SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California December 3, carrying a whopping 64 satellites.
A payload of that size marked a new U.S. record for the largest number of satellite deployments in a single mission. The world record sits at 104 satellites set in February 2017 by the Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) mission.
As noted in the SpaceX tweet above, Monday’s liftoff was for the Spaceflight SSO-A: SmallSat Express mission. Spaceflight, a Seattle-based company that offers launch services and mission management, arranged the mission.
“The mission signifies Spaceflight’s first dedicated rideshare mission to a sun-synchronous low Earth orbit and represents the company’s effort to accommodate the growing number of domestic, international, government, and commercial customers seeking affordable rideshare options to launch their spacecraft into orbit,” according to SpaceX.
Thirty-four different organizations representing 17 countries contributed to the 64-spacecraft payload, which included 15 microsats and 46 cubesats. Honeywell Aerospace, University of North Carolina-Wilmington, Astrocast, and Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) were a few notable ridesharing customers.
This was the first time SpaceX used the same booster for the third time, bolstering the potential for a cost-effective reusable rocket system. Previously, Falcon 9’s first-stage booster was used to support the Bangabandhu Satellite-1 mission in May 2018 and the Merah Putih mission in August 2018, according to the company.
“Following stage separation, SpaceX landed Falcon 9’s first stage on the ‘Just Read the Instructions’ droneship, which was stationed in the Pacific Ocean,” according to SpaceX.
The company also tried to recover the cone that sits atop the rocket that protects the satellites during launch, known as the rocket’s fairing. A boat, called Mr. Steven, was poised to catch the fairing’s two sections with a net as they descending via parachute, however, they failed to hit the mark.
“Falcon fairing halves missed the net, but touched down softly in the water,” says SpaceX CEO Elon Musk in a tweet. “Plan is to dry them out and launch again. Nothing wrong with a little swim.”
You can watch a replay of the launch in the video below.
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