Starting Wednesday morning, we saw three launches from three different continents within 24 hours. It all started in Russia with a launch to the International Space Station on a Soyuz rocket.
SpaceX Starship ticket holder rides on Russia’s Soyuz to ISS
Russia’s MS-20 Soyuz spacecraft lifted off from Beikanor Cosmodrome in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Onboard was a Russian cosmonaut and two Japanese private citizens, one of which you SpaceX followers should know well.
Yusaku Maezawa’s first ride to space
MZ, as he goes by, is a ticket holder on SpaceX’s Starship rocket. He paid an undisclosed amount for himself and eight guests to take a trip around the Moon. Named dearMoon, it plans to launch in 2024. However, that date is unlikely to hold. On Wednesday, he went on his first spaceflight alongside Yozo Hirano, who manages MZ’s YouTube channel.
Together they will document MZ’s trip to the ISS, kind of a first step before the Moon mission. During his 12 day stay, MZ will also complete a list of 100 items that he crowdsourced from his followers. MZ and the rest of the MS-20 crew will return to Earth on December 20.
Fast turn around for Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket
The second launch took place Wednesday afternoon down south in New Zealand. This was Rocket Lab‘s sixth and final Electron rocket of 2021 and carried two BlackSky satellites. Named “A Data With Destiny,” it took place from the company’s main pad, LC-1A, on the Mahia Peninsula. The launch went off without a hitch, and Rocket Lab has already deorbited all parts of the rocket.
There was not much excitement for this launch as the Electron booster was expended, and this is the company’s third of four BlackSky payloads. However, this launch was a significant achievement for Rocket Lab’s launch teams as the launch pad was turned around in under 20 days between launches.
SpaceX pulls a power slide to place NASA’s IXPE into orbit
The final launch of this 24-hour marathon was SpaceX’s Falcon 9 with NASA‘s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE). This launch almost slipped past the 24-hour mark, but luckily weather was perfect at the start of the window.
A unique part of this launch was IXPE’s near-zero degree inclination, meaning it needed to orbit around the Earth’s equator. The problem here is there is no launch site at the equator, so SpaceX had to get creative. The Falcon 9 launched south-east towards Africa, then once nearing the equator, the second stage burned partly sideways to change its inclination to zero. Practically performing a hard left turn – but in space.
Not very often do we get to see so many launches occur in such a short amount of time. However, with the rise of mega-constellations needing regular rides to space and commercial launchers plans to launch rapidly and reliably, this might become more common soon.