The Falcon 9 rocket made a rare landing on the ground as part of SpaceX’s first launch in California in nearly a year and a half, which the company’s director considered “the beginning of many exciting things to come.”
The Sentinel 6A ocean and Earth observation satellite carries around 1,200 kg (~ 2,600 lb), an all-new Falcon 9 missile (including the booster B1063) that launched on schedule from SpaceX’s Vandenberg’s SLC-4E launch pad at 9 o’clock: 17 AM PDT (17:17 UTC). In simple terms, it’s not surprising that SpaceX managed to launch the Falcon 9 on the first attempt of SLC-4E – and with NASA as its client, at least – after nearly 18 months of inactivity.
As usual, the Falcon 9 performed flawlessly, with the first stage B1063 raising the level of the second stage combined with a weight of ~ 120 tons (~ 260,000 lb), the Sentinel 6A spacecraft, rounding the payload to approximately 75 km (~ 50 mi) before closing, separating and flipping To return to the launch site. The second stage of the Falcon 9 ignited and continued toward orbit, igniting for about six minutes. After completing the re-entry burn of three engines and igniting the Merlin 1D central station for the third time to a landing burn, the Falcon 9 B1063 landed in SpaceX’s LZ-4 landing pad less than a second after the missile’s upper stage closed into orbit.
45 minutes into the initial “second stage cutoff” (SECO), the Merlin Vacuum ignited again, burning for ten seconds to circulate its polar orbit and acquire the Sentinel 6A as close as possible to a symbolic operating height. The Falcon 9 spacecraft was deployed a few minutes later, concluded the mission and marked the completion of the successful launch of Falcon 9 No. 98 and Mission 100 overall, as well as the launch of SpaceX 22 this year – a record for the company.
Sentinel 6A is now complete, and SpaceX still has another mission – Starlink V1 L15 – slated for launch on November 22, and will likely culminate in SpaceX’s first ever launch month. Additionally, the company has at least five more launches with reasonable launch targets in December, albeit on the East Coast.
In 2021, though, SpaceX could have as many as four or five potential West Coast launches, although the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic could push one or more of these missions into 2022. Recently expressed interest To the FCC about starting the Starlink satellite launch online as soon as possible, indicating that Vandenberg’s dedicated Starlink launch could begin next year if the company obtains regulatory approval.
Ultimately, SpaceX’s West Coast operations seem to be back in business and are here to stay (at least for now) after an unusual year and a half of hibernation. Stay tuned for upcoming California launch updates.