After a successful static fire yesterday, SpaceX’s 12th mission of 2017 looks to the sky. The 30th Space Wing out of Vandenberg Air Force Base posted a short clip of the static fire test on Facebook. The test gives SpaceX personnel one final look at the rocket before the engines roar to life for a quick trip to space.
Today’s payload is the FORMOSAT-5, an Earth observation satellite for Taiwan’s National Space Organization (NSPO). SpaceX’s goal is to place the satellite about 720 kilometers above the Earth in a sun-synchronous orbit. A handy orbit for imaging satellites like the FORMOSAT-5, but a bit different than a geostationary orbits we often see.
A geostationary orbit keeps the satellite above the same position on Earth. A sun-synchronous orbit means the satellite passes over the same spot on Earth at the same local solar time. This means the satellite will always see the same spot on Earth in sunlight.
It’ll take just over 11 minutes for the Falcon 9 to get off the ground and deploy the FORMOSAT-5 satellite. And it wouldn’t be a typical SpaceX launch without an attempted landing. Since it’s a west coast launch, the drone ship ‘Just Read the Instructions’ gets the honor of catching the first stage. First-stage landing will happen 10 minutes, 47 seconds after liftoff.
If all goes smoothly, SpaceX will have landed the first stage nine times this year. No attempts were made on the other three missions.
The SpaceX launch train continues
SpaceX’s busiest year ever continues on September 7th. That’s when the company gets to launch its second payload of the year shrouded in secrecy from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Air Force’s mysterious X-37 space plane will sit atop a Falcon 9 next month instead of an Atlas V like it has done for its previous four missions.
No word on how long the X-37B will circle the Earth this time. Each flight has lasted longer than the previous one. The first flight came in at 224 days. The last flight more than tripled that at 717 days.
Don’t expect a camera following payload deployment on this mission. The webcast will be more like the NROL-76 mission from May 1. Which is fine by me. That webcast gave us stunning images of the first stage flipping back around as it made its journey back towards Earth.
SpaceX will return to California on September 30th with the launch of 10 Iridium NEXT satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
It looks like October will be the next time SpaceX launches a previously flown first stage Falcon 9. It’ll be the third time a reused rocket has gone back to space. The first two flights went off without a hitch.
Today’s launch window opens at 11:51 am PT, or 2:51 pm ET. I’ve included the embed of the webcast below.