SpaceX Launches and Passes Satellite Milestone: Here’s How

by TK Sanders
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(Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launched successfully into space this morning from Cape Canaveral Florida.

The rocket rideshare mission launched safely into clear skies and low winds, sending its payload with 105 small satellites into Earth’s low orbit. The first stage rocket made a smooth landing back near the launch site around 30 minutes later.

This particular rocket has launched over 550 satellites into orbit, as well as cargo and crew. It flies, on average, every two months for SpaceX, ushering in a new generation of rocket re-use.

The rocket’s mission, dubbed “Transporter-3,” launched a varied manifest of CubeSats, microsats, orbital transfer vehicles, and “SuperDove” satellites. The SuperDoves record images of every landmass on Earth every day. The orbital transfer vehicles serve a wide mix of government and private sector needs. It takes about 90 minutes for the satellites to deploy once in space.

Nearby residents were treated to both a launch and a series of sonic booms as the rocket performed a land-based return. This maneuver was possible because of the lighter weight of the payload being deployed.

SpaceX’s recycling of rockets triggers milestone

SpaceX reaches a new timing milestone with the usage of this rocket, too. Upon launch, this first stage Falcon 9 rocket has now flown 10 times in just 594 days. SpaceX’s first 10 flight rocket required over 1,000 days to reach the milestone, and its’ second required just shy of 800. Therefore, SpaceX is lowering the turnaround time for reusing rockets. As previously mentioned, this booster (Booster 1058) requires just about two months on average to recalibrate for a new mission.

“Falcon 9 will fly along Florida’s eastern coast over the ocean and may be visible from the ground,” SpaceX said.

SpaceX usually lands Falcon 9 rockets on drone ships on missions carrying heavy cargo into space, or flights hauling payloads to high-altitude orbits. On launches with lighter loads, like today’s, the booster has enough of a propellant reserve to turn itself around. SpaceX accomplishes this by using a boost-back burn just after stage separation.

Once in flight, SpaceX’s upper stage, meanwhile, fired its single Merlin engine for six minutes. It reached a parking orbit as it flew over the Florida Straits, Cuba, and the Caribbean Sea. After coasting over Antarctica, the second stage ignited its engine for a brief two-second firing. This stage occurred 55 minutes in, so as to reach the mission’s planned 326-mile-high (525-kilometer) polar orbit. Satellite deployments commenced for the next 28 minutes.

The propulsive booster landing was a sight to behold. It was the 21st touchdown of a Falcon 9 first stage rocket at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Overall, it was the 102nd intact recovery of a Falcon booster.

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