With SpaceX preparing to launch Falcon 9 carrying 64 smaller satellites, experts have worries about tracking and identification of these satellites once they are in orbit. Falcon 9’s launch is scheduled for December 2, 2018 from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base. The launch was initially scheduled for 19th November but additional inspections and bad weather at launch site caused the delay. Falcon 9 is flying the SSO-A mission which is a dedicated rideshare and doesn’t have a large primary payload. The small satellites will be used for various commercial and government customers and the payload ranges from Orbital Reflector to STPSat-5 spacecraft. While the former is a cubesat developed by artist Trevor Paglen and Nevada Museum of Art, which will be visible from the ground and be used for deploying an inflatable sculpture into orbit for many weeks, and the latter is for the Space Test Program of US Air Force.
The number of small satellites to be carried by Falcon 9 was 71 which was then changed to 64, said Christie Melby, a Spaceflight spokesperson. In February 2017, 104 satellites were launched into orbit in a single try by an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. Falcon 9’s mission, though not unprecedented, still has some risks associated with it. Experts do not think that either the Air Force or Spaceflight is ready to handle tracking of satellites following their release from upper stage of rocket. T.S. Kelso said that there could be chaos after the launch. The 18 SPCS of Air Force and Spaceflight stated that they’ve made preparations for proper deployment and tracking of SSO-A satellites. Armand Awad of Spaceflight voiced his concerns regarding collisions that could occur between spacecraft, creating orbital debris. Strategies were then developed to deal with potential collisions. Kelso said that tracking and identifying satellites will be the two major issues and not potential for ‘recontact’ among payloads which Spaceflight seems to be primarily focusing on. Tracking is highly essential as it lays out risks of collisions with other space objects. He added that capabilities of Air Force in tracking satellites have been overestimated by satellite operators and that best efforts should be made to mitigate the impacts to farthest degree.