for the military of South Korea. The Defense Acquisition Program Administration of the United States government declared in 2022 that it would work with SpaceX to launch five satellites by 2025, four of which would carry synthetic aperture radar (SAR) payloads and one optical/infrared payload. December 2023 saw the launch of the first 425 Project satellite, an optical/infrared spacecraft, using a Falcon 9.

Six of HawkEye 360’s radio-frequency geolocation satellites, designated Clusters 8 and 9, were launched aboard Bandwagon-1. The QPS-SAR-7 SAR satellite from iQPS, the Acadia-4 SAR satellite from Capella Space, the Centauri-6 satellite for Internet of Things services from Fleet, and TSAT-1A, an Earth imaging satellite developed by Tata Advanced Systems Limited in collaboration with Satellogic, are among the other payloads.

As opposed to sun-synchronous orbits, customers claimed that the mid-inclination orbit provided better coverage over low and mid latitudes, which is why they decided to launch their satellites on Bandwagon-1. The Cluster 8 and Cluster 9 satellites’ placement in those orbits, according to a statement from HawkEye 360, “will further support HawkEye 360’s work to help monitor and prevent Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing across the Indo-Pacific region,” for example.

According to SpaceX, there is still a lot of interest in both its Bandwagon and Transporter rideshare missions. During a panel discussion at the Satellite 2024 conference on March 18, Stephanie Bednarek, vice president of commercial sales at SpaceX, stated, “We heard loud and clear from customers they wanted these services,” Stephanie Bednarek, vice president of commercial sales at SpaceX, said during a panel at the Satellite 2024 conference March 18. “It’s going great and we’re really happy.”

She noted that in order for the ridesharing services to be successful, users must be prepared to make the normal accommodations offered by the company. Although the company offers add-on services for ridesharing missions, she stated that “we would ideally like to see our customers design to the standard services that we provide.” “Now that it’s been demonstrated several times, we’re seeing more and more customers that are designing to that particular box and service that we offer.”

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