SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket was scheduled to launch early this morning, but the launch was delayed until tomorrow due to strong upper level winds. Although it doesn’t have quite the worldwide attention that the Falcon Heavy got, this launch will still be quite a momentous occasion. The Falcon 9 is launching the PAZ satellite, but it’s also said to be launching the first two Starlink satellites that will begin SpaceX’s quest to start a broadband satellite network. The launch is happening at Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. SpaceX’s launch time is set for 6:17 a.m. Pacific (8:17 a.m. Central/9:17 a.m. Eastern/14:17 UTC) on Thursday, now that it’s been rescheduled, and you can watch it in the video above.
The timeline for Thursday’s launch will be quick. The satellite is scheduled to be deployed approximately 11 minutes after the launch. The approximate timeline, per SpaceX’s press kit, is as follows:
Countdown: Hour/Min/Sec Events Before the Launch
- 01:13:00 SpaceX Launch Director verifies go for propellant load
- 01:10:00 RP-1 (rocket grade kerosene) loading underway
- 00:35:00 LOX (liquid oxygen) loading underway
- 00:07:00 Falcon 9 begins engine chill prior to launch
- 00:01:00 Flight computer commanded to begin final prelaunch checks
- 00:01:00 Propellant tank pressurization to flight pressure begins
- 00:00:45 SpaceX Launch Director verifies go for launch
- 00:00:03 Engine controller commands engine ignition sequence to start
- 00:00:00 Falcon 9 liftoff
Launch and Satellite Deployment: Hour/Min/Sec After Launch
- 00:01:17 Max Q (moment of peak mechanical stress on the rocket)
- 00:02:29 1st stage engine shutdown/main engine cutoff (MECO)
- 00:02:33 1st and 2nd stages separate
- 00:02:40 2nd stage engine starts
- 00:02:56 Fairing deployment
- 00:08:58 2nd stage engine cutoff (SECO-1)
- 00:10:58 PAZ satellite deployment
Today’s launch is exciting for several reasons. It’s going to debut an upgraded payload fairing for the Falcon 9, known as Fairing 2.0. Many expect today’s launch to include another attempt at returning at least half of the fairing to Earth, which might include using parachutes to slow the halves’ fall, guiding them near a recovery boat called Mr. Steven, NASA Spaceflight reported. The rocket’s first stage will not be recovered. This is, essentially, because this particular generation of the first stage isn’t needed anymore. SpaceX has new, upgraded cores (Block 5) that are ready to use, possibly as early as April.
SpaceX’s launch today will also carry the first demonstration satellites for SpaceX’s satellite internet. These are called the MicroSat-2a and 2b, which carry Ku-band payloads. These are the first prototypes in a fleet that might eventually consist of 12,000 spacecraft, NASA Spaceflight reported. The project will ultimately use satellites to provide worldwide Internet access. Ka- and Ku-band satellites will orbit at an altitude of 1,200 km (750 miles), and V-band satellites will orbit lower at 210 miles (340 km.) Starlink could be fully operational by 2024., including 4,425 higher orbit satellites and 7,518 lower orbit satellites.
The launch’s primary payload is the PAZ satellite. The Hisdesat’s PAZ satellite has advanced radar that can operate in numerous modes, choosing multiple image configurations, SpaceX shared in a press kit. It’s designed for a mission life of five-and-a-half years, and will be able to generate images with up to 25 cm resolution day and night, regardless of meteorological conditions. It will orbit the Earth 15 times a day from an altitude of 514 kilometers, moving at a velocity of seven kilometers per second. PAZ has an Automatic Identification System that combines ship AIS signals and Synthetic Aperture Radar imagery.