After minor difficulties and two delays, SpaceX finally launched a single core of their anticipated Falcon 9 rocket along with two subsidiary satellites, the Paz satellite and Starlink satellite, at 6:17 a.m. P.T. on Thursday, Feb. 22 from Vandenberg Air Force base near Lompoc.
The Falcon 9 rocket is a 2-stage-to-orbit rocket named after the 9-stage engine process. The first half, or the core of the Falcon 9, is meant to be recovered; SpaceX successfully recovered the first stage of it’s Falcon 9 in the Atlantic ocean for the first time in Falcon 9 Flight 20 on Dec. 22, 2015.
SpaceX pioneered the concept of the reusable launch system and they eventually plan to be able to recover the first and second stage of their rockets. Although usually recoverable, the first stage of the Falcon 9 was not designed to be recovered on Feb. 22, as SpaceX was focusing on recovering the Fairing of the rocket. The main attraction of Thursday’s launch was the two satellite systems, Paz and Starlink, that proved to be the main objective of the mission.
Coming two weeks after the Falcon Heavy launch, the single core launch of the Falcon 9 rocket is SpaceX’s fourth launch of 2018 and their ninth since August of 2017.
The mission was originally supposed to take place on Sunday, Feb. 18, but was delayed to Wed. 21 due to the need for extra inspection of the new fairing system, as Space X announced on Twitter. The fairing system on a rocket is at the front or nose of the rocket and is intended to minimize the effect of the atmosphere on the rocket as it ascends into orbit.
The launch on Wednesday was also delayed until Thursday, but this time because of unfavorable upper level winds which would have been detrimental to the Falcon 9.
The fairing was supposed to be retrieved by a ship named “Mr. Steven,” which had outstretching arms that would attempt to recover the system. After being released successfully from the Falcon 9 and parachuting toward earth, the test was unsuccessful, as the fairing missed Mr. Steven and floated in the water, as pictures were posted on Twitter from members of the SpaceX team.
The fairing was eventually recovered and is intended for reuse in the future. Although reused in the past, the first stage of the Falcon 9 was not designed for reuse this launch and fell into the Atlantic ocean for disposal.
The Paz satellite carried by Falcon 9 is an observational satellite that uses Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) to take images of the earth at high resolution. It can do so even when there are clouds. The satellite is owned and operated by Hisdesat, a Spanish communications company already running other satellites around North and South America. Paz means “peace” in Spanish and the satellite is designed to run for seven years. The Paz satellite deployed after the first two stages of the rocket and successfully was launched into low orbit on Thursday.
The second satellite system is called the Starlink and successfully deployed on Thursday. Starlink is made up of two subsidiary satellites, coined “Tintin A and Tintin B” by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
Starlink was announced in 2015 and designed to provide high speed broadband internet access to various parts of the world that could not access the high speed internet otherwise. Starlink Constellation is SpaceX’s master plan to get 4,425 satellites in orbit by 2025. The Constellation would consist of some satellites orbiting 750 miles above Earth, and lower v-band satellites orbiting at 210 miles above the surface.
Although a long way to go before becoming fully operational, the beginning of the Starlink endeavor was successful on Thursday as attested to by Elon Musk’s announcement via Twitter on Thursday that the “first two Starlink demo satellites, called Tintin A & B, [are] deployed and communicating to Earth stations.”
The Falcon 9 launch on Thursday was one of many projects to come for SpaceX this year and is a significant beginning to the Starlink Constellation mission hoping to be operational by 2024. The launch was mostly successful, marking another step for SpaceX towards its ambitious goal of safe human space travel, first into orbit and eventually reaching as far as Mars.