SpaceX chalked up another successful satellite launch and booster landing today, putting Taiwan’s Formosat-5 Earth observation satellite into orbit in the process.
The company’s Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 11:51 a.m. PT from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base at the opening of a 44-minute launch window.
Minutes later, the rocket’s second stage separated to send the 1,050-pound Formosat-5 satellite into a nearly pole-to-pole orbit for Taiwan’s National Space Organization.
The satellite, a successor to Formosat-2, is designed to send down high-resolution Earth imagery for five years. Formosat-5 also carries a plasma sensor that will monitor the effect of space weather on Earth’s ionosphere.
While the second stage ascended to orbit, the Falcon 9’s first-stage booster flew itself down to a drone ship stationed in the Pacific Ocean. The ship’s name, “Just Read the Instructions,” pays homage to the sentient starships in Iain M. Banks’ science-fiction novels.
The mission marked the 40th Falcon 9 launch and SpaceX’s 12th successful launch in 2017, which has been the California-based company’s busiest year to date. SpaceX now has 15 successful booster landings under its belt, marking a key step in its quest for rocket reusability.
At one time, Seattle-based Spaceflight had planned to send 89 small satellites into orbit as secondary payloads for the Formosat-5 launch, but that plan was canceled months ago due to uncertainties in the launch schedule. The payloads were redistributed onto other flights.
The next Falcon 9 launch, set for Sept. 7, is expected to send the Air Force’s X-37B space plane into orbit for that program’s fifth classified mission. That launch would mark the first use of a Falcon 9 for an X-37B launch; previous launches have used United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket.