SpaceX successfully launched its Earth-observation satellite, SAOCOM-1B atop the Falcon 9 Block 5 booster. The lift off occurred at 7:18 p.m. EDT from the Space Launch Complex 40, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off with the SAOCOM-1B satellite and two other small satellites, PlanetIQ’s GNOMES-1 and Tyvak-0172, into the low earth sun synchronous orbit. This was a commercial mission for the National Space Activities Commission, CONAE.
The Falcon 9 took a southerly trajectory followed by a dogleg manoeuvre to reach the polar orbit from Cape Canaveral.
As of 2:00 p.m. UTC, per forecasters, the weather was 40% favourable for launches. Despite the weather and unpredictable conditions, the company decided to go ahead with the launch of SAOCOM-1B.
The spacecraft reached Max Q (maximum dynamic pressure) at one minute and twelve seconds from lift-off. At T+ 00:02:20, first stage rocket motors shut down for main engine cut-off (MECO) followed by stage separation. At T+ 00:03:45, the fairings separated and got deployed to expose the satellites to space.
To enable a smooth descent, the booster carried out a sequence of orbital ballet movements for reorienting before the landing. This was followed by three engine burns to slow itself down before the landing. The stage 1 entry burn was completed at 6 minutes and 24 seconds. Shortly after, the first stage could be seen producing exciting sonic booms before it approached the Landing Zone-1 or LZ-1, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Stage 1 of the Falcon 9 nailed the landing at T+ 00:08:08 in the fourth successful landing of the particular booster. SpaceX tweeted:
The second engine cut-off (SECO-1) occurred at T+ 00:10:12 when the second stage’s Merlin vacuum engine was shut down.
The SAOCOM-1B satellite was successfully deployed at T+ 00:14:15.
Deployment of SAOCOM 1B confirmed pic.twitter.com/gqtxQMpy48
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) August 30, 2020
The two other smallsats were deployed relatively late at around one hour after the lift-off.
SpaceX had only one recovery vessel, GO Miss Chief to catch the fairings. The other fairing-catcher, GO Ms. Tree was to support the Starlink mission, which got rescheduled to 1st September.
Typically, the fairings guide themselves to recovery ships as they reach the Earth. If these ships don’t catch the fairings, due to poor weather conditions or some other reason, a SpaceX crew scoops out the fairing pieces out of the water. In today’s mission, the fairing was to be scooped out of the waters.
This mission was SpaceX’s first polar orbit launch from the East Coast in about half a century. The first stage booster of the mission marked its 4th flight in this launch. Previously, the booster was used in two commercial cargo missions to the ISS and one Starlink mission to launch the Starlink satellites into the lower earth orbit.
It is also important to note that the mission marked SpaceX’s 42nd Falcon 9 flight since the first booster was recovered back in 2015.
SAOCOM Satellites And Other Payloads
The SAOCOM-1B satellite is the last one in the SAOCOM (Satélite Argentino de Observación COn Microondas or Argentine Microwaves Observation Satellite) constellation. Earlier, SAOCOM-1A was launched in October 2018. These Earth imaging satellites, with infrared cameras and L-band microwave radar mapper, have the ability to see through clouds. The total cost of the constellation stands at around $600 million, including the launch prices. The Argentine SAOCOM constellation along with Italy’s COSMO SkyMed satellites is a joint attempt of the countries to advance a satellite system for emergency and disaster management. Apart from this, the primary goal of the SAOCOM satellites is to provide data in the agricultural industry. Raúl Kulichevsky, executive and technical director of CONAE stated:
The two small piggyback satellites, PlanetiQ’s GNOMES-1 and Tyvak’s Tyvak-0172, will also be used as Earth observation satellites. GNOMES-1, the first of the twenty planned satellites, has been launched for navigation and space weather monitoring activities. This will help in space research and weather predictions.
Previously, SpaceX had two Falcon 9 rocket launches only a few hours apart. The SAOCOM-1B was one of the two launches from the company in its earlier planned back-to-back events. The second launch that is of the Starlink Mission was cancelled due to iffy weather conditions and has been rescheduled to 1st September 2020 at 9:29 a.m. EDT.
You can watch the live launch of the SAOCOM 1B mission, here.