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What is the largest number of (essentially) identical satellites launched together?

  • Form factor alone (e.g. 1U, 3U cubesat) is not enough to make satellites identical, they need to be the same design, purpose, function, etc.; in other words, essentially identical.

  • Thus this is a different question than Highest number of satellites launched on a single rocket because those can be any mix of different satellites.

  • For the purposes of this question, the satellites also need to be active in some way. A bunch of "needles" or "marbles" wouldn't count.

  • If the answer is going to be 60 or less, better hurry up and answer before Wednesday!


Teslarati.com says:

The mission is currently scheduled to launch at 10:30 pm EDT (02:30 UTC), May 15th

Elon Musk tweet about an upcoming launch, that hasn't happened yet at the time this question is posted.

First 60 @SpaceX Starlink satellites loaded into Falcon fairing. Tight fit.

enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ When did this launch get delayed to? $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn May 20 at 14:22
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    $\begingroup$ @MagicOctopusUrn this is the tweet from May 16, I haven't heard anything more but I don't follow that closely. I think they are doing some serious software updates on the satellites while they sit inside the fairing, just to show off! twitter.com/SpaceX/status/1129181397262843906 $\endgroup$ – uhoh May 20 at 15:03
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    $\begingroup$ @MagicOctopusUrn Thursday has now been tweeted. $\endgroup$ – uhoh May 21 at 2:09
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88!

PSLV-C37 launched 88 identical satellites into a sun-synchronous orbit. These satellites were for an imaging company called "Planet Labs". Technically the only ones that were identical were the CubeSats (Which were named Doves) but they were launching 4 other types of satellites from this launch too.

The rocket launched Cartosat-2D, a few other satellites and 88 nanosatellites: two from India, one each from Kazakhstan, Israel, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United Arab Emirates, along with 88 from the United States of America – 88 Dove satellites and 8 LEMUR satellites.1 The three Indian satellites launched were Cartosat-2D, INS-1A, and INS-1B.[12] Arrangements for the launch of the 104 satellites were made between ISRO's commercial arm Antrix Corporation Limited, under the auspices of the Indian Government's Department of Space, and the international customers.

In addition to this, it mentions that Planet Labs has 143 total Doves in operation.

Among the 96 satellites belonging to US companies, 88 CubeSats were owned by Planet Labs, a private Earth imaging company based in San Francisco, California.2 Weighing roughly 5 kilograms (11 lb) each, the satellites separated from the rocket in different directions to avoid collision.[15] With the launch of PSLV-C37, Planet Labs increased its fleet of satellites to 143, which is the largest private satellite fleet in operation.

Some more specific information on the Dove 3u cubesat can be found here. Most notably, the following was mentioned in the list of things about it:

Dove satellite constellation holds the world record of the most satellites launched at once from one rocket and will collect imagery up to 2 million km² per day. The Dove satellite constellation is a fleet of nanosatellites deployed from the International Space Station to take images of Earth. The satellite constellation is operated by Planet Labs Inc., 88 nanosatellites called Doves weighing only 11 pounds each, provides 3 meter multispectral image resolution for a variety of mapping applications including several humanitarian and environmental applications, from monitoring deforestation and urbanization to improving natural disaster relief and agricultural yields around the world.

Deployed image of one:

enter image description here

A bunch of them sitting in their stowed state:

enter image description here

So it would seem the answer for max number is 88 and will not be affected by Wednesday.

(Unless someone else finds a different example).

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    $\begingroup$ 88! okay so this record is safe for a little while longer. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – uhoh May 12 at 12:52
  • $\begingroup$ @uhoh It's the most I could find, but as you know I'm by no means an Almanac for space facts ;). $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn May 12 at 12:53
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480,000,000!

Depending on how you define satellite.

I think Project West Ford is the current record holder, with 480,000,000 individual satellites.

Well technically 480,000,000 copper dipole antennas, designed to act as an artificial ionosphere.

Here is a photo of a few of the dipoles:

Project West Ford, antennas compared to a stamp for scale

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    $\begingroup$ @DarcyThomas Obligatory nitpick: the word you're looking for is "caveat". $\endgroup$ – duskwuff May 13 at 7:15
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    $\begingroup$ I saw that after. Although this answer is unlikely to be accepted, I think it is a good 'caveat answer' $\endgroup$ – DarcyThomas May 13 at 7:38
  • $\begingroup$ @duskwuff Thanks, I thought it looked off. $\endgroup$ – DarcyThomas May 13 at 7:41
  • $\begingroup$ It would really suck to become a pincushion for all of these microharpoons. Did all of their orbits decay by now or is it still in effect? $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn May 16 at 13:50
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    $\begingroup$ @MagicOctopusUrn Have a look at the Wikipedia page, I think most of the properly dispersed ones may have, but there are still clumps of the the botched deployments. If those pins caused a hull or suit breach, it would really really suck! (oh god, I am so sorry...) $\endgroup$ – DarcyThomas May 17 at 21:34

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