Having been delayed since March of 2020, and using a Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket with a 3X, previous flight completion record, SpaceX has now successfully launched — from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida — the SAOCOM-1B Earth Observation (EO) satellite for Argentina plus two rideshare smallsats.
This was a rare southern launch trajectory from Florida as SAOCOM-1B headed for a polar orbit (SSO) with the launch vehicle heading over Miami and Cuba. The last time such a southerly launch occurred from Florida was in 1969.
As rockets on this flight path do cross populated areas (one reason most polar orbit launches occur from Vandenberg AFB in California), an automatic flight safety systems is incorporated into the Falcon 9 that enables the rocket to self-destruct without command from the flight operations center, should anything go amiss with the flight, such as straying too far from the designated path.
This particular Falcon 9 previously launched two cargo missions, one in December of 2019 and one in March of 2020 and registers this launch as the 42nd re-flight and 59th landing for the company with this rocket.
The first stage, ID’s as B1059 by SpaceX, accomplished a landing at Cape Canaveral, being only the second time this year such a re-berthing has occurred on dry land.
The twin fairings for this mission splashed down into the Atlantic and one of the company’s recovery craft went into its “scoop-out-of-the-water” mode for this important hardware.
The SAOCOM 1B satellite is operated by the Argentinian space agency and is the second to reach orbit for that nation. A major capability of the SAOCOM 1B is the satellite’s ability to image the same area of Earth each day at the same time.
The rideshare payloads included Tyvak-0172 and GNOMES-1 for PlanetIQ. The former is a smallsat built by Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems for a customer that remains undisclosed. PlanetIQ, the developer and builder of the GNOMES 1 smallsat, is planning to orbit a fleet of approximately 20 smallsats that will collect data on a variety of atmospheric conditions to assist in weather forecasting.