A SpaceX rocket soared into the California morning sky to deliver two mini-fleets of satellites into orbit, then landed in the ocean on Friday (May 20), capturing amazing video along the way.
The Falcon 9 rocket, carrying 21 satellites for companies Iridium and OneWeb, lifted off from Space Launch Complex 4 East Vandenberg Space Force Base in California at 9:16 am EDT (1316GMT; 6:16 am local time California).
The successful launch came a day after a last-minute abort on Friday, when SpaceX aborted the flight just 55 seconds before liftoff.
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“Since then, the teams have completed checkout of the vehicle and ground systems and we’re looking good with today’s attempt,” SpaceX operations engineer Siva Bharadvaj said during the company’s launch commentary.
Indeed, the launch went smoothly apart from cloudy weather on the ground, with the Falcon 9 rocket punching through low clouds at Vandenberg and soaring into a stunning morning sky, broadcasting a spectacular video of its departure from Earth (and subsequent returns).
The Falcon 9’s first stage returned to Earth about nine minutes after liftoff, passing the SpaceX droneship Of Course I Still Love You stationed in the Pacific Ocean. It was the 11th launch and landing for this particular booster, and the 193rd landing of a SpaceX orbital class rocket, according to Bharadvaj and a mission description.
The rocket’s upper stage, meanwhile, continued to carry the satellites — five belonging to Iridium and the other 16 to OneWeb — into low Earth orbit. They are all expected to deploy in a 30-minute phase scheduled to begin about an hour after liftoff. SpaceX used a Merlin engine with a shortened nozzle on this flight due to its payload needs.
“The shortened nozzle made its debut on the Transporter 7 mission,” Bharadvaj said. “It will continue to be used in missions that don’t require too much performance to get to their final destination.”
Fifteen OneWeb satellites will further make up the company’s broadband constellation in low Earth orbit. The 16th is a technology demonstrator known as JoeySat.
“JoeySat contains several new technologies, including a digitally regenerative payload and featuring multi-beam electronically steered phased array antennas,” OneWeb wrote in a mission description.
SpaceX has already launched three batches of OneWeb internet satellites, sending 40 spacecraft into the sky on each of the previous missions.
The five Iridium satellites are spares that will provide additional backup for the company’s 66 currently operational telecom satellites. (Iridium already has nine spare satellites in orbit.)
“Our constellation is incredibly healthy; however, spare satellites are of no use to us on earth,” Iridium CEO Matt Desch said in a statement in September 2022when SpaceX announced this launch.
“We built additional satellites as an insurance policy, and with SpaceX’s stellar track record, we look forward to another successful launch, which will position us to better replicate the longevity of our first constellation,” he added. .
This launch will be the second in a row for SpaceX. The company also launched 22 of its own Starlink “V2 mini” internet satellites from Florida’s Space Coast on Friday.
And SpaceX isn’t done for the weekend.
On Sunday (May 21), the company will launch its third rocket in three days, this time to fly four private astronauts to the International Space Station for the commercial company Axiom Space. Called the Ax-2 mission, the flight was led by former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, with paying customer John Shoffner serving as pilot.
Saudi Arabia is flying two astronauts on the mission, Ali AlQarni and Rayyanah Barnawi, with Barnawi becoming the first Saudi woman to fly in space. You can follow the mission on Space.com using our Ax-2 mission live updates page. Liftoff is set for 5:37 p.m. EDT (2137 GMT) On Sunday.
Saturday’s launch marks SpaceX’s 33rd launch of 2023 and its 238th launch overall.
Mike Wall is the author of “There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. follow us @Spacedotcomor to Facebook and Instagram.