A Falcon 9 rocket’s departure from Vandenberg Air Force Base just before sunrise provided an early morning wake-up call while carting an Earth-observation satellite into space for Spain.
The two-stage recycled rocket built by Space Exploration Technologies blasted off during a window set for 6:16 a.m. from Space Launch Complex-4 on South Base.
Clear skies allowed spectators to view the rocket’s ascent into space for an unusually long time.
The rocket released the PAZ satellite 11 minutes after launch, ground controllers confirmed.
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PAZ, Spanish for “peace,” boasts an advanced radar-imaging satellite for Spain.
Now in space, PAZ will make up the third radar-imaging satellite in a high-resolution constellation utilized by Hisdesat.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk also confirmed a pair of prototype satellites for the firm’s planned Starlink constellation hitched a ride on the rocket.
Starlink satellites were designed to create a global broadband system for areas least served.
“If anyone is curious, the name was inspired by ‘The Fault in Our Stars,’” Musk said, referring to the John Green novel and romantic drama movie released in 2014.
The booster used for this mission previously launched the Formosat-5 mission from Vandenberg in August.
After Thursday’s flight, SpaceX did not attempt to recover Falcon’s first-stage booster via landing on a barge.
However, the firm did attempt to capture the rocket’s payload fairing, or nose cone, as it fell back from space at eight times the speed of sound.
“It has onboard thrusters and a guidance system to bring it through the atmosphere intact, then releases a parafoil and our ship, named Mr. Steven, with basically a giant catcher’s mitt welded on, tries to catch it,” Musk said.
Later, he said the fairing parafoil deployed as planned, adding, “Now trying to catch it.”
“Missed by a few hundred meters, but fairing landed intact in water,” he said. “Should be able catch it with slightly bigger chutes to slow down descent.”
The next Falcon 9 rocket launch from Vandenberg will send another 10 Iridium Next satellites to space, the first set since January 2017.
That mission had been planned for no earlier than March 20, but may be a few days later due to the delays for the PAZ mission.